Lectio Divina is a form of meditation rooted in liturgical celebration that dates back to early monastic communities. It involves focused reading of Scripture (lectio), meditation on the Word of God (meditatio), contemplation of the Word and its meaning in one’s life (contemplatio) and ends with prayer (oratio). For this Lent, we will have a Lectio Divina resource for the readings for Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Lent that can be used by individuals or in group settings.
To listen to the entire homily, click the link above.
Authority. Today, we celebrate the feast of the chair of St. Peter. And what this means for us, is that today’s feast gives us an invitation to think about the structure of our Church. The way in which our Church is organized and put together so that we can have some certainty about what it means to believe.
Because important organizations in our lives have structure, they have rules. When we look at the United States for example, we have a Constitution that guides us and helps us to understand what it is we can and cannot do. Games have certain rules that are necessary for the game to be fair. And the Church is no different. The church too, has rules, that help it to guide people in the proper way to live in fidelity to the Lord Jesus.
Such as what we celebrate today. When Peter is asked for his statement of faith about the Lord Jesus, the foundation of the church is set in motion by Jesus himself. Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the chosen one by God to save the world, is the beginning of the foundation of Peter’s leadership in Christ. And because of this steadfast statement of faith in Jesus the Messiah, Peter is given special authority to guide the Church. Peter is given the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
This structure helps us to have certitude about what the Lord Jesus teaches and how it is that we are supposed to live these teachings in our lives. With deep faith in God let us pray for the Pope and for the bishops, that they might be faithful in their roles of leadership. And let us pray for each one of us, that guided by the Holy Spirit and the teachings of the Church and the Lord Jesus himself we might become faithful followers of Jesus.
Who is it that you cast your lot in with? Is it God? Or is it some person, or group or cause, that relies on your own efforts? That is the question that is before us today. Over the past few weeks, we have seen a lot of division. We have seen people really get mean to each other with terrible words and phrases. We have just finished a brutal election season, which, even though it seems impossible, seems to get worse and worse. So, who are you with?
The temptation can be to rely more on our own efforts than to trust in God. Paul encounters this in the second reading for today. Some side with him, some side with Apollos, some side with Cephas, or Saint Peter. But when this happens, there is too much trust in the messenger and not in the message. We forget that the disciple of Christ is not more important than Christ. So, who are you with?
The first reading is similar. In the sections that come before what we heard today, it is King Ahaz who forsakes God and trusts in human political alliances to save his country. It fails miserably. The country is taken over, the people are exiled, and it feels like darkness covers the earth. Rather than listening to God’s message that came through the prophet, Ahaz got scared. He simply could not trust God. While he was in a precarious position, he could not place his trust in God. But God delivered anyway. Even though Ahaz did not see the great power of God, the people eventually did. This is what we read about today.
The gospel reminds us that it is in our call by Jesus that we ultimately experience fulfilment. A very important reminder is needed. Jesus was Lord before the election, Jesus is Lord now, and Jesus will be Lord. it is not about what we can do by ourselves. It is what God does for us. Open your hearts to be ready for God. Pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament, find silence in your home, read the Word of God. In so doing, you become the vehicle of God’s grace and action in the world.
It is easy to forget that so much of our relationship with God is not dependent upon us. All we need to do is to place ourselves in the presence of God. By doing so, we both lose those sins and shortcomings that keep us from being the person God has created us to be, and we are able to be sent forth for the mission that God gives to only us. As we move into the season of Lent this Wednesday, let us place ourselves in God’s presence to receive the powerful and life-changing love of God.
The word identity is one that gets tossed around a lot. We hear all kinds of people reference it in terms of needing to find or discover it. While at one time, it may have only answered the question, “Who am I?”, today it seems to have taken on a much wider and more often applied meaning. Today it seems to be applied to a whole host of descriptions that includes, but is not limited to our job, our sexual preference, our gender, our faith preference, labels others give us, heck, even our credit needs to be guarded for the sake of our identity, so that it does not become stolen.
Jesus might have started today’s conversation with the disciples rather innocently, “Who do people say that I am?”, but before long the question becomes much more direct. When he firsts asks the question in reference to others, it is easy to hide behind pretty non-personal revelations. It is what others think. They do not need to lay any cards on the table. But before long, it becomes this personal question: “But who do you say that I am?” There is now no hiding. They must speak boldly about how they have come to experience Jesus.
