I have often heard people say that Peter is the one saint they can truly identify with. Peter certainly had his moments of pure divine inspiration, moments of complete blunders and moments of inspired faith. We have seen him with faith so strong he willingly stepped out onto water and walked toward Jesus. We have seen Peter during that same act of faith lose focus and began to sink. We have seen Peter misunderstand the moment of seeing Jesus transformed and was told to pay attention (listen to) Jesus.
Today we see Peter answer a question correctly by divine revelation only to slip back into human reality to a completely human desire for Jesus to be something else. Yes it is easy to see ourselves in Peter. Peter’s action in today’s gospel should sound an alarm for us because we like Peter want Jesus on our terms. For us two thousand years after Christ; after 2000 years of theology and dogma development do understand that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of the Living God. But knowing this and living that reality are completely different things.
The real question for us in 2015 is not who Jesus is but what are we doing about it. How is the reality of Christ dying for our sins making a difference in how we respond to God? If you look at the Catholic Church today you will find parishes in decline, parishes without energy and congregations who are trying hard to be faithful but are left wondering if God cares. You will find parishes offering program after program teaching us how to be better Catholics.
Who am I, Jesus asked that day and Peter correctly said you are the Messiah the Son of the Living God. What does it mean to us that “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that those who believe will have eternal life?” Peter’s response was so like us today when he followed his inspired response with his revealing his own concept of what Messiah meant to him. Peter failed to understand Jesus dying was God’s plan to restore us to our former glory and regain for us our position as sons and daughters of God. We today intellectually accept this result of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But in our daily life, we seem to totally ignore it and we strive for a perfection of faith that depends on us.
In our parishes, we in charge are guilty of assisting our congregations in this pursuit of holiness based on ourselves. We have failed in not clearly encouraging you to embrace Jesus as savior and move our congregations from a pursuit of holiness to a pursuit of intimacy with God. I said in last week’s homily that we have lost intimacy with God. What does that mean and how do we regain what we have lost? Let’s get one thing straight and that is God’s desire to be in an intimate relationship with us is at the heart of his creating us and Jesus dying for our sins.
There is not a single thing we can do to get closer to God than accept what he has offered us by Jesus’ death and the sending of the Holy Spirit. But there is something we can do so that we can feel God’s desire for intimacy and that is to say Jesus death was the penalty for my sins. We can accept the fact that God does not desire more Pharisees who are dedicated followers of the law but God desires disciples who respond to the two things God demands of us.
We must love the Lord our God with our whole hearts, mind, strength and soul and our neighbors as ourselves. In order to do this we must more than intellectually grasp the concept of forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is given to us without conditions beyond accepting how that forgiveness was manifested in Jesus. Once we can feel the arms of God enfold us, as he did the prodigal son, we will have an experience of forgiveness lavished upon us. We will feel the embrace of love freely given to us who have done nothing to deserve it.
As flawed as we are, we like Peter can become instruments of others becoming alive in their faith. We must change from holding Jesus at arm’s length to believing in our hearts and confessing with our lips that Jesus is Lord’ (Rom. 10:9). This requires a heart change in how we approach our faith. It requires a change in how we view the death of Jesus. This is exactly what God requires for our first steps toward becoming sons and daughters. We will move from bondage to freedom from our sins.
We all know how the outpouring of the Spirit changed Peter. We too can change by the action of the Spirit working within us. We all know our own prior missteps as we have attempted to be faithful believers. My brothers and sisters it is time for us to try something new and allow the Spirit of God to change our hearts and make us into disciples. It is time to allow that faith we have to manifest itself in our lives by saying to God; I desire to give you my heart. I desire to be like Peter in all ways especially in the way he moved from confusion to understanding.
Then like Peter our mission for God and for the church is to bring others to knowledge of God’s great love and mercy. Then our parishes will become a light on the hill drawing all to know and worship God.