Awaiting the King’s Return

“Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!” said Aragorn. “You are weary. Rest a while, and take food, and be ready when I return.”

“I will, lord,” said Faramir. “For who would lie idle when the king has returned?”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, which commemorates Christ naming his apostle Peter as the rock upon which he would build his Church (Mt 16:13-19). This man was the first to fill the chair that would come to symbolize the office of the pope as the bishop of Rome. An actual, ancient chair known as the Cathedra Petri is enthroned in the back of St. Peter’s Basilica to this day. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “It is a symbol of the special mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ’s flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity” (Angelus, Feb. 19, 2012).

St. Peter was not perfect. He was not learned, like St. Paul, or even remembered as the beloved disciple, like St. John. From the start, he tells Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). When called out on the water, he doubts and begins to sink (Mt 14:30-31). Even after receiving his office, when he rebukes Jesus about the first prediction of his passion, Jesus does not hold back in his response, unleashing words more painful than the ones with which he addressed the scribes and Pharisees. He says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mt 16:23). Later, during that very passion, St. Peter would not be standing at the foot of the cross with Our Lady and St. John—he would deny Jesus not just once, but three times, and his denial would end in bitter tears.

However, St. Peter’s imperfections were not the whole story. We don’t remember saints for being perfect: we remember them for their humility, their perseverance, and their self-sacrificial love. This kind of life was the mission Christ called St. Peter to, knowing the shadows of his weaknesses, knowing that the tears of denial would come. After the resurrection, in John 21:15-19, St. Peter is asked three times to love Jesus and to care for his sheep, and he responds this time with humble love—a love which would later lead to his own crucifixion. He persevered to the end as a shepherd of his flock, as a faithful steward, pointing others to Christ as the best man rejoices in and points to the bridegroom, and received an “unfading crown of glory” (1 Pt 5:4).

Other stewards of the King have come and gone. Some have been saints while others have failed the flock they were sworn to protect. But, through any weariness, sickness, or sorrow, the Church stands firm. We rest in the knowledge that “he knows what he is about” (Bl. John Henry Newman), and that the “gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18). We take food—his very Body and Blood, given up for us in his passion and shared with us each time we participate in the Mass—and receive courage for what lies ahead. We watch and we wait as a bride eagerly awaits her bridegroom, longing to see his face, knowing that our “hearts will rejoice, and no one will take [our] joy” (Jn 16:22). Our Lord is our King, our Shepherd—and there is nothing more we could want.

 

Listening

A Fr. Mike Schmitz homily about St. Peter: https://bulldogcatholic.org/02-10-19-disqualified-unfit/

Who Is Like God?

Once when Jesus was praying in solitude,
and the disciples were with him,
he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah;
still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.'”
Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”
He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.

He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

—Luke 9:18–22

Jesus’s two questions to his disciples—“Who do the crowds say that I am? …But who do you say that I am?”—highlight the fact that He wants us to come to know Him personally, not merely through what we hear from others. He knows that a flurry of rumors and opinions surround Him, but He doesn’t want His disciples to be distracted by them. Rather, He wants them to form their knowledge from their own direct encounters with Him.

Peter’s response—“The Christ of God”—cuts straight to the heart of the matter. Is Jesus a prophet or the Messiah? A conduit of God’s message, or the Source? Peter answers firmly that Jesus is not merely a human leader but is the Divine Redeemer.

However, declaring Jesus to be the Messiah has some troubling implications. If He is the Redeemer, then He is also the Lamb, destined to be sacrificed for our salvation. The disciples do not realize this; they do not yet know the necessity of the Cross, but Jesus immediately and directly speaks to them of the great suffering He must endure.

The truth of Jesus’s divinity was much harder to process than the other narratives floating among the crowds. To be a follower of a prophet required much less than to be the follower of the Lamb. Jesus was asking His disciples to follow Him in the way of sacrifice, to take up their own crosses. It would have been much easier for them to accept an alternate explanation for Jesus’s teachings and rationalize that He didn’t really mean that He would suffer. But it wouldn’t have been the truth.

We are living in turbulent times, where the truth is twisted in a thousand different directions every day. As we try to come to know Jesus, it can be very easy to become distracted by the noise that surrounds us, the many alternative explanations and lies that try to steal our attention and confuse us. But Jesus Himself is the Truth—and the Way, and the Life—and if we focus ourselves on Him, we will find the truth illuminated for us everywhere.

