Memorial of Saint Dominic, Priest
Often those who convert to Catholicism from another Christian denomination find opposition from family and friends who challenge Catholic beliefs. One of these beliefs is the papacy, and the Scripture passage that supports this Church doctrine is today’s gospel reading. This passage is sometimes known as Peter’s confession because he professes his belief that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah), Son of the Living God. Jesus responds by calling Peter blessed and saying that he will build his Church on Peter, a name that means rock. Nor is this the only passage that highlights Peter’s leadership and place of primacy among the apostles. Whenever the apostles are listed, Peter is always at the head of the list, and Judas is always listed last. So it is with good reason that Catholics acknowledge Peter’s leadership and the authority of the pope in leading the Church.
And yet, those who do not affirm the papacy often focus on the latter part of this passage, where Jesus rebukes Peter. We could also think of Peter’s faith failing as he walked on the water and then sank... or, perhaps most disturbingly, Peter’s thrice denial of Jesus during his passion. Peter was surely a human being, as is our pope today, and Jesus highlighted this when he told Peter that he was thinking not as God does, but as human beings do (Mt 16:23).
But of course, there was much more to the life of Peter than was represented in these excerpts. In the Acts of the Apostles, we see him leading the Church, not always perfectly or without conflict, but nonetheless, he is striving to do God’s will. Hence Peter’s story did not end with the denial of Jesus, but rather, it ended with his confession of faith in Jesus and martyrdom – an upside down crucifixion, since he didn’t believe himself worthy to die as Christ has died. And this end was a mirror to his early confession of Jesus as the Christ. When Peter first professed that faith, he didn’t understand what it would cost him, but he learned, as time went on, to think more like God.
This is our challenge today, namely, to think more like God thinks. We are concerned with our everyday life here on earth – with good reason – but often it can lead us into distraction from the things of heaven. Like the early Peter, we might feel willing to confess our belief in Jesus, but unwilling to accept the trials and sufferings of the Christ-like life. We are called to accept the cost of discipleship, and not view it as cost but as gain. This is the gift of Jesus as Christ, hinted at in our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah. God is always faithful to his covenants with his people, and his final and everlasting covenant is the one initiated by Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. God has transformed suffering in Jesus; God has made it possible to forgive our sins through Jesus.
Let us pray that we may grow in thinking as God does, seeing the world as God does. It may seem like an enormous task, but even Peter, that very human apostle, was able over time to embody his profession of faith in Jesus the Christ. And as we go about this pilgrimage, let us also always keep in mind and unite our prayers to our pope, the successor of Peter and leader of our Church.
- Maria Morrow