Matthew 1: 13-20

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Then he strictly ordered his disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord!

The seas are choppy, dark clouds overcast the skies, and in the midst of this scene sits a magnificent sailboat seemingly undisturbed on its course. This is an image seen in many paintings of the Catholic Church until recent times. The image of the ‘Barque of Peter” Peter’s Boat describes the position of the Church in a hostile world. It sails calmly despite the turmoil which surrounds it.

Another description of the Church on earth is “The Church militant.” This conjures up images of a vast army made up of legions of warlike soldiers, led into battle by powerful leaders. This military analogy again speaks of the strength and power of the Church. She has these at her disposal in its fight against evil.

The Church has also been seen as a monarchy. As part of the political structure of past centuries, the pope was seen as the supreme monarch. Furthermore, the cardinals were the princes and the bishops, mighty and influential rulers of both spiritual and secular realms. These images of the Church are images of power, strength, and domination, and drew their inspiration more from the culture of the times than the teaching of Jesus Christ or the leadership of Peter.

At first sight, Peter is the most unlikely of the apostles for Jesus to choose. In the very next section of the Gospel, he will be told by Jesus “to get behind Satan” because he does not understand the nature of Jesus’ mission. Peter will go on to boast that he will not betray Jesus. However, he falls at the first hurdle when he is questioned by a young serving girl in the courtyard. Jesus clearly did not pick Peter as the earthly head of the Church because he was a sensible, intelligent, or great manager. In fact, Peter comes across as a rash, impetuous, and passionate character and not the ideal characteristics for running any kind of organization, at least not in our modern times.

Peter’s profession of faith makes him the first to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus. Yet this declaration of faith is given to Peter as a gift from the Father. We might ask ourselves, “What kind of rock is Peter? Perhaps the tendency might be to picture a sizeable, solid foundation stone. Maybe it might be better to see him as a small pebble with which God does amazing things. The Church was not built on Peter because of his innate skills, strengths, qualifications or power. Instead, she was built upon God’s power to act through him. It is Jesus himself who will build the Church upon this inadequate human being.

It can be easy, when part of an organization as large as the Church, to be distracted from the fundamental truth that we are dependent upon God. Sometimes we can convince ourselves that it is our skills, our ideas, and our work that really matters. The encounter that Peter has with Jesus should cause us to reflect on our own lives. We might ask ourselves the following:

Do I see myself as an immense solid cornerstone, firm in myself, and dependent upon no one?
Do I see myself as a little pebble that God wants to use for God’s own purposes rather than my own?

The Second Vatican Council proposed that we look at the Church differently than images of the past. Among the many images that the Council uses, a key one emerges; the Church as the Pilgrim People of God. This does not imply power, strength, or dominance. It seems to run counter to these notions. This Pilgrim People is led by God to the heavenly kingdom and can make this journey only if it depends upon the strength of God.
This is the Church of which we are members. A pilgrim people, seeking its way through the hopes and joys, the sorrows, and the pains of our modern world. It moves toward the Kingdom of God. May we allow ourselves to be used as a pebble to build the kingdom of love, mercy, and peace.

Fr. Joe