Peter Finds His Identity When He Acknowledges Christ’s Identity

Homily for 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
August 26-27, 2017
Sacred Heart, EGF – 5:30 PM
St. Francis of Assisi, Fisher – 8:00 AM; Holy Trinity, Tabor – 10:00 AM

Focus:              Peter finds his identity when he acknowledges Christ’s identity.
Function:         Acknowledge Christ as Lord.


st peterThere is an existential question at the heart of today’s Gospel.

Who do you say that I am?

It is a very personal question, a risky question, a question that cuts to the heart of the matter. It is a question that gets down to the level of identity.

Who do you say that I am?

Simon tells Jesus who he is, and then Jesus, in turn, tells Simon who he is.
And who is he?
He is a fisherman.
He is the one who walked on the water.
He is one who saw Jesus in his glory on the mountain.
He is a sinner.

Who is he?
Blessed is he.
He is Simon, son of Jonah.
He is Peter, the rock, “Rocky”, the keeper of the keys, the Master of the House, the one on whom the Church will be built. 

Who do you say that I am?

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.

Simon acknowledges who Jesus is, and then Jesus tells Simon who he is. Simon discovers who he is when he discovers who Jesus is.

Peter finds his identity when he acknowledges Christ’s identity.

Brothers and sisters, the same is true for us. We find our identity when we find Christ’s identity. We discover who we are when we discover who He is. We find our very selves when we find him, the one through whom all things, including us, were made.

There is so much uncertainty in the world today. People are lost. They are like sheep without a shepherd, with no one to look to, with no one to lead them. So many people do not know who they are, or they have forgotten who they are. They do not know who they are because they do not know who Christ is. And they are searching, desperately searching, for someone to show them who they are. And in their searching, they look to people who seem confident in who they are, who seem to know who they are. Often they look to the wrong people, and what do we see? Panic. Unrest. Anxiety. Anarchy.

But, what if?
What if they were able to look to people who have been able to answer the question posed by Jesus in the Gospel today?
What if they were able to look to people who know who Jesus Christ is?
What if they were able to look to people who know what they are looking for because they have found it for themselves?

What if?
What if they were able to look to you or to me, and to hear us say:
You were made for more.
You were made for greatness.
You were made to be a saint.
You are a beloved son or daughter of the Father.
You are loved beyond measure.
You are the one for whom Christ gave everything to redeem.

What if?
What if they heard us say:
You are looking for love but you are bound by sin. The Church has the key to set you free. I know because I was there too. Here’s how I found freedom…

All of us look to someone else to find out who we are.  We see this especially with children.  Children look to their parents to find out who they are, and if they don’t find a strong example in their parents, they look to their peers.

All of us look to someone else to find out who we are.  Brothers and sisters, if you aren’t following Christ, I guarantee you that you are following someone or something.  And so my question for you this morning is this:

Who are you following?
Who do you look to?

Who do people say that you are?

There is nothing so compelling as when a disciple of Jesus speaks out of that place where Christ has been revealed to him, when he naturally shares his experience of a time when he encountered Christ in his life and how it changed him. Like Peter, we discover who we are when we discover who Christ is. And it changes everything. It changed Simon’s name to Peter and made him a firm foundation upon which the Church could be built. It changes us and gives us a firm conviction of who we are, a solid foundation on which we can build our lives.

Back to Saint Peter…

At the end of his life, Saint Peter’s gaze was so tightly fixed on the One he acclaimed as Lord that his identity was unshakeable – it was so unshakeable that he was able to bear being crucified upside down on a cross in the middle of a square in Rome.

He was crucified like his Lord. The great Rock of the Church seemed to crumble and fall. He was buried, and years passed. 2000 years passed.

This past January, my classmates and I went on pilgrimage to Rome. While in Rome, we had the privilege of going on the Scavi tour – a tour of the excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The Emperor Constantine built the original Saint Peter’s Basilica in the 4th century. Tradition holds that he built it over the grave of Saint Peter. It was a massive undertaking. Much of Vatican Hill was leveled in order to build the basilica exactly where Constantine wanted it built.

