Today’s readings speak to us what it means to be God’s chosen people. In the Acts of the Apostles we read of the people of Pisidia in Antioch who became followers through the preaching of Paul and Barnabas. Our Psalm refrain echoes the words, “We are his people, the sheep of his flock.” The reading from Revelation speaks of the multitudes of white robed people, from “every nation, race, people and tongue” standing before the throne of God; those who have been washed in the blood of the lamb. Jesus continues this image of the chosen ones with the words “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.”
In light of these words it is good for us to reflect on the way each of us was chosen by God. For most of us it began at our birth. Most of us were raised in Christian families and were baptized, (washed in the blood of the lamb) at the time of our birth. We, like the people of Pisidia were then formed in the faith through our religious instruction. Paul and Barnabas were speaking in the synagogue about God’s action in the lives of the Israelites. They reminded the people of their journey of faith beginning with the Passover in Egypt, continuing through the years of their desert wanderings, and finally the preaching of the prophets. They then went on to show how Jesus was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. The people who listened and believed were then chosen by God to be the ones who continue to tell others the good news of Christ.
Through the teachings of the Apostles God has continued to choose people throughout the centuries. As the Apostles were going about their task of teaching, they also chose others to be their successors, whose task it was to continue teaching the truth of Christ. This is what we mean by the term apostolic succession. The bishops of our Church are the official teachers of Christ in the world today. What they teach comes with the full authority of Christ, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who continues to inspire our Church. This means Christ is ever alive and shepherding our Church through the teaching authority of our bishops.
Eventually the writings and letters which have come to be known as the books of the New Testament were compiled as the officially divinely inspired texts. These texts, under the guidance and direction of the teaching authority of the Church, form the official basis of every doctrine and dogma we have in our Church. Now there are some who would try and say that the only official teaching of God is that which can be found in the bible. The Bible, they would say, is the only source of divine revelation. This is most often used as an argument against the traditions of our Church.
One problem with this argument is that the scriptures do not teach this. No where does the bible say you must follow only what is taught in the bible. The contrary is actually true. The bible speaks of both the bible and tradition. Paul, in his letters to the Corinthians and Thessalonians (cf. 1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 2:15) says, “. . . brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by oral statement or by a letter of ours.
Another problem with this argument is that the scriptures can be open to differing, and even erroneous interpretations. For instance, Adolph Hitler used the Gospel of John as his basis for anti-Semitism. He saw John’s references to the Jews as a legitimate basis to try and exterminate the Jewish race.
Others have been led astray by cult-like figures who see themselves as Christ and misuse the scriptures to support their personal biases. One of the sad realities of erroneous interpretation of scripture is the fact that there are thousands of different Christian denominations in the world today, many of which are interpreting the scriptures in different ways.
So the question can then be asked, “Who has the correct interpretation?” To answer this one must consider who compiled the scriptures as we have them today. By the end of the first century the 27 books of the New Testament were written, along with many other spiritual writings which continued being written for the next two hundred years. Some of these other writings were questionable about what they were teaching about Christ. Still others were teaching false doctrine. By the 4th Century, through an ecumenical council, (that is a gathering of all the Bishops of the Church) the 27 books of the New Testament were officially declared as the Canon of Scripture. This means that the Canon of Scriptures was formulated on the three hundred years of tradition which preceded it. So this means the tradition was here before the Bible.
So then, if you want to know definitively what the scriptures teach, you should look to those who were responsible for their compilation, the bishops of the Church. In accepting who is the official teaching authority I think of the words of a former Methodist minister who said it best. He stated that whenever he preached, as a Methodist, his preaching was based on his own authority, guided by the opinions and direction of different scripture scholars. He realized that sometimes he had differing interpretations of a particular scripture passage. It was up to him then to decide which interpretation was correct. Uncomfortable with preaching solely on his authority he began to research the concept of apostolic authority and succession and discovered that he only found this, authentically lived, in the Catholic Church. He is now Roman Catholic and is one of the defenders of the Church today.