As is often the case, it is Peter who first speaks boldly. He always seems to want to be noticed. Impulsive, but obviously a big heart. Did the other apostles agree with Peter? Did Peter say what he did because he fully believed it, or because he thought it was what Jesus wanted to hear? And if these answers were indicative of all of them, or some of them, how was it the apostles understood themselves, and what the answer to Jesus question implied for each of them?
Because while it may seem the question is answered, in reality, given what happens next, it is not. Peter does not really understand what it means to be “the Christ”, and his answer demonstrates that the impulsive fisherman might also have a practical side as well. Whoa, whoa, whoa, there Jesus, let’s talk about this. You do not need to suffer.
In some ways, Jesus in today’s gospel is like that master teacher who introduces a lesson in a way that it cannot be forgotten. Peter may appear to have the right answer. In fact one of the gospels indicates that Jesus looks at Peter with love. But when he shows to the others a complete misunderstanding, Jesus creates that memorable moment that drives home his very important point. Everything in faith is about following where God leads.
And this begins clearly in the first reading with listening and hearing. God opens our ears. But he does so when we seek. When we ask. We have to create some type of opening in our ears to hear. Because the temptation to close our ears is great. In a time when we have more information than ever available to us, we tend to limit what information we take in to those sources that we know will agree and share our point of view. Because as the first reading continues, when God opens our ears, Isaiah continues by showing that it did not lead to immediate glory, but rather to plucked beards and beaten backs.
Both the first reading and the gospel tell us that faith cannot and must not be mere words. James tells us that too. We must be careful as Westerners and Americans from thinking that what James is advocating is something where works are primary over and against faith. This is not the case. I think a more accurate read is that what James is advocating is that if our faith does not cause us to act, to see the dignity of each human being, and to commit to share what we have with the poor, to shelter the homeless, to do those good deeds not for show but because our faith compels us to, it is then that we see the proper order.
Faith is still primary for James, but it is not enough to say we believe if we do not engage in a life that witnesses to our belief. Without being judgmental, since I find myself struggling with the proper balance of good works and faith, it can be the case that we are more concerned with protecting our own interests, living our Christian faith only when it suits us. Build a wall to keep the strangers out. Yet, Christ reminds us in Matthew’s gospel we are acting in faith when we welcome the stranger. We become concerned when it appears that “those people” from far distant lands may come here to kill us, take our jobs, and ruin our way of life.
Are we first and foremost followers of Jesus, seeking to serve the common good, or are we more concerned with protecting the stuff we have and not having our lives too upset. It is perhaps the irony of today’s readings that it is not just the identity of Jesus that is asked about here. Our identity, who we are, what we believe and how we act is all on the line today. For if we want to answer the question of Jesus, “But who do you say that I am?” then we must also be starkly honest about what that answer means for our personal identity.
Would we believe Peter today? What if Peter today were to recount a vision from God that changed dramatically a defining practice of our faith? The dietary laws of Moses were no small thing for one born Jewish to disregard. The challenge for Peter can be seen in his own “flip-flop”, to coin a modern day political term. His position changed on the issue. He had been an observant Jew, but now, things are different. Why?
Put simply, it is all because of Jesus. Peter is not swayed by an intellectual argument, nor is he convinced by another apostle. In fact, the Apostle Paul more than once argues with him. It is because of his relationship with Jesus that things can change. Jesus too made it a point to stress the reason for the Law. Paul, in his writings, reminds us that the Law is not the end. It never was. It was a means. A way to enter into a relationship with the Lord.
Such is at the core of what Peter comes to believe today. It is because he believes in Jesus, and more importantly, has a personal relationship, and multiple experiences of and with Jesus, that Peter is able to come to this belief with confidence. It is important to note that Peter has relationship and experience not only with the Risen Christ, but also with Christ while he was on earth. In fact, it is in recalling one such experience that helps Peter to trust his vision of the Lord.
How do we look upon others? Peter and John are seen by the leaders of the Sanhedrin as ordinary, uneducated men. How could they be vehicles of the power of God? Do we entertain the belief that God can work and speak through anyone? Do we eliminate others because of the way we perceive them? Who are the ordinary and uneducated we exclude?