He could have built it in another spot nearby where the ground was already level, but he wanted it directly over the grave of Saint Peter. A chapel in the basilica was built over Peter’s grave, and the main altar in the basilica was erected one story above the chapel, directly over Peter’s grave.

In the 1500’s, Constantine’s basilica was taken down and the current Saint Peter’s Basilica was built. The main altar was kept in the same place because of the tradition that it was directly over the location of Saint Peter’s grave.

In the mid 1900’s, excavations under Saint Peter’s basilica began. Many tombs and graves were discovered, dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries. As our guide led us deeper and deeper underground, we eventually reached the spot where the bones of a man in his sixties were discovered – several stories directly under the main altar.

grafitti-wall-detail-wall-G-saint-peter-tomb-glass

We stared in wonder at a small piece of jawbone.

The jawbone that had partaken of the First Eucharist at the Last Supper…
The jawbone that had denied Christ, and then repented when the cock crowed…
The jawbone that confessed Christ as the Son of the living God…
The jaw of the one whom Christ declared as the Rock on whom He would build his Church…

Saint Peter’s Basilica – the Mother of all the Churches – is built on the Rock, and not only on the Rock of Saint Peter, but on his confession of faith and the jaw that proclaimed the answer to Christ’s question.

That same question comes down to you and to me today.

Who do you say that He is?

God Surpasses Every Human Desire

Homily for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
August 19-20, 2017
Sacred Heart, EGF – 5:30 PM
St. Francis of Assisi, Fisher – 8:00 AM; Holy Trinity, Tabor – 10:00 AM

Focus:             God surpasses every human desire.
Function:        Increase your desire for God.


Steak on GrillIt had been a long day at work, and he was starving. But he was about to be filled. My uncle had bought a choice cut of meat, and the steak had been marinating for 24 hours. The charcoal was lit and the temperature was finally right. He threw the steak on the grill. As the steak sizzled and the aroma of the cooking meat filled the air, his mouth watered. He watched it closely. Not yet…not yet…ok, now.  He flipped it over at the perfect time. It sizzled some more. Finally, it was time to take the steak off of the grill. He ran inside to get a plate and some silverware. This was going to taste so good!

He came back outside, picked up the spatula, and…

The steak was gone.

GONE.

He looked around in disbelief, and then it hit him.

There sat Winzer, his year-old rambunctious Doberman Pincher, and he was licking his chops.

And the words of the Lord never seemed clearer:
It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs. 

Our desires are meant to be fulfilled, and our desires move us, they push us forward, to pursue the end that we desire. For every natural desire that we possess, there exists something to fulfill that desire.

We experience hunger – the desire for food, and it is satisfied by eating a meal.
We experience thirst – the desire for a drink, and it is satisfied by water.
We experience loneliness – the desire for communion with another – and it is satisfied by a meaningful relationship.

Most importantly, we experience a desire for the infinite. We recoil at the idea of death. We experience a desire for eternity. We experience a desire to live forever.

And there is something to fulfill that desire.

CS Lewis put it this way:
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world (Mere Christianity).

And yet, we know that not all of our desires are good. Some of desires are disordered. They propel us toward something that ultimately will not satisfy. These desires need to be reordered. They need to be redirected. They need to be purified.

This is what the pursuit of holiness is all about. Holiness is about the purification of our desires. It is about becoming pure of heart. Our hearts are where our desires lie, and our hearts have been wounded by original sin as well as our personal sins. Our hearts need to be purified so that they can receive what God desires to give us. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”

Yet too often, rather than purifying our hearts, we spend our time giving into misdirected desires thinking that they will satisfy us, and they do satisfy us for a short time, but then, at some point, we experience the ache of our hearts again. We experience a desire for something more. What temporarily fulfilled that desire no longer works, so we move onto something else. We try to fill the infinite hole in our heart with finite things, and we’re always left feeling empty. We’re always left wanting more.