We are called to earnestly seek truth in every situation, not to accept incomplete accounts or one-sided descriptions that may be easier to digest but ultimately keep us in the darkness. The truth is difficult and often uncomfortable, but only the truth will set us free.

Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Michael and the Archangels, who were the forerunners for us in this decision between truth and comfort. For the angels, the revelation that they would be called to serve fallen humanity and bow before Mary as their Queen was difficult to receive. In response, Satan rebelled against God and refused to serve. Michael could have made that choice, too, but he didn’t. Instead he responded, “Mîkhā’ēl,” or “Who is like God?” He knew that even though the path ahead would involve suffering, he could trust God to lead him through it. And honestly, who was Satan kidding? Did he really think he could defeat God? He can whine and scheme and throw tantrums; he can wreak havoc throughout the world; but in the end, he cannot win. He is not like God. Unlike Michael, he refused to acknowledge this truth.

Michael’s words, “Who is like God?”, are very similar to Peter’s: “Lord, to whom else would we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.” They are kindred spirits in their clear-eyed understanding of their own dependence upon God. They know that God’s teachings are difficult, but that doesn’t change the fact that He is trustworthy. They look to God Himself and find Truth within the Mystery.

In response to the current abuse crisis in the Church, many parishes (including St. Patrick’s Cathedral!) have brought back the tradition of saying the St. Michael Prayer together at the end of each Mass. As we look toward his feast tomorrow, let us keep this prayer on our lips as a guard against the lies of Satan and a declaration of trust in God. May truth prevail, in our own hearts and in the whole world.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Wise foolishness and the abundance of God

Dear fellow pilgrims,

Our readings today have a clear message: be humble, follow the Lord’s will and not your own. We can feel this message of “let him become a fool, so as to become wise” when we talk about our lives to some unbelievers whilst trying to explain decisions made by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, peace in prayer, and other ways of discernment. How do we explain if we left a job with no other job lined up because we “just knew” it was time through prayer? How do we explain not being truly worried about the amount of children we will eventually have? It’s impossible without a childlike trust and humility in our Lord’s provision for us and faithfulness to us. In a world where very intelligent people can chide religious people by telling us we trust in, essentially, a “flying spaghetti monster,” it is no wonder sometimes that we feel “foolish” in the eyes of the world.  But this trust we have in our Lord is not truly foolish. We have tasted and seen that the Lord is, indeed, good. I pray all of us have some moment in our hearts we can go back to to ground us in times of unbelief or difficulty in faith where the only conclusions are that God is real and God loves us.

In our Gospel today, we see a moment like that happening frame-by-frame for St. Peter. He follows the direction of Jesus, who is clearly not an expert fisherman, after following his own experienced direction for quite some time and finding no luck in a catch. But this seemingly foolish move results in something so miraculous that he is struck with the fear of God: he is faced with a catch of fish so large that even his own equipment cannot hold it. His nets tear! What a beautiful image. This detail is speaking to me today:

Sometimes we think that it is because of our own equipment and knowledge that our lives are not going the way we planned. We have worked hard, using all of the knowledge that we have, and we are not seeing results or certain events happen in our life. But in this Gospel, we are reminded of Who holds every aspect of our lives in order. You can be as prepared for a giant catch, or desired result or happy moment, in your life as possible, have all the right equipment, but still, in that moment of fulfillment, you may also an inadequacy in receiving it. Your nets may rip, your mind and heart may fall short of receiving what Jesus is giving you. It may all seem too much and actually a threat to your life instead of a blessing. But these moments, especially, so potently remind us that the Lord does not give purely according to when we fulfill some formula or when we meet a holiness or readiness quote.  God is not like humans, He gives freely and purposefully, even though the purpose is most likely lost on the receiver. God does not give only according to our little abilities to receive Him, He gives fully, which should make us want to grow to receive more.

So maybe that wasn’t even the biggest net St. Peter had, but Jesus gave him an overabundance of harvest anyways. May we also heed our Lord’s calls to seemingly foolish things in the hope that in this “foolishness” is true wisdom as His children.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

The Heart-Knowing of St. Peter

Reading 1

JER 31:31-34

The days are coming, says the LORD,

when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel

and the house of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers:

the day I took them by the hand

to lead them forth from the land of Egypt;

for they broke my covenant,

and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD.

