Sunday, August 24, 2014

On This Rock (21 A)

Since the Gospel today has a very serious message, I thought I would start with a joke.  But since nothing funny came to mind, I googled “homily and joke.” What came back was this: “Many thanks to all those who donated to the special collection for ‘Homily Appreciation.’”

What was really funny was that when I looked carefully at the website, it wasn’t a joke!  I’d like to meet that priest some day…

Speaking of jokes and homilies, I was at Star of the Sea parish on Tuesday when a packed church said farewell to my friend Father Stanley Galvon, their pastor for seventeen years. Father Galvon began his homily by saying “I am really grateful to see so many people gathered here to celebrate the … the second phase of Project Advance!”

With that kind of focus, I predict he will do great things in his new ministry as rector at the Cathedral.

But let’s get serious, since I started by saying the Gospel has a serious message.  In fact, it has at least two.

The first serious message concerns the Pope. The words that Jesus that we’ve just heard—“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. ... I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” are written around the inside of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, in letters two meters high (that’s 6.6 feet for us older folks).

That might seem a flashy way to proclaim Scripture, but the Church was trying to celebrate something truly wonderful—a gift to her from Christ her founder.

The gift is a gift of confidence and hope.  Confidence that what her leaders teach is true; a firm hope that the Church will not go off the rails.

How many other institutions or grand visions have ended up in the dumpster of history? Yet despite the great flaws of some Popes, bishops and priests, the Catholic Church has kept the Gospel undiluted by error.

On matters of faith and morals, a Catholic can stand firm knowing that the Church will not reverse her teaching down the road—no small thing, in these changing and confusing times.

The second serious message concerns each one of us directly. Because Jesus asks question “who do you say that I am” not only to the disciples of two thousand years ago, but to every disciple today.

Who do we say that Jesus is? One controversial blogger has said he is pretty sure that most folks in the pews couldn’t formulate an answer that goes beyond a few memorized phrases like “Son of God,” “Savior of the World,” and “Second Person of the Trinity.”
“All true,” he wrote, “but as answers they beg the question:  what do they mean?”

To be clear: we’re not talking theology here. Jesus is not looking for a clever answer but for a personal expression of faith.

In her remarkable book Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, Sherry Weddell tells the story of interviewing a woman, the leader of a large group in a Canadian parish, and asking “Could you briefly describe to me your lived relationship with God to this point in your life?”

After thinking carefully for a few moments, the woman “responded briskly, ‘I don’t have a relationship with God.’”

After probing for an hour, Sherry Weddell concluded that what the woman had said was exactly right: “While God had a relationship with her (or she would not exist!), she did not have a conscious relationship with God.”

Could some of us be in this position?  Today, it’s Jesus and not Ms. Weddell who interviews us. Who is Jesus to me? Because if he is not my Lord, my God, and my Saviour, I am not a disciple.

All of us know Catholics who have left the Church, especially young ones. To understand this phenomenon—and to do something about it—we should ask: Who was Jesus to them? Were they ever disciples? But we must ask ourselves first.

We do many good things at Christ the Redeemer Parish, but none of them is half so important as forming intentional disciples who know and follow Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God.
You can listen to Ralph Martin interview Sherry Weddell here.

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