I tell you this to illustrate the importance of Apostolic Succession and the teaching authority of the bishops of our Church. Since the time of Christ himself there has been an unbroken lineage of men who have descended from those first apostles. They have come together regularly throughout our history, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret the official Christian teachings of our Church for each generation of believers. This means that it is Christ himself who continues to guide us and shepherd us through our bishops. It is Christ’s voice that we hear whenever the Bishops speak in an official teaching capacity. And so we should ask the question, “Do we really hear the voice of Jesus speaking through our bishops?” “Do we really recognize his voice and follow him?”
As our bishop elect, John Folda, prepares for his ordination and becomes the 8th bishop of the Diocese of Fargo, let us remember him in our prayers. Let us pray also for the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit on the bishops of our Church. We pray also that we, God’s people, will truly hear his voice and follow him through our obedience to his teachings handed on to us through the Apostles. “We are God’s people, the sheep of his flock.” May we be always faithful in following the voice of Jesus.
 Story told on The Journey Home on EWTN
Where was Thomas on that first Easter Sunday evening? Perhaps he had gone fishing. Perhaps he had stayed home to work or sleep. Perhaps he took his family out of town to escape the wrath of the Romans and the Jewish leaders. We don’t know where he was and why he wasn’t with the others. We do know that while the rest of the disciples were gathered as Church, Thomas had skipped out. You might say he missed church, on the very first Easter Sunday. Because he missed, he doubted.
Gathering together as a community of believers is a very important dimension of our faith. Time and time again I encounter someone who doesn’t go to church. They will almost always make excuses like, “Oh, I believe in God and all that, but . . .” It is as though they are trying to impress me with their deep conviction of faith. But if you think about it, faith is much more than simply believing. Faith is putting our belief into action.
Webster’s Dictionary defines belief as, “a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing.” Faith, on the other hand, is defined as “allegiance to duty or a person; fidelity to one’s promises.” So you can say that belief is something that exists only in our minds. Faith, however, exists in our hearts and therefore in our entire life. Faith is expressed in the way we live and put into action what we believe.
As Thomas teaches us, it is hard to believe without actually seeing. That requires faith. Faith is believing in that which we cannot see; believing in that which cannot be proven by measurable data. Our Lord’s words to Thomas express this best, “You became a believer because you saw me. Blest are they who have not seen and have believed.”
In speaking these words Jesus is acknowledging how difficult it is to believe without seeing. He knows how difficult faith in God can be. And so he left us some very important ways in which we can see, and hear, and touch, and smell and taste His presence. Jesus left us the sacraments in which we very really experience the presence of God in our life.
Of the seven, the central most sacrament is the Eucharist. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we put into words and actions the central-most belief of our faith; namely, that by His cross and resurrection He has set us free. He has set us free from our sin and free from death that is the price of our sin. Being nourished by Christ’s presence in the Eucharist we then are commissioned to go forth into the world to be His body and blood, to be His life giving presence for the sake of others.
It takes a leap of faith to believe that simple bread and wine can become body and blood. It takes a leap of faith to believe that because Christ rose from the dead we will too. Because of his doubts Jesus said to Thomas, “Take your finger and examine my hands. Put your hand into my side. Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe!” In a similar way, each time we celebrate the Eucharist, Jesus says to us, “Listen to my words. Take and eat. Take and drink. Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe!”
So faith requires that we not simply believe in Jesus Christ, but that we also put that belief into action by our lives. We do this each time we go to church. We do this each time we learn more about our faith. We do this each time we reach out to others who are in need of Christ’s presence.
Faith, put into action, is the little girl who stands at the landing of the stairs and shouts, “Catch me, Daddy!” as she leaps into her father’s arms. She doesn’t hesitate to take the leap because she believes her daddy would never hurt her. She acted on what she believed.
Faith is the couple who stands before the congregation pledging their commitment to each other. They promise to love one another in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, as long as they both shall live. They are not simply saying, “I believe he loves me. I believe she loves me.” They are making the commitment of faith that they will faithful to one another. Christian couples do not simply make this commitment in the privacy of their homes or on a beach. They make this commitment before the community of faith as a testimony to their belief in God and in one another.
