Happy Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul! I apologize that I haven’t made any videos in the last few weeks. I’ve been working on a few projects and spending time with my family. Today I talk about how St. Peter and St. Paul show us the Way of the Cross and how their examples help us in our own spiritual lives. St. Peter’s doubt and St. Paul’s unshakeable faith are representative of the ups and downs most of us face in the spiritual life. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we too can have unshakeable faith despite the Crosses we face. These two saints show us that regardless of our faith journey the Holy Spirit is guiding us on the Way of the Cross in our own lives.
Today is the feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Two men who shaped the Early Church and whose contribution to the Faith can still be seen and felt 2000 years later. One was the first Pope and the other proclaimed the Good News to the Gentiles, after St. Peter helped move the Church from just the Jews, to the whole world. Due to the fact that both of these men loom so large in the Church, I have chosen to meditate on the conversion of Saint Peter. Saint Paul would require an entire article of his own, in fact both men have books upon books written about them.
In the Gospel of Matthew we see that Simon, who is now called Peter, was among the first disciples to be called to follow Jesus.
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them.
Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:18-20
Jesus did not go to the Temple in Jerusalem for his disciples at first. He did not seek out the learned and the powerful first. No, he went to the Sea of Galilee and summoned two fisherman to be his first disciples. When Peter abandoned his nets to follow Christ, he had no idea of the place he would play in the mission of bring the world to Christ. Notice, however, that Peter’s decision to follow Christ was immediate. He left his very livelihood and went down a path he did not fully understand at the time.
Peter’s conversion was a slow going process. He stayed with Jesus and followed Him as He proclaimed the Good News, but there are moments in Scripture where it is quite evident that Peter did not understand what he was a part of. The revelation of Jesus as the Son of God was a slow going process. The disciples did not understand immediately that He was the God-Man. In fact, it would take the Paschal Mystery for the Apostles to understand who Jesus truly was, so that explains why Peter understood slowly.
I want to share with you some insights that I have been given as I have grown in my faith and participation in the Mystical Body. Some of them have come with great pain, anger, and frustration that I still struggle with through the power of Confession and the Holy Eucharist. Some of these insights have been learned in my theological studies. The more I study of Church history, the more I realize that there really is nothing new under the sun. So I want to share these with you in the hope that it will help you rest more peacefully in the arms of Our Lord. In the end, we have little control over what happens within the Mystical Body. We can only influence our immediate circumstance. The more we understand that truth, the more we are able to to serve and be conformed to the Blessed Trinity in our own lives and share that life with others.
1. People within the Church, including clergy will hurt you, gossip, and stab you in the back. This can be a very hard reality to swallow. When we come to the Church we can expect a place of safety from the pain of the outside world. This just is not reality. It should be, but it is not. Members of the Church are sinful, including clergy. We are all in the process of being conformed to Christ. For others that is a quicker process, but for most of us, it takes a lifetime. We have favorite sins and vices, for many, especially women (sorry ladies!), that includes gossip. Women have a very bad tendency towards gossip. We are social creatures and when we are hurt, we like to talk about it. What we do not stop to consider is that gossip is sinful. It is sinful because it damages the reputation of another and is a gross violation of justice. It is especially damaging when it is aimed at a parish priest or someone we claim is a friend. Which brings me to another point, people we believe to be our friends will gossip when the right circumstances present themselves. It isn’t right, but in a sinful group of people, it happens. If we are prepared for these kinds of situations then we can give our pain to Christ. Christ knows humiliation, he knows gossip, he knows back-stabbing. These sins are never right, but we can be strengthened in our faith if we give it over to Christ and pray for those who would hurt us.
In order to change this sinful behavior, we must look to ourselves. Do we gossip or hurt others in our parish? If so, we need to make a conscious effort to stop. It takes discipline and habit. This is something that I have been working on within myself. I fail at times, but then I go back to Confession to seek forgiveness and the grace to not do it in the future. If we want to improve the life of the Church, then we must look at ourselves. I am sorry for those who have been victims of this sinful behavior. I know that it is deeply painful. I regret the times that I have participated in it. So, be prepared and overcome this inclination in yourself. Pray for the strength to forgive those who sin against you.
2. Priests and Bishops are not perfect. It can be very easy for members of the laity to idolize their priest or bishop. It can also be easy to be overly critical of our priest or bishop. We expect more from them and while that is somewhat understandable, it can become problematic. We should not hold our priest or bishop to any higher of a standard than ourselves. Why? Because we are all called to be saints, not just the clergy and religious. Priests and bishops are fallen sinful men, just like us. They fight the great fight against temptation and at times, they lose. They need our prayers because they wage a very serious battle against Satan. It gives Satan great pride when a priest falls. There may be times when our priest needs a friendly reminder of something that has happened. There may be a time a priest needs to be warned if they are preaching heresy and, in that case, it needs to be resolved by the bishop. There also are times when our priest or bishop preaches and teaches on a topic that we may not want to hear about, but that we need to hear. Before flying off the handle we should consider how God is working in our lives. We should ponder why our conscience has been pricked by his words. We need to hold a healthy view of the hierarchical and ministerial aspects of the Church.
