We hear often in the words of Sacred Scripture that we should not fear. That is a comforting, but impossible request. A sudden noise, a bit of news, a slight slip of the foot, can send a flash of fright through our bodies. Fear and faith make good partners actually.
Our Christian spirituality never suppresses what is humanly and psychologically healthy. Anything which is human is also prayerable. As I write this tonight there are tornado warnings out for our area. Fear is about four standard deviations from my consciousness as of this moment. I am not running to our basement just yet, but if the sirens start I will descend. Fears are healthy and we pray so we can keep them so. I don’t pray that the tornados hit somewhere else. I prayed this morning so that whatever might be personally tornadic during this day might not send me into some basement of depression, or desolation. What Scripture is telling us is not to let fear become the only thing that we believe in.
As we prepare for this week’s Eucharistic celebration, we might experience our large and small fears with a prayer of faith. If it is natural and healthy for us to fear, then it is a spiritual healthy thing to find God’s presence in what might otherwise send us to our basements.
The 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time is replaced this year by the special memorial solemnity of Peter and Paul. These two great apostles of the Gospel and the early church were men of great personal and spiritual recovery as well. They lived their humanity and their participation in Christ’s Divinity with all that this means. The Great Denier and the Great Persecutor were brought to their knees by Christ’s redemptive love. Their faith in this merciful God brought them likewise up from their knees and got them walking and talking of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Their own lives led to their deaths and so too, to their resurrections.
In our First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear about a miraculous experience of Peter. He was scheduled to die at the hands of King Herod, but an angel freed him from his chains. He was told by the angel to get up, get dressed and get out. Peter thought he was dreaming, but once out on the street the angel left him to go and show himself to all those who had been praying for him.
In the Second Reading we hear Paul’s writing a summary of his faith-life. He is looking back on his days as some kind of contest in which he has finished well by keeping faith in the midst of troubles. He boasts that the Lord has stood by him and kept him safe for his part in continuing the spread of the Good News that all are saved by the goodness and mercy of God.
The Gospel takes us back to Peter. The Pharisees, at the beginning of the chapter from which our section is taken, demand signs for proof that Jesus is sent from God as Messiah. He warns His disciples about that kind of relating with God, that is, there has to be evidence or signs which validate Him.
It is within this context that Jesus asks His followers about whom they think or believe Him to be. Peter professes that he, and they, see Jesus as more than a prophet, but the real presence and the Person of God made man. He is the Son of the living God.
Not as a prize for saying the correct answer, but as an affirmation and ordination, Peter is called to be the”Foundation” person among the “called”. The word we use for “church”, which is taken from the Greek, means “those who gather together because they have heard something which calls them together”. Peter is named to be the chief caller. In a sense he is called to be a caller. He became the first person of the Church and so defines what the Church is.
It is attractive to write and talk about the power of the “keys” and the power to loose and bind. It is tempting to use this text as a proof for the divine power given to the Pope as the successor of Peter. These are all good things about which to write, but the central picture or image is of the meaning and the mission of community, or the Church. Do we know who we are? Do we like who we are? Do we know what we are meant to be doing? If we are not sure, then we need texts to prove and power to defend ourselves. Peter and Paul did not seem to need defense or proofs, but faith in the events of their active lives.
Peter was called from his fishing boat and Paul from his oppressing control tower of power. Neither of them is told what exactly they were to do. Their personal encounters with Jesus and subsequent changes because of that relationship, formed them to do what seemed, well, that which was called to do. If we individually learn and accept who we are, we will know what to do. These two were saved from themselves to be for others. Saved from is to be saved for.
In a sense this celebration is ours as well. Peter and Paul and you and I are called from so we can be for the moments of preaching and revealing what Church is. I am Paul/Church when I encourage, instruct, reconcile, bless, correct, serve and ultimately lay down my life for believing. I am Peter/Church when I confront, challenge, form community, sacramentalize important moments within community, preach a faith-doing-justice, and be willing to lay my life down for my believing. Paul and Peter did these and they were not just Church-going, but Church-going-out persons. We are who we say we are by our doing what our faith calls us to do. The angel freed Peter and then left him alone in a dark alley, but Peter knew what to do. Paul was blinded but when he recovered his sight, he did not wait around for further instructions or reach for an Owner’s Manual.
“These men, conquering all human frailty, shed their blood and helped the Church to grow. By sharing the cup of the Lord’s suffering, they became the friends of God.” Entrance Antiphon.
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