Saint Augustine knew this experience well. He spent years pursing empty relationships, giving into lust, and taking pride in his intellectual achievements. It left him empty. When he experienced his conversion and finally began to pursue holiness – to purify his heart – he put his realization this way:
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

God is the one who promises to fulfill our deepest desires, and God is the only one who can fulfill our deepest desires. Our opening prayer for Mass stated it so beautifully:

O God, who have prepared for those who love you
good things which no eye can see,
fill our hearts, we pray, with the warmth of your love,
so that, loving you in all things and above all things,
we may attain your promises,
which surpass every human desire.
 

During my deacon summer, I had the privilege to work with many couples who were seeking to come into the Church or to come back to the Church after some time away. They had a longing, a real desire, to receive Holy Communion. But they were living in an irregular marriage situation, and it took some time to go through the annulment process and then to go through their marriage preparation in the Church.

Yet, in all of this, they went about it in the right way. They knew they couldn’t receive communion until they were in right relationship with God and each other, and so they waited. And while they waited, they prayed.

And their desire grew stronger.

This is what prayer does. It stretches our hearts. Prayer enlarges the desires of our hearts so that they are able to contain what God desires to give us.

When the annulments came through and we celebrated their marriage in the Church, and the time came for them to receive Holy Communion, they were in a daze. You could see the ultimate fulfillment that they were experiencing on their faces. It was so good! It made all of the waiting worth it, because the time of waiting increased their hunger for the Eucharist and now they have a greater appreciation for it than many of us probably do.

Our desires are meant to lead us to God.

Brothers and sisters, where are your desires leading you?

Are you seeking to purify your desires? Are you pursuing what will ultimately satisfy? Or are you pursuing things that only leave you empty and hungering for more?

Do you desire the Eucharist? Do truly desire the Eucharist? Or have you become complacent and lukewarm?

Do you examine yourself before you receive the Eucharist and go to confession when your examination pricks your conscience?

Or do you numb your desire by making excuses, by filling up your mind with other thoughts so that you do not have to face your conscience?

Careless and ignorant reception of Communion without examining ourselves will blind us to the greatness of the gift and make us lukewarm. It will decrease our desires and shrink our hearts.

But careful and reverent reception of Communion after examining ourselves will help us recognize our unworthiness and thus will magnify the greatness of the gift. It will increase our desires and stretch our hearts.

Let us not be like Winzer the Doberman Pincher who felt that he was entitled to the steak and took it for himself. No, let us instead be like the Canaanite woman who knew she was unworthy of such a great gift.

She knew she was unworthy, but she asked for it with faith, with perseverance, and with humility. Her prayer showed both her great faith and her great desire, and the Lord fulfilled her desire because of her great faith.

She didn’t take it for herself, she received it as a gift, and how great is the gift that she received.

God surpasses every human desire. And God has a desire too.

God desires your heart.

Purify your heart so as to awaken your desire for Him, the only One who can truly satisfy every longing of your heart.

Live a Transfigured Life

Homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration (Year A)
August 6, 2017
Sacred Heart, East Grand Forks – 8:00 AM; 10:00 AM

Focus:             A converted life is a transfigured life.
Function:       Live a transfigured life.


Transfiguration - Raphael

The Transfiguration – Raphael

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. There are many things that I could say about this feast.

I could talk about how this feast was celebrated as early as the 5th century by East Syrians.

I could speak of how it began to be celebrated by the entire Church when it was inserted into the general calendar in 1457 by Pope Callistus III.

I could reflect on how this this feast occurs 40 days before the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross. I could point out that the gospel we hear proclaimed today is also proclaimed during the second Sunday of Lent, perhaps hearkening back to an ancient tradition which held that the Transfiguration took place 40 days before Good Friday.

I could preach about how Moses represents the law and Elijah represents the prophets, and so today’s conversation on the mountaintop shows us how Jesus fulfills both the law and the prophets and ushers in the new Covenant.

