Our Identity In Christ

Then [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.” – Luke 9:20

In today’s Gospel Peter confesses his faith by saying that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one by God. This is the first time in the Gospel which a human on his own has the insight to KNOW that Jesus is Christ. In first-century Palestine, this declaration was a very big deal. For years and years and years, Israel has been waiting for the Messiah, the one anointed by God to come and save them. Earlier in his ministry (look at yesterday’s reflection) people were confused by Jesus’ identity, thinking he was John the Baptist, Elijah, or some other prophet. But Peter, in an intimate moment, clearly and definitively states that Jesus is the Messiah of God. The Christ. The new David that Israel has so earnestly been waiting for.

We declare our own confession of faith when we recite in the creed, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.”

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Frassati retreat. The theme of the retreat was “Called by Name.” A name is important. We fill out forms with our names. We wear name tags with our names. We write cards and letters and sign them with our names. Our names are special. Just as the name Jesus is special. There is power in a name. Just as the name of Jesus is powerful.

Throughout the retreat I was attentive to hear God call me by name, Mariela. And in hearing him say my name I was reminded of my identity. I am a child of God. Sometimes the world may confuse our identity, as the crowds had earlier been confused by Jesus’ true identity. The world may perceive us in such a way that they may neglect our feelings, deny our dignity, or make us feel less than welcomed. They do not know us. Our true identity is being a child of God.

After Peter speaks Jesus’ true identity, Jesus tells the disciples that he has to suffer, be rejected, be killed and then he will rise on the third day. This is the first time that Jesus mentions his death, telling of the extreme and necessary means by which he would fulfill God’s will. Explaining how he is a different type of Messiah.

In the creed, we confess truth to his Passion when we say, “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day.”

Jesus’ death and resurrection is part of his mission. The mission of the Messiah was much more than to be a military figure that would bring Israel out of Roman authority; Jesus’ mission is to save souls. The Catholic Church, the Church Jesus built—its mission is to save souls. You and I are a part of that mission.

Believing in Jesus’ name, in his identity, in his mission, is at the same time believing and trusting in God’s plan. If we were to ask God the same question Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”—and let’s be real, we have asked that question every time we have lost our way, every time we wanted to feel loved and desired, every time we wanted to feel like we mattered—God would easily answer us by saying, “You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). God the Father would not leave his children out of his plan!

When we know with confidence who Jesus is, as Peter knew that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, we must also be confident in who we are. Our names are delicately engraved in the palms of God’s hands, and upon hearing him say our names, we should be reminded and reaffirmed of our own identity in Christ.

Suggested listening: Who You Say I Am by Hillsong Worship

Image Credit: Christ Handing the Keys to Saint Peter [Public Domain]

Appealing to Mercy

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.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
—John 21:15–19

There are a few instances in the Bible where we are given a direct contrast between two sinners—one who is remembered for his sins and another who is forgiven and honored. In the Old Testament, we see Saul and David. Neither of these kings were blameless in their actions, but only David—an adulterer and murderer—is described by God as “a man after His own Heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). How could David deserve such an honor? It is because David, unlike Saul, repented wholeheartedly of his sins. By dying to self and embracing humility, David entered the Heart of the Father.

Here in the New Testament, we have the contrasting examples of Judas and Peter. Both betrayed Jesus at the time of His Passion. But the reason that Judas is condemned for his sin instead of being forgiven alongside Peter is not because his sin is greater but because he despaired of God’s mercy. He could not believe that God was so good and merciful as to forgive even this ultimate betrayal, and so rather than kneeling before Him in humility and offering up his tears of regret, he gave up. Peter, however, was bold enough to place himself at the feet of Jesus even after denying Him three times and abandoning Him in His Passion. His trust was stronger than his fear, and Jesus’s love for him abounded all the more because of his humility and trust. Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to rewrite the narrative, asking him to affirm his love for the Lord three times, which echoed and reversed his three denials.

Nothing is more pleasing to God than repentance: appealing to His great mercy, acknowledging our sinfulness, and embracing our dependence on Him. God is not surprised by our sinfulness; in fact, He plans to use it for good—if only we allow Him. He chose the flawed Simon Peter to be the rock upon which He built His Church, for Peter had learned all the more to call upon the strength of God to act as that foundation, not on his own meager strength.

When we stumble and fall on our path, when we fall short of our own expectations, when we feel the sting of guilt wash over us, let us follow Peter’s example and turn to Jesus in trust. Let not our pride keep us from receiving His overflowing mercy.

Emmanuel: The Strength of God With Us

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, 
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, 
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, 
Christ in the eye that sees me, 
Christ in the ear that hears me. 

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

LORICA OF ST. PATRICK

I’ll preface this reflection the same way I nearly always (need to) do: I am not a theologian, and all heresy is purely accidental. One of my favorite ways to reflect on Scripture is to follow various thought experiments and “what ifs” to try and tease out God’s intentions and motivations; as a cradle Catholic, most Bible stories were familiar and therefore fraught with foregone conclusions and a sense of heavenly fatalism. “Of course Moses parted the Red Sea, that’s how this story goes!” or “Jesus’ Resurrection is the happy ending that this story needs!”. So often I forget at just how radically shocking and unexpected the mind of God truly is. While the Passion might seem like a familiar, expected story to me, to the Jews of Jesus’ time, how devastating must it have been that their Messiah, their Deliverer, wound up being captured and crucified in a publicly humiliating execution?

The LORD’s ways are not our ways, and no mistake about that. So my mind likes to try rewriting the chapters to find more meaning in the story God wrote.


Today’s readings from Acts and the Gospel of Luke immediately stood out to me in one of their shared theme: The power of the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit he gave us

After all, what did the Resurrection that we celebrate so joyously accomplish? Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection accomplished our salvation, yes, but if salvation was the only goal, why did the LORD not bring us up to Heaven with Jesus when he ascended? Why are we left here below?

Let’s look at John 14 for some clues:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, 1the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.n

John 14:16-20

While I can’t give a great answer to the question, Christ gives us some food for thought here. While the world no longer sees Jesus, He lives, and we live. He is in the Father, and we are in Him. In short, he is as near to us our own being; perhaps even nearer still. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit was sent by Christ so that we were not left as orphans.

Perhaps there is a simple reason that there will be a Second Coming (i.e. that Jesus Incarnation was not the final judgment): There were still more to save! Not only were we left with the Advocate, we were left with a mission:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20

In today’s readings, we see the radically transformative power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in us. The travelers to Emmaus’ hearts were set ablaze with a zeal for Christ, and a crippled man was miraculously healed by Peter in the name of Jesus. In both stories, all who were touched by the LORD left changed, wanting only to proclaim the goodness of God. Witnesses were left astonished.

How often do we believe the lie that things about our world, lives, family, etc. cannot be changed? This Easter season, let us take courage in the triumphant power of our savior’s Resurrection and call upon the Spirit to change these parts of our lives that we’ve sealed off in an effort to protect ourselves. The Spirit of the living God wants to renew your mind, your soul, your relationships, your work, your family, and your heart.

Maybe today, you can try a little thought experiment, a “what if”:

What if the power of Jesus can change our lives, here and now?

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