But this is the covenant that I will make

with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD.

I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; 

I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives

how to know the LORD.

All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD,

for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

Gospel

MT 16:13-23

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.”

Dear fellow pilgrims, 

Our readings today remind us that the Lord wants our hearts, not merely outward actions.  His Heart and our hearts are the meeting place for this new covenant between God and His people, His children. This desire for our hearts is an equal and opposite reaction from our Lord giving us His Heart completely in His life, death, and resurrection. But this covenant, this relationship between God and Man has not always been this way.

The first reading’s description of how covenants would shift reminded me immediately of how relationships between children and parents develop: at first, a parent must take a more hands-on approach to teaching their child about how to act in the world (i.e. “I took them by the hand…”) when they are small. There are rules that are very black-and-white, involving a lot of commands, because children must understand the do’s and don’ts of the world before they develop the cognitive capacity to think more deeply about the reasons behind them.  (And, quite honestly, children need to know the do’s and don’t’s of survival so they can just literally live to develop that cognitive capacity for critical reasoning.) Then, as a child grows older, a parent has less direct control over them, and hopes and prays that the child has at least learned “right from wrong” and can make their own good decisions without constant reminders. Parents’ influences become internalized, or incorporated to subconscious habits or patterns, in older children. This human psychological shift parallels the shift in covenantal relationships between God and Man: God wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, and God also “wrote,” or revealed, His new covenant on the Heart of His Son.  Jesus’ Heart reveals the Heart of the Father, the desire of the Father for a new, closer relationship with His children.  

We can oftentimes (at least I can) overly intellectualize or overthink what it means to actually know Jesus, and this is true especially if you are a cradle Catholic (so I’ve gathered).  THIS is the relationship God desires, and paid such a heavy price for even the chance to have with you, and I’m speaking to you cradle Catholics now: God desires that you would follow Him and not just the things “you know you should do.”  It’s the difference between calling your mom every weekend because you know you should do it and calling your mom every weekend because you just miss her and want to know how she is doing, and know she wants to hear how you’re doing and you know that this exchange will energize you both. (note: I know most of us do not have that ideal relationship with our parents, but these relationships can help teach us more of what our perfect Father is like according to where we may feel hurt or wounded by our biological parents.)

And so, God the Father sends His Son to earth to show His children Who He Is and not just “what He wants you to do.” And in the Gospel reading for today, Jesus holds what an overthinking, intellectual disciple might have seen as a “pop quiz.”  The disciples happily chimed in when Jesus asked who OTHER people said He was, for this was accessible objective knowledge. But… only one answered when Jesus asked who THEY said He was.  Salvation history was unfolding before their very eyes, but many disciples were probably still very unsure about the specifics surrounding Jesus. They all felt a grip on their soul, but few could take that risk to profess a specific faith in Jesus’ identity.  For this was truly a faith, especially so for these disciples who had yet to see Him die and rise again, fulfilling His role as Messiah.  We know the end of the story!  They didn’t.  But it was St. Peter who saw Who Jesus was, he saw with his heart, because he was willing to be led into an unknown knowing, a faith.  I think this is due to the “fool” of St. Peter that manifests in different ways throughout his discipleship.  This same foolish instinct led him out of the boat when Jesus called him to walk in the storm.  This seeming “foolishness” is actually the center of what Jesus heralds about children: there is a purity of reaching out towards what his heart feels but cannot articulate because he knows that this is actually the better part to act upon. 

And beautifully, Peter’s risky profession of faith in a moment of testing, proclaiming who Jesus was to him in a time of confusion and many opinions on the matter, led to Jesus proclaiming who Peter would be.  Peter’s confirmation of Jesus’ identity led to his own; seeing His heart helped him see his own.  This was a defining moment in the unfolding of Jeremiah’s prophecy: Peter was not being taught by another human about how to know God, He was getting to know Jesus, and would be led into knowing the depth of Jesus’ Heart by experiencing the weight of his own sins and redemption. His leadership of the Church would be based off of this knowing, not one of ancient books. Jesus’ law was being written within the hearts of men and women who followed Him, not on stone or paper. 

Jesus, I draw near to You. 

I ask You to silence the voices of self-revision in my mind. 

You long to hear me as I am. 

Tell me how you love me. 

Tell me how you see me. 

My heart longs to know Yours. 

Please meet me here, in my heart. 

