What about Peter?
by Father Richard Sorfleet
The celebration of The Chair of St Peter the Apostle on February 22nd affords a reflection on one of the fundamentals of the Eucharistic Catholic Church, that of the role and primacy of Peter and his successors and how a progressive and inclusive church which engages the contemporary world can and still remains rooted and committed to Catholic tradition.
The collect of the day reads:
Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that no tempests may disturb us, for you have set us fast on the rock of the Apostle Peter's confession of faith. [The Roman Missal 3rd ed 2011]
With the recent meeting of Pope Francis and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church which in part dealt with a 1000 years' separation with Orthodoxy, and the soon to be 500th anniversary of the Protestant revolt, there have been no shortage of disturbing storms among Christians on the meaning and implications of Peter's confession.
To understand this, we must examine the gospel itself [Matthew 16: 13- 19]
Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ
13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?"
14 So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
16 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
17 Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." [NKJV 1982]
The Gospel narrative consists of two parts with a) Peter's words Mt 16: 16 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God' and b) Jesus' reply Mt 16: 18 you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. and adding in v 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
The tempests referred to in the collect have arisen from the emphasis of part a) Peter's definition of who Jesus is, or the implications of part b) that of Petrine authority.
Taking the first part of Mt 16: 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven with
one interpretation being that through our own belief in what Peter confessed, this faith in Christ as the Son of God opens the gates of heaven to all.
9After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" [Rev 7: 9- 10, NKJV 1982]
It is therefore with good reason that the Apostle Peter remains in the popular imagination and depiction as the heavenly gate keeper.
The collect of the day gives us the proper insight into the Gospel message, by dwelling on his confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, and that through our own belief in this sets us securely on that sure rock.
The keys to the Kingdom flow from that faith and in the words of the Prayer over the Offerings that she [the Church] holds that faith in its integrity.
That integrity is expressed through the shared beliefs of the Catholic Church, not in a jurisdictional obedience. The gospel according to Matthew does however require us to look at Christ's words of on this rock I will build my Church, first from the point of view that it is faith that is the foundation stone of the Church and the special place that Peter has in that construction.
The Affirmation of Faith thereby correctly calls upon us to give the Bishop of Rome a primacy of honor in the Church universal, as Catholic believe based on Gospel warrant.
The second aspect of the continuity of that faith is through Apostolic succession and it is by which we are assured of the authority of the Keys to which Christ granted Peter in His Church.
The term "apostolic succession" refers to the doctrine in Catholic and Orthodox churches that holds that certain spiritual powers, who Jesus Christ first entrusted to the twelve apostles, is passed on in an unbroken line of succession from apostle to bishop to bishop, and from these bishops to the priests who assist them in their pastoral duties. The validity of apostolic succession is a key factor in determining the sacerdotal powers of the Church. [ECC Affirmation of Faith]
In the Roman Canon we pray:
...firstly for your holy catholic Church. Be pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world, together with your servant N our Pope and N our Bishop, and all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith. [The Roman Missal 3rd ed 2011]
We are set upon the rock of the one holy catholic and apostolic faith though our own confession of it, and hold to it and hand it on through apostolic succession.
The feast of The Chair of St Peter is a time to reflect on who we are, what we believe and pray that this faith guides us on our journey and remains the rock of our witness.
Dominica in Quinquagesima [Quinquagesima Sunday]: February 7, 2016
Delivered by Most Reverend Roger LaRade, O.F.A.
Beloved Disciple Catholic Church, Toronto
© 2016 Roger LaRade
1 Corinthians 13: 1 -13, Luke 18: 31 - 43
St. John Chrysostom: “The Desire of our Heart”
We come today to the third and last Sunday of the pre-Lent season. We experience the following sequence in these three Sundays: God’s invitation to make Divinity present in our world; God’s gift of Love through grace as sustenance for us to carry out this invitation; and, God’s own sacrifice of Love as the model for realizing the great illumination of Divinity.
With today’s Mass, we find ourselves on the threshold of Lent. On Wednesday will begin the Lenten season by the imposition of blessed ashes on our foreheads, and next Sunday will be the First Sunday in Lent. On this threshold of the forty days leading to the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, we can see ourselves in the blind man of the Gospel, asking Jesus for renewed sight.
