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.
There 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 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 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.
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?