29 June 2017

Dear brother priests, staff, students and friends in Christ:

Introduction

Before offering a short reflection on today’s feast, I first wish to offer heartfelt my congratulations to all students who have successfully completed this year of their studies and are moving forward to greater challenges in the years to come. Above all, I offer my best wishes and prayers to the graduates of STA on reaching this milestone in their life. You have concluded a significant chapter in your life with tremendous accomplishments of which all of us are very proud.

Before beginning the next stage of your journey, do take the time to thank the Lord and all those who have enabled you to complete your high school education at STA, a Catholic institution which prides itself on forming men and women for the future in a faith-filled environment, one which has challenged you to grow academically, socially, physically, emotionally and above all, spiritually. If the last years have been truly successful, you will also have matured in your personal friendship with Jesus Christ and your understanding that living the Gospel message provides a sure foundation for the “fullness of life” (Jn 10:10), which the Lord promises to those who sincerely follow him.

Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul


Today’s feast of the two greatest Apostles, Peter and Paul, tells us what we mean when we say in the creed that we believe in the Church which is apostolic: that it goes back to Jesus himself and is founded on the Apostles. Above all, it reminds us that their preaching was confirmed by their martyrdom in Rome around the year 67 AD, when Peter was crucified upside down, not far from the present basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican and Paul was beheaded on the road to the seaport of Ostia, on the outskirts of the capital of the Roman Empire. They proved their faith in Jesus by shedding their blood for him. Each had a different mission: Peter was the guardian, the rock of the Church’s faith and its chief shepherd, and Paul was the great evangelizer, bringing the faith to the world around the Mediterranean Sea.

We know that the Pope, now Francis, the 266th successor of St. Peter as the Bishop of Rome, has the unique mission of ensuring that the teachings of Jesus remain uncontaminated down through the centuries. But the Pope also succeeds to the mission of Paul: to be a prophet, to preach to all nations, to carry the Catholic faith to the ends of the earth. The Church has to be both a guardian of the truth of the Gospel and a prophetic voice in the world.

Three Questions

Now I would like to take three questions which Jesus addressed to Peter and Paul, beginning with one to Paul and then two to Peter, and see what they mean to us.

 

  1. Question to Paul

While not taken from today’s Readings, the Risen Lord addressed a question to Saul, who was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians whom he saw as Jewish heretics. Suddenly, as he was approaching the city, a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). The outward dazzling radiance blinded this once zealous persecutor who was interiorly blind to Christ. After obeying the Lord’s command to go into the city, Saul’s earthly sight was restored. Then he could then really see, really understand the truth and freedom of the Gospel. This divine call changed Paul’s life in a fundamental way. He turned away from the darkness of not knowing Christ to the splendor of his light.[1]

And so the question to us is this: Do we “persecute” Jesus, not by harming his followers, which you don’t do, but by ignoring him? By pretending that he has nothing to say to us? By putting ourselves first and following our own whims and desires?

Jesus invites us, as he did St. Paul, to take off our blinders and see ourselves as he does – a little flawed, somewhat sinful, in need of healing and mercy and, above all, in need of his love.

 

 

  1. First Question to Peter

Because Peter knew Jesus in the flesh during his public ministry, and not, like Paul, from a vision, we have many more conversations recorded between the Master and the Apostle. Two of these conversations are particularly significant.

The first question is recorded in today’s Gospel. As the disciples were walking along when Jesus took a kind of poll, asking his disciples a precise question: “Who do people say that I am?” (Mt 16:13). The popular opinions given did not satisfy Jesus: John the Baptist come back to life or one of the prophets. All of these were hearsay and off the mark.

What Jesus wanted, however, was not just a repetition of what others thought about him, but from those who had agreed to be personally involved with him as his followers. He wanted a personal statement of their convictions. And so he turned to them and he insisted: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mt 16:15). This question is at the heart of the Gospel and is addressed to you this morning with no less intensity than on that dusty road around Caesarea Philippi.

In fact, there are two ways of “seeing” and “knowing” Jesus: one – that of the crowd – is superficial; the other – that which Jesus expects of his disciples – is the genuine article.

 

This is how it still is with us today. Many people draw near to Jesus, as it were, from the outside. Great scholars and even the news media recognize his spiritual and moral stature and his influence on human history, comparing him to Buddha, Confucius, Socrates and other wise and important historical figures. Jesus is also considered as one of the great founders of a religion from which everyone may take something in order to form his or her own convictions about who God is and how they should live. Today too, “people” have different opinions about Jesus, just as they did then.

And, just as he did then, Jesus repeats his question to us, his disciples today. He turns around and asks you, “And you, who you do you say that I am?” This is the fundamental question posed to those who are disciples. What do you really think of me?

In the Gospel, Peter, the impetuous leader, responded for the others: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).[2] Even if he did not fully understand what he was saying because it was “revealed” to him by the Father, this is confession of the Church.

 

And today it is also our question. Do you believe Jesus to be the “Son of the living God?” The One who came among us to save us, to teach us what it means to be happy? Do you believe that he speaks the word of God and that, as such, it is to be followed as the surest guide to fulfillment in this life and in eternal life?

  1. Second Question to Peter

The last chapter of John’s Gospel records Jesus last, and greatest, question to Peter. After the Resurrection, on the shore of the Lake of Galilee, he asks Peter three times, recalling his threefold denial on the night before his death: “Do you love me?” (Jn 21:15-17).

This is a question we ask of others with whom we share or wish to share an intimate, personal relationship. And that is precisely what Jesus asks each of us: “Do you love me?” We first have to know who he is, but that, in itself, is not enough. We have to move from the head to the heart. Not only does Jesus love us – he gave his life for us on the Cross – he wants our own poor, often wavering love. That’s all he wants from us: to allow ourselves to be loved, and to love him and his brothers and sisters in return. Ask yourself: Do you love Jesus as he loves you?

Conclusion

Let’s continue our celebration of the Eucharist, giving thanks for the successful completion of this school year, but above being thankful that we live in God’s world, and that we are loved and can love. The Eucharist is the great proof of that love when Jesus gives himself to us as the Bread of Life, food for our journey through life.

ªJ. Michael Miller, CSB

Archbishop of Vancouver

[1] Cf. Benedict XVI, General Audience (3 September 2008).

[2] Cf. Benedict XVI, Homily (29 June 2007).


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