Faith is the woman who stands at the side of her husband’s grave. For months they had journeyed together through hospitals and doctors appointments, through medical treatments and painkillers, to the very moment of death. Even from the empty feeling of loss she can say out loud, “It’s okay now.” She can say this because she knows and believes that no longer is he suffering. She knows and believes that he is on his way to heaven to the arms of the one who loved him into being. She knows and believes that one day they will see each other again and that one day they will each experience “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” And so in faith she can say, “It’s okay now.”
Believing is important. To know what we believe and to be able to articulate it are important steps on the way to faith. But faith is taking all of this and putting into action. Faith is living every day as a believer and letting our every word, our every action, give glory to God.
You came here today as and act of faith. This is simply one step on life’s journey. Take the leap of faith this week. Put into words and actions what you believe. So today eat and drink of the body, blood, soul and divinity of faith. Then pray for the grace to live what you have become, the body of Christ.
Each year we begin our Lenten journey with the story of the temptation of Jesus. In this the Church is teaching us that this is a season in which we are supposed to confront and work through the various temptations that each of us faces on a daily basis.
Our Lord’s threefold temptation, as presented to us in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, was a temptation on two levels. He was tempted in His humanity and in His divinity. At the conclusion of these temptations Luke tells us that the devil “departed from (Jesus) for a time” (Lk 4:13). In other words, the devil would come back to tempt our Lord again.
I would suggest that to more fully appreciate the meaning behind this three-fold temptation in the desert we need to look at that later time. To this I would direct our attention to the passion narratives, the final time that our Lord was tempted.
The first temptation was to use His supernatural divinity to satisfy his natural desire of hunger.
“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread” (Lk 4:3).
The parallel temptation to this would be found in the Gospel of John when Jesus speaks the words, “I thirst” (John 19:38). In these words Jesus was not merely speaking about a physical thirst. He was saying something much deeper. Jesus was thirsting for us. Jesus desired nothing more than for us to be in deep spiritual communion with him. This was his thirst.
The second temptation was to forsake His divinity and worship the evil one with the promise that all that the evil one had would be handed over to Jesus.
“I shall give to you all this power and glory. . . if you worship me” (Lk 4:6-7).
Well this is a grand self-deception on the part of the evil one. While he thinks he has dominion over the material world he does not. While he does have the power to tempt people in the material world, faith teaches us that this world, and all that is in it, belongs to God. We are merely stewards of this creation. In the end, just as we will leave the material world behind when we enter heaven, when the evil one enters hell for all eternity he will no longer have any power in this material world.
Jesus, being God, already possesses everything that is in this world. His entire purpose for coming to this earth was to do the will of God as he spoke the words, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve” (Lk 4:8). This absolute ordering of His will to His Father’s will was spoken again from the cross with the words, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).
This brings us to the third and final temptation, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here” (Lk 4:9). These words are echoed in the crowds who mocked Jesus during his crucifixion as especially found in Mark’s gospel with the words,
“. . . save yourself by coming down from the cross” (Mark 15:30).
In these parallels of temptation we see Jesus two-fold temptation of his humanity and divinity.
By connecting these temptations to the passion of Christ we learn another important lesson about this Season of Lent which is about dying to self. When we give into temptation and sin, we are turning inward to our self by satisfying our own selfish wants and desires. But as Christ teaches us, we are to live not for ourselves, but rather for the sake of others. The Lenten discipline therefore is a turning away from self, and turning instead towards the needs of others. Fasting, or “giving up,” is an intentional deprivation of some good thing to help order and discipline our selfish nature. The giving of alms is partially a sacrifice insofar as we ought to give so generously that we feel a little financial pinch. The giving of alms, however, is more about caring for the needs of others, placing others first.
Jesus, in giving his life on the cross, accepted physical death. By his resisting these temptations, and by his service to us, He is also spiritually dying to Himself. This is the model the Church gives to us. Because of the reality of sin, each one of us one day will physically die. But as a Christian people, who model our lives on that of Jesus, we must also die to ourselves on a daily basis.