When we perceive what happens in our world it is not that difficult to see many ordinary and uneducated. Perhaps we exclude those who do menial, service jobs. Do we value janitors, fast food workers, cashiers at a variety of stores? What about garbage collectors, auto workers, auto repair men and women? Do we overlook those who speak poorly?
Even though those in the Sanhedrin cannot deny the powerful signs and works accomplished through Peter and John, do they really open themselves to the miraculous that is occurring through them, because they can dismiss them as ordinary and uneducated?
I recall a man in a parish I was in who taught me much about God. When I first moved into this parish, I was taken aback when envelopes appeared in my mailbox, with the names of every candidate for office written all over them. It was not simply the well-known candidates, but was literally every candidate running, some I had to look up to even know who they were. The man who wrote on these envelopes, and the many I was to receive during my time there was schizophrenic. There were times he left very old coins, some decades old, and a few dating back almost two centuries. When I asked the group home where he lived if they realized he was leaving these coins, they said he did. He recognized this was the only thing of value he really had and he wanted them to be given to God.
When this man attended Mass, he often raised his arms high in the air, and there were times he laughed loudly or made loud unintelligible noises. I was proud of our little congregation that they always welcomed him warmly. He was a phenomenally good organ player. I would even have encouraged him to play for Mass if there was any certainty of what he would play. But we were as likely to hear Christmas music in July and patriotic hymns at Christmas.
But what I will remember most about him is that in the midst of all of this, he taught me much about God. He could be profound. Sometimes what he wrote forced me to examine my life. And while he did not perform an obvious miracle, he did teach me much about Jesus. Is there someone in your life that would teach you about Jesus if you allowed it to happen?
What’s in a name? I suspect if I rattled off a few slogans and jingles, it would not take too long to identify the name of the company that uses it. The first question asked of new parents is what the name of the new child is. When a new sports team is created, there is much thought given to the name of the team. When thinking of the name of a website, great care is given to come up with something that is easy to remember.
I remember a former student who was given a nickname because of a character he played in a drama. At first, he really enjoyed the new nickname, and I suspect more, the attention he got from his friends. But over time, he enjoyed the nickname less and less, until the one day in class he told his friends that he really did not like it at all. He did not want his identity reduced to this silly nickname.
And so just what is the power of a name? Usually parents give careful thought to the name of their child. I remember the difficulty very good friends of mine had in coming up with a name if their first child was a boy. (Fortunately they had a girl, and the name she has was the name of the Sister of Mercy who introduced them.) At a baptism, the first question asked of the parents concerns the name of the child.
Today in the first reading we encounter Peter and John who want to make it clear that all they are doing is not in their own name, but is rather, in the name of Jesus. Peter understood the power of a name. First, because Jesus changed his name from Cephus to Peter, based upon Peter’s confession of faith and his role in the Church. Second, and more importantly, it is because Peter has come to believe, by God’s grace, the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. It is not that Peter is the most important, but rather that Peter, by allowing Jesus to act through him, can invoke the name of Jesus through which miracles occur.
I do not like being dependent on others. While there are times when it is a good thing, there are also times where I do too many things myself when I would be better to let others help. And so the thought of having to be carried anywhere, to be so dependent upon others that I could not go anywhere without being carried by others, is not in any way an enjoyable situation for me. Every day, day after day, this man is carried to beg. Not only is he dependent upon others to move, he is also dependent upon others for sustenance. Were it not for others, the man would likely die.
But on the day we encounter this man, it is not the same old day. Today, he is carried into the presence of Peter and John, newly emboldened by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the new life of Jesus. While the focus of the story is the man healed, I find myself wondering about those that carried the man to the Beautiful Gate. Were these the same people as yesterday? Did they carry this man every day? What is it they hoped would happen for the man they carried each day? Were those who carried the man honest, or were they the type who might take some of what the man received in donations? Were they people who had cared for this man his whole life? Were they people filled with generosity? Were they themselves poor?
We simply do not know. What we do know is that on this day those who carried the man made possible for him a special encounter with God. Whether they were kind or not, what they did put the man in a place where Peter and John could make something miraculous possible in his life.