When I read the gospel just now, instead of reading “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”, I read “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us. On us. Indeed, in the blind man, we are to see ourselves. This Quinquagesima Sunday, we are called to focus on our areas of weakness through the motif of blindness. Our areas of weakness are those areas to which we are blind; they are those areas which are in need of illumination. The blind man of the Gospel shows us the way.
It is to Saint John Chrysostom, Eastern Doctor of the Church, Archbishop of Constantinople, who lived from 354 to 407, and who was our guide on Epiphany Sunday, that we go once again. In his comments on this Gospel passage, he says that “the blind man could not see the Light of Truth, but in his soul he could feel His Presence, and with the desire of his heart he laid hold of what his eye could not see.”[i] I am struck by this phrase: “with the desire of his heart”. We can see in this that God requires nothing more than the desire of our hearts – that is, our love – to come to us. This thought leads me to a consideration of today’s first reading.
This passage of the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians “is one of the most sublime passages of the entire Bible.”[ii] In it we come to realize that “God’s love is the light within us, teaching us to see new values…”[iii] It is God’s love which is the most precious gift of all; and, it is God’s love which renews our sight and brings light to the dark spots, the areas of weakness, in our lives. And so, in today’s Mass we pray “that darkness may be scattered, and sins taken away; above all that there may be place in us for love, for love is light.” We could say that love is “the light to see as God sees…”
How does Saint Paul conceive of God’s love? This passage on love “is sandwiched in between the two chapters in which St. Paul criticizes and tries to regulate the prophesyings and speaking in tongues at Corinth.”[iv] This is the context for Saint Paul making his case for the superiority of love. He does so by putting love up against much more sensational manifestations of God’s presence; gifts of the Spirit that might well be the desire of the heart of believers. These could be gifts that would bring a person attention, prestige even. Saint Paul claims the place of prominence among the gifts of the Spirit for God’s love. Love is not sensational. More often than not, an act of love will not be noticed by many; it might even not be noticed by anyone. In describing the attributes of love, Saint Paul uses words that hardly inspire greatness. Love is patient and kind; it isn’t envious; it isn’t proud. Yet, this love is what brings light; it is what makes us see those areas in ourselves to which we are blind, or maybe those areas we would rather not see.
Is this love the desire of our heart? Is seeking the illumination brought about by Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection the desire of our heart? Is seeing as God sees the desire of our heart? Is loving as God loves the desire of our heart?
During the coming season of Lent, let us pray for the grace of the humility shown by the blind man. It is this humility – this cry of “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” which will enable see to see Jesus for who He is. It is this cry of “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” which will dispose our hearts to receive God’s love. It is this cry of “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” which will place us on the way of Jesus – the way of the Cross - so that we will feel His presence and make His sacrifice the desire of our hearts. During this Eucharist, let us pray that God will guide us by His light during our Lenten journey, that we may be led to proclaim with the blind man: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.
[i] The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Volume One: From the First Sunday of Advent to Quinquagesima, translated and edited by M. F. Toal, D.D. (1964: Henry Regency Co., Chicago), p. 415.
[ii] Richard Kugelman, C.P., The First Letter to the Corinthians in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., and Roland E. Murphy, O.Carm., eds. (1968: Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ), p. 271.
[iii] For development of these thoughts, see Aemiliana Löhr, The Mass Through the Year, Volume One – Advent to Palm Sunday (1958: Longmans, Green & Co Ltd, London), p. 117.
[iv] R. A. Knox, M.A., The Epistles and Gospels for Sundays & Holidays (1946: Burns, Oates and Washbourne, London), p. 83.
Delivered by Most Reverend Roger LaRade
Beloved Disciple Eucharistic Catholic Church, Toronto
2 Corinthians 11: 19 - 12: 9, Luke 8: 4-15
Discipleship: Being in love with Jesus
Today is Sexagesima Sunday, that is, the sixtieth day before Easter.
Last Sunday, the Gospel reading invited us to work in the Lord’s vineyard, that is, in the Church, in the world. Next Sunday, we will be called to recognize that deeper enlightenment and the promise of eternal life come only through sacrifice. Today, we are urged to be fertile ground for God’s word – God’s grace – sowed in our hearts.
So, we have the following sequence in these three Sundays: God’s invitation to make Divinity present in our world; God’s gift of grace as sustenance for us to carry out this invitation; and, God’s own sacrifice as the model for realizing the great illumination of Divinity and coming into eternal life with God.