3. Pope Francis is not perfect. Over the last century the Church has been blessed with many holy popes. Many have been canonized. There is no doubt in my mind that Pope Francis is a deeply holy man, but he isn’t perfect, not yet. He is clearly farther on the spiritual journey than most of us. His level of detachment from the material is of great inspiration and consternation for me. I struggle with that kind of simplicity, even though I know that is true freedom. He presents a challenge to me that I so desperately need. He is also very bright, but in a way that is very different from St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Both of those men were great thinkers, writers, and speakers. Those are great gifts and they are not gifts given to everyone. They serve a particular mission, while others are given gifts that serve different missions. Pope Francis is simpler and simplicity is not a bad thing. St. Peter was not a great theologian or philosopher, remember? Yes, his mistakes are broadcast for the world to see, which is no different from his predecessors. He says things that he probably should not or phrases things in ambiguous terms. Since he is not intending extraordinary magisterial teaching authority in his off-the-cuff remarks, people should rest easy and let it go. He will make mistakes, his are just more public. Plus, if we pay attention, we can see that he corrects those misconceptions through sound teaching later on. Perhaps, unlike us, he is more patient and finds the right time to offer correction. So pray for him and trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding the deposit of faith.
4. The Church is no worse off today than in previous ages. I see this argument expressed quite often. I usually shake my head and chuckle. This exposes a gross ignorance on the part of many of the faithful. The Church, arguably, is in a much better position today than she has been in the past. Are there great heresies of our time, even within her ranks? Absolutely. Are Christians being murdered for their faith? Yes, unfortunately. But on the positive side of things, there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world and a great many of them worship and live their faith in some level of freedom. That can change overnight to be sure. No matter the opinion, whether that the Church is better off today or things are just as bad as they have always been, the reality is that today’s Church is not worse off. It is not worse just because of the age we live in. We cannot fall into the error of historicism, that is we cannot assume our time period is special, because it isn’t.
5. Heretics and factions have always been in the Church. Many Catholics are watching the Snyod on the Family with fear and trembling. I am not. People are getting themselves worked up in outrage and tizzies because of the German Church. There is no doubt that something is rotten in Germany. It is clear that we need to pray very seriously for the German hierarchy. There is a real possibility of schism, which is always a great tragedy. The reality, however, is that this is nothing new. Arius attempted to tear the Church apart through his denial of the divinity of Christ and overemphasis on Platonism over Revelation. St. Nicholas hauled off and punched Arius at the Council of Nicea in 325. The truth prevailed and we were given the wonderful philosophical and theological term: homoouious (same substance as the Father) that we say every Sunday through the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
So let me ask you. Have you heard of Docetists, Manicheans, Monophysites, Apollinarians, Gnostics, Monothelites, Albigensians or Iconoclasts? Quite frankly, have you heard of the Protestant Reformation? I love my Protestant friends, but I still believe them to be in error, most especially on the nature of the Church and the Holy Eucharist. The Church has always been full of factions with competing agendas. Heresies have been a battle of the Church since her institution as Our Lord died on the Cross. The heresies of our day just happen to be regurgitated heresies of old with sinful human nature mixed in. The heresies of our day are related to human sexuality and the nature of the family. That is why St. John Paul II gave us Theology of the Body. He understood well the heresies leading people into error and sin. So, before we explode every time we hear in the news that someone in the hierarchy is making a proposal that is heretical or heterodoxical, remember that it is nothing new. Pray for them, that in the end they will submit to Holy Mother Church rather than start a heresy that bears their name. Take a deep breath. It’s always been this bad. The Church has always been full of stupid, sinful, greedy, proud, gluttonous, and confused people. Sin makes us woefully stupid.
6. There is always hope. Scripture teaches us a great deal about human beings. It shows us the stupidity of sin, but also the greatness of human beings who are created in the image and likeness of God. When I am tempted to get angry with a member of the Church’s hierarchy or my neighbor in the pew, I remember that many people who fail in the beginning rise to the occasion in the hour of need. St. Peter denied Our Lord three times. All of the Apostles, except for St. John, fled and left Our Lord in His darkest hour. But, that is not where the greatest story ever told ends. No. The Apostles come back together. Our Lord returns to them regardless of their weakness and fear. He returns and says: “Peace be with you”. He gives St. Peter the great commission ‘to feed His sheep’. These men who left Our Lord were given the task of building the infant Church. And so, if St. Peter can deny Our Lord and then follow Christ to an upside down crucifixion, what are our leaders capable of today? What are we capable of through the power of the Holy Spirit? Many may go the way of Judas and despair. We must pray for their souls. Watch and hope. We must pray that if we undergo the test, we succeed and persevere in the end. You will see a great many of our leaders who have let us down in the past now rise to the occasion. Pay attention to those rather than despairing in those who fall. Pray and remember there is always hope.