I could…
I could talk about any of those things.

But I think that today’s feast invites us to consider something deeper.

Today’s feast invites us to remember who Jesus is.
It invites us to remember the destiny to which we are called.
It reminds us to remember who we are, even now.

Peter, James, and John have been with Jesus for quite awhile by the time they go up the mountain with him today. They have been with him for 16 chapters in Matthew’s Gospel.

They have heard his famous sermon on the Mount.  They have heard him teach the crowds about the Beatitudes, about anger, retaliation and love for one’s enemies.  They have heard his teachings on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; on storing up treasures in Heaven, and on God’s knowledge of how many hairs are on our heads.  They have heard his invitation to ask, to seek, and to knock.  They have heard his warnings on striving to enter through the narrow gate.

They’ve heard a lot.

They’ve also seen a lot.

They’ve seen him cleanse a leper.
They’ve seen him heal a centurion’s servant and even Peter’s own mother-in-law.
They watched him calm a storm at sea.
They’ve seen him cast out demons with the command of his word.
They’ve seen him heal a paralytic, two blind men, and a man with a withered hand.
They’ve even seen him raise a girl from the dead.

Peter, James, and John have every reason to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. But today, Jesus goes even further to strengthen their faith that he is who he says he is.

Today, he reveals his glory in a new way.
Today, he is transfigured before them.

His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light…and while he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

In all of his teachings and in all of his healings, Jesus looked like an ordinary man. Today, we see him for who he is. We see him in his divinity. We see him as God. And, with the three apostles, we stand in wonder and awe of what we see.

And we stand in wonder and awe of the destiny to which we are called, because he invites us to share in his glory. He invites us to share in his divinity.

The Church Fathers had a saying: God became man so that man might become God.

This is our great calling, and today’s feast draws this out.

Christianity is not primarily about becoming good and kind people. It is not primarily about a moral way of living, although all of that flows from Christianity. Christianity is primarily about God becoming man so that man might become God.

Through Jesus Christ, God invites us into a deep and personal relationship with him, so that we might share in his divinity.

This is the great mystery we contemplate today.
This is what today’s feast is about.

Jesus Christ is transfigured before us to remind us that we ourselves are destined to be transfigured.

When Christ comes again, our bodies will be raised with his and glorified with his if we remain united with him.

Brothers and sisters, stand in awe of the Transfiguration today and see the great destiny to which you are called.  You are sons and daughters of God, invited to share in his divinity.  You are children of light in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, who shine like the stars of the sky.

Like those first disciples, experience for yourselves the transfiguration of Christ and let your minds and hearts be converted. See the Lord transfigured in his glory, and your life will be transfigured too. How could it not be?  A converted life is a transfigured life – your life will be transfigured because you have seen his glory for yourself.

What does a transfigured life look like?

It looks like the college student at the party who doesn’t play the drinking games, not because she is a prude or because it’s against the rules, but because she sees beyond the glory of the night into the glory of eternity. She lives a transfigured life and that life shines as a bright light to all of those around her.

It looks like husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, families who pray together, who sacrifice time in their busy schedules to be together because they know they are made not for the fleeting glory of sports, wealth, or a career but for the glory of eternity.

It looks like the person who prays, who seeks God’s mercy in the confessional on a regular basis, who worships and receives the Transfigured Lord in the Eucharist each Sunday, and all of this with joy because they know that God is giving them the grace to live more and more like his son or daughter.

It looks like parents who bring their children to the waters of baptism, not because it is a rite of passage or a nice ceremony but because they desire their children to be transfigured into sons and daughters of light who will share in the joy of eternity.

Brothers and sisters, behold the glory to which you are called. See the glory of Christ and live a transfigured life even now. You are made for eternity.  You are made for greatness.  You are made to be saints.  You are called to live not an ordinary life but an extraordinary life, a transfigured life.

Contemplate the glory of the Transfiguration and see the glory to which you are called, even now.