This past week we had a global example of one who is dying to himself, Pope Benedict. In his resignation from the office of the papacy there is something very profound happening before our very eyes. In his humanity, Pope Benedict is acknowledging the simple fact of his mortality. He knows his body is simply not up to the task to fulfill the entirety of the mission that is expected of the Pope. In all humility, he is stepping down from this position, not for his own sake, but for the sake of the Church and the entire world.
This provides for us a beautiful example of acceptance of our human frailties and limitations. Many of us have had to face the reality of an aging loved one, or someone who does not have the mental or physical ability to care for self. This is a painful reality that we each have to face, but it simply is one part of the human experience. This is especially difficult when the one we love does not, or cannot see the extent of his/her lack of ability. We need to pray for the grace to care for these people with the utmost respect and dignity.
Some in our world would place the argument that people in these situations are no longer useful and therefore we should consider euthanizing them. Hitler used the same criteria in who would live and who would die in the concentration camps. Those who were hearty and healthy were used for slave labor and menial tasks, and those who were not were sent to the gas chambers.
But our Holy Father, with full spiritual and mental will, has recognized his physical limitations and has graciously and humbly accepted God’s will to step down from His office, the most powerful office in the entire world. What a beautiful example to each of us of surrendering to the will of God.
In this Lenten journey, take the lead from our Holy Father, in your prayer ask for guidance and grace from God that you might know and do His will. Die to yourself through fasting and giving up those things that nourish only the body and not the soul. Give of yourself through alms and service to others. Do these things and you, too, will have the grace to resist temptation, to do the will of God, and to be holy as God is holy.
Remember Y2K? You know, that frenzied state of mayhem, predicted by the electronic industry that instilled fear in the hearts and minds of so many people. Now, while it is true that computer programs had the potential of miscalculating the century, resulting in the possible shutdown of critical life-sustaining systems, the truth remains that the 20th century ended, and the 21st century began, just like any other year; quite ordinarily.
We can learn a lesson from this fiasco of twelve years ago. Just as high-tech electronic equipment has the potential of miscalculating time, so too, do we humans have the same tendency of miscalculating time. While God has established the rhythms and flows of time, humans have created the systems by which we measure time. Sixty-second minutes, sixty-minute hours, twenty-four hour days; 365 day years and decades and centuries, are all human ways to measure time. But even with our high degree of accuracy, we still have not succeeded in measuring time perfectly. Thus once every four years, we have this strange thing we call “leap year” in which we add one more day to our calendar.
With this obsession about measuring time, it is helpful for us to recognize that God is the ultimate keeper of the time. It is partly for this reason that we Catholics can sometimes seem counter-cultural. This is especially so in the way in which we celebrate the liturgical year and it’s calendar.
Today, the First Sunday of Advent, is considered by us to be the beginning of a new Church year. This change means that we are almost a month ahead of the ordinary, civil calendar which, as we well know, begins the New Year on January 1. We are jumping the New Year’s gun and getting a head start on the rest of the world around us.
A second reason for considering ourselves counter-cultural is apparent in today’s readings and prayers for this First Sunday of Advent. Here we are, just three weeks away from the celebration of another Christmas. For the past several weeks (and even months) we have been bombarded with images and sounds of Christmas in the secular world, especially in the retail industry in its attempt to boost holiday sales.
But in today’s readings and prayers not one word is spoken of the birth of Jesus. The references to “the coming” of Christ, refer to his Second Coming at the end of time, not to his First Coming which we celebrate on December 25. What this is intended to teach us then is that we Christians, and especially we Catholics, view time differently.
Time is relative. The great thinker, Albert Einstein, once was asked to explain his theory of relativity. Using ordinary language, he was said to reply, “An hour spent with your girl friend seems very short. An hour spent sitting on a hot radiator seems very long. That’s relativity.”
Dolly, from the syndicated comic strip, “Family Circus,” once said, “Yesterday is the past. Tomorrow is the future. But today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”
Living in the past, or obsessing about the future, is not really living at all. Real living happens only in the present. That is why Jesus said, “Do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Today has problems enough of its own.”