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

God Is On Our Side

“Eleven dollars and twenty-six cents!” my niece Lollipop announced after we had counted all of her savings from the shoebox under her bed.  It was nearly doubled thanks to the $5 I had used to bribe her to go on the Ragin’ Cagin’ roller coaster at Six Flags, and so I expected her to be delighted.

Instead she threw herself down on the bed and wailed.  “I will never earn enough money!” she cried.  “How will I ever get $30,000?”

She was hoping to adopt a baby sister and the cost was prohibitive, particularly given the earning power of an eight-year-old.

The adult in me wanted to smile, but I felt something (Someone) nudging my heart, and realized that our similarities were more than physical, and not just because we are both drama queens.

It’s tempting in spite of (or perhaps because of) years of Catholic formation to think we can earn God’s grace, or love or virtue.  Even knowing that this is theological nonsense, I often find myself in practice trying to do just that, only to find that in a lifetime I can never earn enough, make myself good enough or be worthy enough.

It’s not as if after a few millennia of working out, St. Peter could walk on water by himself.  Or that after a few million motivational talks he’d have the willpower to not deny Jesus three times, or to be crucified upside down, or to preach Pentecost morning while a number of listeners thought he was drunk.

It’s all grace.  I know this.  I can’t earn it.  I can’t make it happen.  I can’t even store it up for future use.  But what I sometimes forget, is that God is on my side.  He desires more good for me than I can ever think to aspire to or ask for.

In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus free a poor soul from the grip of demonic power, only for the Pharisees to spin the story and give credit to Beelzebub.  Why are the Pharisees so set against Jesus?  They have reduced religion to works, thinking that enough pious practice can earn them a place with God in heaven.  Jesus has come to show them that He is the way; there is no other.  He longs for them to come to Him, but their hearts are hardened to receiving and relationship.

Jesus then goes Himself out into all of the villages and towns.  His heart is moved by the needs of the people, and He goes to them and heals them.  There is no question of a trade-off; no payment is required for grace.  The Unmoved Mover is moved by the people themselves.

It is from this place of compassion that Jesus asks His disciples to pray for more workers to attend to the harvest.  He is not looking for more practitioners of piety, but for those who will share with Him the heart of the Father.

It is only in allowing ourselves to receive the free love of God that we can be freed to truly love and serve others, to be Christ to them.  Let us ask for the graces we need to live and love like Jesus.

P.S.  Lollipop’s baby sister was born a little over a year later.  Her money is still safely under the bed.  It seems no action on her part was required.  😊

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

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.”
—Matthew 16:16–18

Considering the fact that they often disagreed in life, it’s funny that Peter and Paul now share a feast day. However, despite their differing personalities, their stories have much in common. Both Peter and Paul were beacons of the early Church, instrumental in evangelization and leadership. Both gave their lives as martyrs, sowing the seed of the Church. And both underwent radical conversions after personal encounters with Christ.

Peter’s story in the Gospels is one of constantly trying, failing, and persevering. He is somewhat of a hapless apostle, trying to please Jesus but constantly making mistakes in the process. His sincere love for Jesus is fully apparent, alongside his flawed humanity, and through this combination he models for us how to fall upon the great mercy of God. If someone like Peter can not only be forgiven for his denial and betrayal of Jesus but also be named the first pope—well, then there’s hope for all of us, isn’t there?

Roman_School,_circa_1620_Saints_Peter_and_PaulPaul has perhaps the most famous conversion story of all time, the dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus. He too is a prime example of a flawed saint; before Jesus dramatically intervened, Paul was literally murdering Christians. Not a typical path to holiness. But Jesus took even that unlikely path and redirected it toward sainthood. Paul always recognized that it was only through God’s grace that he was able to carry out his good works; he had no illusions of his own inherent goodness.

I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well; I have finished the race;
I have kept the faith…
The Lord stood by me and gave me strength,
so that through me the proclamation might be completed
and all the Gentiles might hear it.
—2 Timothy 4:6–7, 17

St._Paul_Visiting_St._Peter_in_PrisonPaul poured himself out until he was empty, an open vessel in which Christ could dwell. It was then that God’s grace worked in him most fully, supplying him with a transcendent strength to persevere in his mission. The words Jesus once spoke to Peter apply to Paul, too: “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” Peter and Paul both found their strength in weakness, by being receptive to divine revelation, allowing God to take control. Peter was particularly changed after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost—before that moment, he was cowering in the upper room, but upon receiving those graces, he immediately stepped out in courage.