In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus clearly explains the meaning of the parable of the Sower to us: the seed is the word of God, the field is the world, the birds are demons, and the thorns, riches. Our aim then is not so much to explain the parable but rather to draw meaning from it for us as disciples of Jesus. To do so, we once again turn to St. Gregory the Great, Pope and Confessor [540-603], one of the four great western Doctors of the Church.
St. Gregory writes that the “words of God which you receive by your ear, hold fast in your heart”. This is the essential meaning for us of the words of Jesus. It is the essential meaning also of our reception of Jesus; what we hear, our experience of Jesus, must go from an encounter (hearing, experiencing) to a relationship of love (holding in our hearts). It is insufficient for us to simply read the Scriptures, or a book on spirituality or theology, in order for us to come to a deepening of faith. Our reading may be a beginning, it may be seed for our on-going journey, but it is not sufficient in and of itself, for our following of Jesus. What is required for our discipleship in faith to take hold, and to deepen, in us, is a relationship of love with Jesus. The words which we read, the story which we learn must transform within our hearts into love of Jesus.
St. Gregory, following the parable, indicates that there are many factors which mitigate this process of transformation, this process of our coming to faith and growing in our love of Jesus. He writes:
Strive then that the words you hear, may remain in the ear of your soul. Strive that the seed fall not by the way side; lest an evil spirit should come and steal the word out of your memory. Take care that the seed fall not on stony ground sending forth fruit of good works, but without the roots of perseverance. For what they hear in instructions is indeed pleasing to many people, and they set about the beginning of good works; but soon being wearied by the afflictions that come to them, they abandon the good they have begun.
I found these words of St. Gregory to be very striking. I think that they are particularly applicable to the context of our small, self-governing church jurisdictions. The zeal which is to be found in many who have a desire for ministry and start ministry often meets up with many practical difficulties. The rewards are often not very immediate, and when they are immediate they often do not last. There are many ups and downs. The needed support and encouragement, as well as the financial resources, available to ministers of the larger denominations are not ours to be had. The required training – both academic and spiritual – along with the crucial slow, patient growth in a personal relationship with Jesus is lacking, sometimes non-existent. And so, when the expected ‘success indicators’ don’t come about, the initial zeal is replaced by discouragement; a discouragement which sometimes leads to giving up of ministry or to a search for greener pastures. This is seed falling on stony ground. We must become aware of this potential in ourselves as well as in others.
Only the honest self-examination proposed by St. Gregory in his homily for Septuagesima Sunday, which we reflected upon last Sunday, can help guard us against this tendency. This self-examination, along with efforts to provide for ourselves the necessary foundations of prayer and study, as well as spiritual guidance and support, are the watering of the stony ground. We must see to it that we develop in ourselves the proper dispositions for ministry, developing in our souls the virtues of humility and patience, which will foster in us a deepening trust in Divine Providence. We must see to it that we develop in ourselves the proper foundation for ministry, a relationship of love with Jesus. We must always attend to providing the stony ground with sufficient moisture to provide a welcoming and growthful medium for the seed of God’s word in our souls.
We must not enter ministry, or continue in ministry – that to which God called us in last Sunday’s Gospel – out of a desire for rewarding experiences, for adulation, for comfort; out of a desire for what Jesus calls ‘riches’. These riches, as St. Gregory observes, choke the word “because by their burthensome preoccupations they as it were strangle the throat of the soul; for as long as they do not allow entry to any good desires, they cut off the entry of the life-giving air”.
As we prepare for our Lenten pilgrimage with Jesus, let us carefully examine our motivations for ministry; let us bring to mind through prayer the continuing foundation and reward of our ministry, of our discipleship of Jesus: a relationship of love with Jesus. Let us ask ourselves the following questions. What in us is stony ground? How can we bring moisture to whatever is stony ground within us, and around us? What is strangling our deepening relationship to Jesus? How can we allow life-giving air to enter our discipleship of Jesus?
 PL 74, 1131 in The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers; Volume One: From the First Sunday of Advent to Quinquagesima. Translated and edited by M. F. Toal, D.D.(Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1964), pp. 399 - 403.
 Ibid., p. 400.
 Ibid., p. 401.
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