So just how ought we live today? A contemporary thinker has some words of wisdom.
Norven West, the author of the book, No Moment Too Small, shows ways in which we can bring God into everyday life. She suggests that we begin by relearning how to use those moments of waiting which we all have every day. We wait for a traffic light to change, for a phone call to be returned, for something in the microwave oven to be done, for an appointment to show up, in line at the bank or grocery. Instead of fussing and getting impatient at the delay, we can use the time to turn our minds and spirits toward God, toward God’s very presence which is closer than we can imagine; something which is often forgotten or neglected in the work of the day. No moment is too small for God to invade. When you have caught the meaning of this then you have caught the meaning of Advent. This is the season of hopeful waiting, of preparation, and of quiet and joyful anticipation.
Just as an expectant mother hopefully awaits the coming of her child, we hopefully await the coming of Christ. But just like a mother, whose child is already in her womb, we wait for the Christ who is already with us. And so we wait joyfully.
But likewise we cannot hasten the coming of Christ. If a mother tries to give birth early she will do serious harm to her child and to herself. If we try to hasten the coming of Christ, with false predictions of impending doom, then we can do serious spiritual damage to others, and to ourselves. Nor can we deny the coming of Christ. If a mother forgets about the child in her womb, serious harm can come to her and to her child. If we forget the promise of the coming of Christ, serious spiritual damage can also occur.
This sadly happened to some people with the false alarm of Y2K. This happened also at the end of the first millennium. This was happening also at the time that Luke was writing the gospel story to those first century believers. They had seen the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. They had witnessed the death of nearly all of the first followers of Jesus, and Christ had not yet come. So Luke took the opportunity to remember Christ’s words and write them down for his listeners, the people of his time, as well as the people of today.
Since Christ’s coming had been delayed, the people had grown complacent, returning to lives of drunkenness and carousing, filled with the anxieties of daily living. Lest they be caught off guard, Luke reminds them of Jesus’ words to be prepared. These words are a reminder to us, who also get caught up in the complacency, and the craziness, of everyday living.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, when asked about the future coming of Christ and the end time, replied, “The future is not in our hands. We have no power over it. We can act only today.”
She then went on to tell of a sentence found in the religious rule of the Missionaries of Charity that says:
‘We will allow the good God to make plans for the future –
for yesterday has gone, tomorrow has not yet come and
we have only today to make God known, loved and served.’
“So we do not worry about the future.”
Today is the gift we have in which we can make God known, loved, and served.
 Paragraph adapted from Proclaim, December 3, 2000
 Paragraph adapted from Celebration gospel commentary, December 3, 2000
Today’s feast did not exist in the history of our Church until Pope Pius XI declared the solemnity in 1925. He declared this feast as a means to counteract the “Anything Goes” mentality that was so prevalent in our world in the early 20th century; the era known as “The Roaring Twenties.” The sole purpose of this Feast is that we refocus our attention on who Jesus is, and what he expects of those who follow him.
If you carefully read the bible you will find the names of dozens of kings written in the pages. Some were the kings ofIsrael, like Saul, David and Solomon. Others mentioned were political rulers like King Nebuchadnezzar. Still others had a sort of duel kingship like King Herod, the Jewish leader who was not even a Jew, but rather a Gentile appointed by the Roman Emperor to be the King of Israel.
Of all the thousands of officials who wielded some measure of power during the Roman Empire’s five hundred year history, the name of only one has continued to be spoken for centuries. He was a Roman Procurator, a mayor of sorts, in an insignificant outlying city. As ruler of this unimportant city, his primary job was to make sure that the citizens obeyed the laws passed down by the Roman emperor. His job was to keep peace, at all costs. In a way he was a political puppet, a man placed in an office with no authority that did not come from the emperor himself.
In the Gospels and in the creed by which billions of Christians profess their faith, Pontius Pilate is memorialized. In our Creed, which we will be professing in a few minutes, his name is mentioned, not in an effort to blame him for the death of Christ, but rather to firmly establish the Christ-event in history. This statement in our creed unites revelation with history. It takes our faith out of the realm of “religious myth” and sets it firmly within the flesh and blood, time and space existence which is human history.
