Fr. Michael McGourty is the pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Toronto.
If a stranger calls you on the phone, it is very hard to know if what they tell you about themselves is true. They can claim to be tall, when in fact they are very short. They can promise you a free vacation in a dream paradise, when in reality they are simply trying to get your credit card number. They can claim to be calling from Revenue Canada and say they require your social security number, when it reality, well, they’re not.
The same is true for email. We can receive an email from someone promising to deposit an outrageous sum in our bank account if we only send them our banking information and passwords.
We can only really be sure that someone is who they claim to be when they come into our presence and prove they can deliver on their promises. Even in the case of people we do know, unless they live among us and show us that we can trust them, it is hard to know if they can fulfill any big promises they might make.
The promises that Jesus makes to us are huge.
In order that we might believe that He is capable of delivering on the promise of salvation and eternal life for humanity, Jesus, the Son of God, became a man so He could show us that He can fulfill this promise. He came and lived among humans and spoke to them of God’s love and indicated that He would lay down His life to show humanity that love.
Only after Jesus had spent time with the Apostles did He ask them who they thought that He was. We hear Him ask that question today of Peter in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. To Peter, Jesus puts the question point blank: “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter’s answer is clear: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
It is interesting what happens to Peter after he makes his profession of faith.
Jesus does not encourage Peter go on his way because he has learned all that Jesus came to reveal to him. Rather, as a result of his faith, Jesus places Peter in the Church and gives him a role in the community that Christ will establish for the salvation of all people.
Community of Believers
Peter’s faith is not a private reality that exists only for him. It exists within the context of the community that Jesus came to establish so that all people might know of God’s love for them. Peter’s profession of faith gives him a special place within the community of faith that Jesus establishes, but it is a role that places Peter – like all those who Jesus calls – within the Church.
Jesus never calls anyone to have a private relationship with Him. All whom Jesus calls are invited into a relationship with Him through, and in, the community of His disciples.
This is most especially true for all of us who are called after Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. Those who are invited to follow and know Christ are always invited to know Him through the community of His disciples and to have their faith verified and built-up through the teaching of the Apostles, the breaking of the bread and the laying-on of hands in the sacraments of initiation. There is not one example of a disciple of Jesus who is invited into a private relationship with Him.
Today this seems to be one of the most misunderstood realities of our faith. We are not invited to make up our own idea of who God is or create our own theology about Christianity based on our personal preferences. Through a community of believers that He established to bring salvation to all people, Jesus invites us to know who He is and what He calls us to. We call this community “the Church.” Through the Church, we are called to know who Christ really is and how He is able to fulfill His promise of salvation for those who accept Him as Lord.
From the day that Jesus rose from the dead, the Christian community has gathered on Sundays to hear the Word of God proclaimed and to celebrate the Eucharist so that Christ could continue to be made known to all people (Luke 24: 13-35). In the community of believers, celebrating in communion with Pope Francis and our bishop, Cardinal Thomas Collins, today we are invited to know the real Christ who is revealed to us in the proclamation of His Word and in the gift of His Body and Blood. At the Sunday Mass, we are invited to challenge our private notions of who God is and what He asks of us, by an encounter with the living God who shows us His love in the Eucharist. At the Eucharist, we encounter the living Christ and experience His love and understand that He has fulfilled the promises that He continues to make to us.
The Sunday Eucharist is not a gathering of perfect people who come to boast of their goodness. It is a gathering of humans who begin their celebration by acknowledging they are sinners in need of God’s love and mercy. We then hear God’s Word proclaimed and are reminded of His love and the call to freedom that He presents to us. In the Eucharist, we experience and celebrate the extent that God has gone to save us, by the sacrifice of His Son and the gift of His Body and Blood to sustain us today. At the end of every celebration we are sent into the world to announce God’s love to the people whom we will encounter in the week as members of Christ’s body, the Church.
Each Sunday, as Peter professed His faith, we too are invited to profess our own faith. In the creed that we profess every Sunday, we profess that we believe in God the Father, in Jesus His Son and in the Holy Spirit. But our profession of faith does not end only with the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Our profession of faith also includes our belief in the Church. Whether the creed used at Mass is the Nicene Creed, which states, “I believe in one, holy catholic and apostolic Church,” or the Apostles Creed, which states more simply, “I believe in … the holy Catholic Church,” there is not a Christian creed that does not include the Church.
The faith that Jesus came to proclaim calls all who accept it to life within the Church that He established. If we are really following Christ, and not a religion of our own making, our faith in Christ calls us into communion with Him through the Church which He established.
For some people this is a difficult thing to accept. And yet, there is nothing in the Bible to support a private faith removed from the life of the community that Jesus established. Those who really want to know Jesus, must come to know Him in and through the Church that He established. It is through His Church that Christ continues to reveal His authentic self and true offer of salvation to sinners.
Peter was given a great gift of faith. However, this did not free him from life within the community of believers. The true faith that Peter was given, placed him directly within the Church so that he might strengthen others with his faith, and be strengthened by the faith of others in order to continue to walk with Christ.
This Sunday, as we hear Christ’s Word proclaimed, we, like Peter, are asked to profess our faith. As we do so, let us ask for the grace to profess a faith not just in the three persons of the Holy Trinity, but also in the Church through which we come to authentically know Christ and His offer of salvation today.
The Mass is our invitation to know the real Christ and not a god of our own making. The Church is that community of believers through which we may know God and His salvation today.
May God always guide and protect our Holy Father Pope Francis and Thomas, our bishop. May all people come to know the living God and His offer of salvation through Christ’s Body, the Church.
This reflection based on the readings for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A: Isaiah 22: 19-23; Psalm 138; Romans 11: 33-36; and Matthew 16: 13-20.