There is a lesser known story in which Jesus meets Peter out on the road and redirects his path. Instead of the road to Damascus, it is the road from Rome:

A legend has Peter walking along a road outside of Rome, fleeing arrest and certain death, when he comes to a crossroads: where the Appian Way meets the Via Ardeatina.

There he meets our risen Lord.

“Quo vadis?” Peter asks, to which Jesus replies:

“Romam vado iterum crucifigi.” I am going to Rome to be crucified again….

The end of the story, of course, is the end of Peter. He turns around and heads back towards Vatican Hill. This is the last time he would need to be redirected by Jesus.

Brad Miner

1601-2

Imagine Peter at that crossroads. It would not be the first time he’d found himself in that position—his abiding love for Jesus pinned against his all-encompassing terror of suffering and death. Here was a second chance to choose faith over fear. Perhaps this time, Peter would recall the words he once spoke to Jesus: “Master, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.”

Just as Peter and Paul persevered despite their flaws and sins and mistakes, may we too find the courage to get up when we fall and keep moving forward. May we recognize that it is far better to stumble along the right road than to speed down the wrong one—for even if the wrong one is smoother and easier, it won’t take us where we need to go, and there is only one Way that leads to everlasting life.


1. Anonymous (Roman school), Saints Peter and Paul / PD-US
2. Filippino Lippi, St. Paul Visits St. Peter in Prison / PD-US
3. Annibale Caracci, Domine, quo vadis? / PD-US

The God of Second Chances

After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them,
he said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
—John 21:15–17

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Sorrow_of_Saint_Peter_(La_douleur_de_Saint_Pierre)_-_James_TissotA few weeks earlier, Peter had stood outside the courtyard of the high priest, weeping bitterly. He had disowned Jesus not once, not twice, but three times, just as Jesus had predicted. Peter was filled with grief when he realized what he had done: despite the fact that he had vowed to stand by Jesus in every possible trial, despite his complete devotion, he had buckled at the first bit of pressure and cast aside the One who meant everything to him.

We might imagine that we would defend our faith in any circumstance, but when those situations actually arise, often our discomfort leads us to hide our true colors and pretend that we are just another face in the crowd, not a follower of Christ. There’s a fine line between trying not to force our faith upon others and hiding it altogether, and it can be all too easy amid a secular environment to act as though we are ashamed of our relationship with Jesus.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Saint_Peter_Walks_on_the_Sea_(Saint_Pierre_marche_sur_la_mer)_-_James_Tissot_-_overallYes, there will be consequences for defending Christ. But there are worse consequences for denying Him. We can’t allow the possible reactions of others to distance us from the Source of all joy and love, as though their approval were the real key to our happiness. And in fact, we might be surprised at others’ openness to our faith—it might end up being a point of connection between us.

Chances are, at one point or another we’re going to mess this up. We’re going to drop the ball when presented with opportunities to witness to our faith, and we’re going to hide our light under a bushel basket out of fear. But Peter shows us that this, too, can be a path to grace. When we realize our shortcomings and failures, we can follow the way of Peter, the way of humility. We can begin to understand that we will never be able to carry out our grandiose plans on our own, that we are truly dependent upon Jesus for everything.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Meal_of_Our_Lord_and_the_Apostles_(Repas_de_Notre-Seigneur_et_des_apôtres)_-_James_TissotOur God is a God of second chances. How tender Jesus was to Peter, to grant him this moment: He set the scene over again, with a charcoal fire burning just as there was in the courtyard of the high priest, and asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And three times, Peter was able to reply, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He was given a second chance, a do-over of the worst mistake he’d ever made. Jesus saw Peter’s sorrow and contrition, and in His mercy He stepped in to restore the relationship. Not only that, but He entrusted the Church to Peter as the first pope. He cast Peter’s sins as far as the east is from the west, giving him a fresh start. He does this for us, too. No matter how badly we’ve messed up, he will give us another chance if we’re willing to try again—and, this time, to call upon His help to guide us.


1. James Tissot, The Sorrow of Saint Peter / PD-US
2. James Tissot, Saint Peter Walks on the Sea / PD-US
3. James Tissot, Meal of Our Lord and the Apostles / PD-US