What is so important about placing Christ firmly within human history, is that over time faith has a tendency to mythologize its characters. In fact, some would really prefer to think of the Bible as a work of fiction, and Christ as a sort of super hero, whose story gives us some good things to know about human relationships. To those who think this way, Christ is really too much to take. The notion that we are to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us, flies in the face of reason. After all, when someone hurts me or hurts someone I love, it hurts, and something needs to be done about the hurt. The way of Jesus simply opens one up to the potential of more hurt.
And so, rather than following the way of truth, many people would prefer to follow other things, especially if these things are pleasurable. “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you will die,” is the motto of many people. But Jesus teaches us that the way to live, the way to have a truly good life, is to live truthfully, with integrity. It is not enough to simply perform the works of justice of feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, and caring for those in need. Yes, these are things that we must do. But we must also be living our lives according to the teachings that Christ has given us both in the scriptures and in his Church here on earth. Not being cafeteria Catholics only picking and choosing to follow those things we agree with, but rather accepting the entirety of our Catholic teachings.
But time and time again, history has proven that we would rather have it our own way. History has an incredible way of repeating itself, especially when people refuse to learn from history. The lack of morality and the “Anything Goes” mentality prevalent in our nation andEuropeduring the “Roaring 20s” has come back again in the beginning of this new century. We live in an age of “political correctness” where some would say that there is no place for Christian teaching or Christian morality in the political world. Unfortunately, those very same people who do not want us to “force” our morality on them, are trying to force their morality, or lack of it, on us. And this is having devastating effects in our nation and in our Church.
Today, only 49% of adult Americans are married. In the 1960s 85% of all adult Americans were married. Divorce has become epidemic, partially because couples are not willing to work out their differences. This is destroying, not only our families, but also every institution we have in place in our nation. Add to this the rampant materialism that is causing personal expenses to skyrocket to the point where the young have to choose between health care or housing, and the elderly have to choose between life saving medication or food. Civil law suits bog down our criminal justice system and drive insurance rates to ridiculously high levels. In addition to this, lack of mercy and forgiveness has contributed to the desire for vengeance. The outcry for capital punishment for violent offenders, as well as the demand for legalized abortion and physician assisted suicide has diminished the worth of the human person to nothing more than an object to be used.
Furthermore, so many Christians today only want a God of convenience. They don’t want to do the things expected of them, but would rather just do as they please, with the false notion that “well God loves us, so we’re all going to end up in heaven.” Some would prefer if Jesus were simply a myth, and that his kingdom was nothing more than a fairy tale. This is because Jesus is a threat to our pleasure driven culture. And if Jesus is not a myth, but a person, then he has the potential to change us and impact our lives. And if Jesus is really a person, who really taught what he taught, and really died for us, then we have to change our ways to be more like him if we want to be his followers.
We can do this, because as our King, Christ gives us everything we need to live rightly and do the right thing. Christ is the source of all the grace we need to be loyal subjects of his kingdom. We belong to him and therefore must be his loyal subjects. Why? This world, with all of its kingdoms, will come to an end one day. Every earthly ruler and leader will die and fade into the annals of history. But Christ’s kingdom has no end. Christ will never die again, and so if we truly want to live forever then we had better follow the rules that Christ has set forth for his followers. Christ is our King, there is no other. Like it or not, if we expect to receive the graces that only he can give, then we must also be willing to follow his rules and teachings. Our own salvation depends upon this.
Today’s feast reminds us that Jesus is the Lord of the Universe, above all people, communities, nations, and governments. He is God’s Son, our redeemer. So do not grow discouraged with the way the world seems to be turning today. We’ve been here before, and most likely, we will be here again. Rather, live as Christ teaches. Live as a citizen of his kingdom here on earth, and one day you will enter Christ’s heavenly kingdom.
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the gentiles who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death, but after three days he will rise” (Mark 10:32-34).
These are the words that precede today’s gospel. But James and John seem to have not heard what he just said. It is important to note this because this is the third time Jesus has spoken these words and all three times his disciples do not seem to be listening.