Happy Feast of Corpus Christi!
I see it often and in all circles inside and outside of the Church. In fact, it is a major part of what ails our culture. It is the total focus on now and an ignoring of the long view. Now is important. How we live our lives now, each day is the slow process of our sanctification, but when all decisions are made with the now in mind, there are disastrous results.
Catholics have always taken a long view and that is because we have an eschatological (theological word for last things) end in that we are to waiting to be re-united with Christ. We have a history of waiting. Our eyes should be firmly fixed on Heaven, while we walk our journey in “fear and trembling” by grace. We have a long history and the Church has survived against great odds that can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit.
A lot of the battles the Church has within the culture have to do with a focus on what feels good now. Humanae Vitae was largely rejected at the time because people, clergy and laymen, could not see the long-term effects of birth control on demand that Pope Paul VI saw. They also ignored the long standing tradition on this topic and the fact that the Holy Spirit protects the Church from doctrinal error. Instead, what mattered is that the Sexual Revolution was happening the Church needed to get on board. This is a complete misunderstanding of the Church’s mission, which is the salvation of souls.
I see the same lack of understanding when it comes to Pope Francis. Truth be told magisterial authority is complex, so I see where some of the confusion comes from and since I am new to the theology of it all, I will wait until I am more adept before I explain it. What I can say is that celebrity Popes is a relatively new phenomenon that has gained traction due to technological advances. St. John Paul II had a dynamic personality and he used media to help bring down the Soviet Union. This served a great purpose. What we have now, however; is an almost obsession with the office of Pope. I have seen some people deny the last 2000 years of history claiming he is the greatest Pope we have ever seen and none of the others matter. Pope Francis would be quite upset to hear this, I am sure. I have seen others describe him as the worst Pope in history, as if a few of the nefarious individuals tied to the Borgias and other influential Italian families throughout history were nothing compared to our current Pope. Then there are people like me think he is a holy man who is leading the Church and I will submit to his authority in love and obedience. He is serving within the great tradition of the Church.
The point is that tunnel vision of history creates conflict and then we end up committing the same mistakes over and over again. Pope Francis, for instance, is not concerned about himself. He is trying to share the Good News with the world, which is a part of his office. As faithful Catholics, our obligation is to submit to his ordinary and, if used, extraordinary magisterial teaching authority. We do not have to love his personality, or agree with his tactics on everything, or how he phrases things off the cuff. The Pope is not God and a lot of Catholics need to be careful that they are not engaging in papal worship. I have seen a great many conversations that give me pause and cause me concern. I feel the same way about those folks who make their living attacking the Holy Father. Reality is somewhere in the middle, and anymore, that is where I try to stay planted because that is where the Church is planted.
What we should be doing is pointing to the Holy Father’s mission in light of the 2000 year history of the Church. He is the Vicar of Christ on earth following in St. Peter’s footsteps. He is showing others to Christ. We can use his words to share the Gospel with others. When we focus too much on him, the message gets blurred. And, quite frankly, we need to just ignore secular media reporting on him. A lot of people would have a lot less stress if they stopped trusting or reading secular news on the Church. It is impossible for people outside of the Church to understanding the workings of the Church. To them we are just another big institution with a charismatic man at the head. He is a politician in their eyes. They do not see that we are the communion of the Mystical Body of Christ and that the Holy Spirit is the life of the Church.
We are members of a living history. A history that has survived worse times than now. The Church has always been foreign in this Fallen world. She is the beacon of hope leading to the Holy Trinity and the world will hate and revile her for it. It is important that we live our lives today. We cannot turn our heads focusing on the past, but we can live out our shared and living history in order to focus on the goal, which is Heaven. We can use the vast knowledge and theological understanding given to the Church in order to evangelize the world. The truth of the Good News continues to deepen and grow in understanding through the living history of the Church. The Church is more than now, she is the summation of what was, what is, and what will be.
I have found that those who are focused on papal politics or an obsession with pelvic issues are lacking in study of history. The Church has always been embroiled in battle, today just happens to be about sex, in the past it was Christology, Mariology, the concept of the Church, etc. Don’t get too caught up in it all. Yes, serve and fight the battles, but do so in trust of Christ and his working. I would say, from previous experience, make sure that you are waging a holy battle. Do not do so because of an impulse reaction of rage or anger. So much of social media is driven by impulse and anger. Pray, fast (I am still working on this), and live the Gospel. Our high pitched yelling at others does nothing, but enliven the Enemy. Share the truth, but be prepared for people to ignore it, and in those cases pray. Share the Good News knowing that we will probably suffer, that is what Christ promised. Live the Gospel, in the end, that is all we can do. I hope your Lent is very blessed.