21st Sunday Ordinary Time
Year A

God Has His Own Reasons

Annick Theuroueville, a 20-year old French girl who had been paralyzed from birth, took part in a Rosary pilgrimage to Lourdes on October 7, 1975. In her wheelchair she joined the procession of more than 40,000 pilgrims, and then bathed in the pool beside the grotto. After bathing, she complained of being very tired. At three o'clock the next morning, she awakened in her hotel room. On a sudden impulse she got out of bed and walked. Apart from painful efforts to use crutches, she had never in her life done this. The other pilgrims at the hotel were amazed to see Annick come down the stairs for breakfast. Doctors who examined her on October 8 could find no medical explanation for her recovery. Of course, the medical bureau at Lourdes is very cautious about pronouncing cures miraculous. Conclusions are reached only after several years of observation.

Naturally everybody was interested in asking Annick's own reactions. Many knew that she had long since accepted her disability as the will of God.

"It means joy" she answered, "but also sadness. For I ask myself, why me and not the others?" …Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? (Romans, 11:34. Today's second reading).

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q333: I sense a difference between “confessing belief in Jesus” and “witnessing.” Is there a difference in usage between Protestants and Catholics?

Have you ever personally made a public, vocal expression of your belief in Jesus Christ? I am not talking about liturgical settings, with the “canned” prayers, responses, and creeds that may not always reflect the real attitude of your heart. I am talking about sharing with someone about who you think Jesus really is, and what that means to you. “Witnessing” in the usual sense means verbally testifying from your heart specifically about what God has done in your life, and how that makes you feel and act. Our non-Catholic evangelical brothers and sisters put us Catholics to shame in this regard. They do not hesitate to publicly “confess” their faith in Jesus. They are also fearless about “witnessing” about Jesus - a subsequent act which naturally follows a confession of belief (and this is a quality sorely needed by each and every Catholic).

Most of us “cradle Catholics” take our Christianity for granted – meaning our belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. For that reason, Catholics tend to "opt" for the silent witness of their life, as guided by the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Church. But Catholics excel at witnessing about “the rock,” the leadership instituted by Jesus himself for the necessary stability of authority and doctrine in the Church he established. We also firmly believe that this “rock” is more than just the simple confession of faith itself (which is what our Protestant brothers and sisters believe). Clearly it is more, because Jesus gives to the newly-named Peter (“Rock”), and to Peter alone, the “keys” (Matt 16:13-20) – which in scripture unquestionably means the authority of the giver of the keys and the attendant responsibilities. This is also clearly illustrated in the First Reading where the authority as chief steward or majordomo passes to another by means of the symbol of passing on the “key” of the House of David (Is 22:19-23).

This authority and leadership given by Christ to Peter has been passed on ever since then, to the next Bishop of Rome who succeeds him. We call this anointed person the Pope (Greek = papa, therefore a father-figure of authority).

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Lord made Peter the “rock” of his Church, and gave him the keys which made him the shepherd of the whole flock (CCC #881). After the resurrection and Pentecost, Peter confessed and proclaimed Jesus’ messianic kingship to the People of God (CCC #440). Each member of the flock (= the laity) is established and empowered with the mission of witnessing and leading others to faith, both by word and the testimony of their lives (CCC #904-5). Witnessing is not an option; it is a command!

Q490: I’m not sure that I really understand how Catholics claim that the Pope has more authority than anyone else in the Church, using today’s Gospel.

To really understand the “flavor” and beauty of today’s Gospel (Matthew 16:13-20), in which Jesus gives Peter primacy over all the other disciples (then and now), we have to see what St. Matthew has done with the story. He has placed it right in between two other stories which are not complimentary to Peter.

First of all, a couple of weeks ago we heard about Peter trying to respond to Jesus by “walking on water,” and his weak faith was not up to the event. Next Sunday we will hear Jesus call Peter a “Satan” to show how Peter was interfering with God’s work (Peter was trusting in his own personal opinions). And right in-between those two wonderful stories, he inserts today’s gospel story where Jesus says, “I will give YOU [Peter only, because the word is in the singular] the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” Wow! Talk about a miracle! God always seems to pick the most insignificant person, and elevate him to greatness. (Recall the summer Olympics this year (2008): was this not the case with the personal history of the great swimmer, Michael Phelps?)

Catholics believe that this authority given to Peter alone was not meant to “die” with him. Instead, it was passed on to the subsequent patriarchs/popes of Rome. That is why we have complete trust in the Teaching Office of the Church: it has the official recognition of Jesus Christ himself, the One who started it all!

It is only through Jesus, and through his chosen “holder of the keys” that we will find true Unity. They may have personal and sinful faults. But in teachings on faith and morals, they cannot lead us astray, since they have the Holy Spirit to guide them to the end of time. If you have trouble with Rome, with the official teachings of the popes, then it is time to “rethink” your position. If you continue your opposition, in the face of the evidence, you will find yourself fighting against the Holy Spirit. Good Luck!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Lord made Peter alone the “rock” of his Church, and gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock (CCC #881). This pastoral office is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

My Thoughts are not Your Thoughts

We will hear these words in the liturgy a few weeks from now, but they are also a fitting reflection on today's gospel. Jesus picks Simon Peter to receive the keys to his kingdom. Who would have thought it! Just two weeks ago we heard Jesus marvel at Peter's weak faith and next week we will hear Jesus rebuke Peter as Satan! Why would Jesus pick Peter? Why can fathom the plan of God? But could it be that even though his foot is often in his mouth, Peter's heart is in the right place? He does have faith, weak as it may sometimes seem, and that is at the heart of what Peter becomes: the rock. His faith is based on is certitude about who Jesus is. It is a faith expressed in his total commitment to the person of Jesus: "Lord, to whom shall we go, we have come to believe that you have the words of life.

Lord Jesus, our faith is not always what it should be. Like Peter we sometimes jump to conclusions and do stupid things. Like him we don't always see things your way. Help us like Peter, to repent and turn back to you. "Lord we do believe; help our lack of faith."