The first occurrence follows Peter’s profession of faith (Mark 8:27-33). After Jesus speaks of His own approaching death, Peter, in his impetuous way rebukes Jesus. To this Jesus says, “Get behind me satan” (vs. 33), a name which means “stumbling block.” It was Peter’s own unthinking impulsiveness that kept him from understanding.
After the second occurrence all of the disciples simply cowered in silence. Perhaps none of them wanted to be the next one to be called “satan.” It was their own fear and ignorance that kept them from understanding.
Today’s gospel gives us James’ and John’s response which isn’t a response at all. They just didn’t seem to be listening. He said, “I am going to Jerusalem to be put to death,” and their response was, “when we get to heaven can we sit next to you?”
It is important to note that all three of these predictions occurred when Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. In speaking these words three times, Jesus is trying to impress upon them the importance of what is about to happen. In fact, there is nothing that is more important than what he is about to do. His miracles and teachings pale in comparison to the suffering he is about to endure. But they just don’t seem to get it.
If you think about it, we are not all that different than those apostles. There is nothing more important in all of human history than the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our entire faith is based on this belief. And yet we go on, day in and day out, living our lives, making decisions about our future, without ever once thinking about the implications of what it means to be a believer. Our time here on earth pales in comparison to eternity. As baptized believers it is critically important for our lives here on earth to be focused on the heaven that is to come. If we do not do this, we may lose our eternal reward.
This means that there is nothing more important in this world than the issues of life, death, and our hope for the resurrection. As a Christian people everything we do and everything we say in our daily lives must take this belief into consideration. This is why we Christians must be the first to defend the sanctity of human life at all stages, not just before a child is born, and not just being concerned with the issues after a child is born. Every decision we make must uphold the entirety of the sanctity of human life. Having said this, our Church clearly teaches that when it comes to the matter of human life, abortion is the most critical and non-negotiable issue. This is because abortion is the willful destruction of innocent life and this is always intrinsically evil.
Sadly, so many Christians seem to have deaf ears when it comes to the issue of abortion, and even the other human life issues. Like the disciples on the road to Jerusalem they just don’t want to hear or admit that human life is sacred. James’ and John’s concern was about where they would get to sit in heaven. Perhaps we all need to be reminded that if we, who dare to call ourselves Christian, do not listen to our Lord and abide by his teachings on human life, there may be no heaven and resurrection for us. If we reject human life in this world, we may be rejected for eternal life.
Peter professed his faith in Christ, just like we did on the day of our baptism and every time that we celebrate the Eucharist. But his own thoughtless ambitions and worldview prevented him from understanding what the Lord was saying. Like Peter our ambitions, our desires, our opinions and personal agendas, our wanting things our way, very often get in the way of the Lord’s plan for us.
And so we go to the polls and vote for political candidates and legislation that supports our own ambitions and worldviews, our own desires, our own opinions and agendas, our own wanting things our way, without ever thinking about what the Lord says on these issues.
Sometimes, when it comes to the critical issues of life, we find ourselves afraid, like the disciples, and we remain silent in our fears; fear of speaking out, fear of sounding “old-fashioned,” fear of offending someone, fear of not having the right words. In this we need to pray for the grace to no longer be silent and put our faith where our mouth is.
My brothers and sisters, in all of human history, no event was more important, than the life, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. In this single act, God came to this earth, suffered and died, and rose from the dead, to save sinful humanity. Let us not forget this as we make decisions in the next weeks that will affect the future of this nation and our world.
Like Jesus, on the way to Jerusalem, there is no more critical time than now to speak out and defend the sanctity of human life. The political issues of the economy, unemployment, taxation, and etc., while all important issues that need to be addressed, are all secondary to upholding the dignity and sanctity of human life. Without the protection of human life, nothing else matters at all.
So today, in this Eucharist, pray for the grace to hear the Lord’s voice and to set aside any personal agendas that are contrary to that voice. Pray for the grace to be courageous in speaking the truth. Pray for the grace to know and love the Lord more deeply, so that in turn you will know how much the Lord loves you.