This Sunday’s gospel reading from Matthew 16 comes as Part Two of last week’s reading. Hopefully everyone remembers: St. Peter boldly declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. And when Peter said that, he did not speak merely on his own behalf. Peter, chief shepherd of the flock, made that declaration in the name of the whole Church. He professed our faith, the faith that brings about reconciliation between God and man: Jesus is the Christ. [Haga CLICK por español.]
St. Peter had the clarity and courage to profess that faith, not by his own cleverness or diligence, but by the pure grace of God. Same goes for us: we believe in Christ because the good Lord has given us the grace to believe. A gift from heaven allows us to perceive that Jesus of Nazareth, one of the countless human beings who has walked this earth, and lived, and died–a divine gift allows us to grasp that He is the only-begotten Son of the one, true, eternal, and omnipotent God.
So St. Peter professed the Christian faith on behalf of the whole Christian Church, at that moment at Caesarea Philipi. That moment involved a turning point in the history of the world, the first explicit profession of the holy Catholic faith. But there’s a big But. At that moment, momentous as it was, St. Peter still had not yet grasped the mission of his Savior. At least Peter had not grasped Christ’s mission fully.
Peter envisioned the Christ on His throne, but he didn’t know that the throne would be a cross. Peter envisioned the Messiah conquering the power of evil; he didn’t know that Jesus would conquer evil precisely by suffering evil. Peter imagined great glory for himself, as the pre-eminent right-hand man of the King of Israel. But at that moment at Caesarea-Philipi, Peter didn’t realize that being the first pope meant that he would die upside down on his own cross, at the foot of Vatican Hill, 1500 miles away from home.
Peter didn’t understand. So, as we hear at Sunday Mass, he at first bitterly resisted his Master’s plan to die at the hands of evil men. But: Then, when it all actually came to pass; when Christ went to His execution without any clamoring, without any crying out in the street; when the innocent Lamb silently offered Himself to the Father with sovereign self-abandonment, and taught mankind the entire mystery of life with seven sentences uttered from His cross; when it all happened, just as the prophets had foretold, that the Messiah would suffer–something about it did resound in Peter’s heart as indeed the utterly inevitable and only way. The only divinely-appointed way to bring the mission of the Christ to fulfillment.
In other words, Christ’s Passion and death was the utterly inevitable and only way to reconcile earth and heaven. If I might, I would like to expand a moment on one thing I said last week. I pointed out a startling fact. On the one hand, honest pagans throughout the ages have seen immediately that the sacrifice of Christ makes this wrong world right. African Bantus and Huron chiefs in Canada have seen a crucifix, understood that this is the Son of God, Who offered Himself for the whole human race, and have said: “This is my King!” And yet the luminous beauty of Christ crucified has gotten lost in the mind of the Western world. It’s like we Western peoples can’t see the beautiful rose that we hold in our own hands.
Why? I think it’s because we won’t face the wrongness of the world–the wrongness which needs to be made right by the one and only Christ.
Now, what exactly is “wrong” with the world? Well, how long do we have? But seriously: God made this world, and we love it for His sake. Nonetheless we could easily list some serious issues. And the inescapable one, for all of us is: We will all wind up as a set of rattling bones. The Western world seems to have fallen into a trance in which we pretend we’re not going to die.
–Gosh, how morbid, Father! Why don’t you look at some cat pictures, and lighten up, man!
But the honest pagan faces it. Our situation, on its face, is hopeless. No matter how many cat videos we watch to cheer ourselves up after an exhausting day, we will nonetheless die relatively soon.
And that ain’t right! It ain’t. We don’t want to die. Something is profoundly wrong. We can’t escape it. We can successfully paper-over all kinds of incongruities in life, like when in-laws can’t get along with each other at the wedding, etc. But we can’t escape the fact that this particular thing is deeply, deeply wrong; we can’t paper it over: Death is 100% certain.
Christ makes it right. The Christ Who dutifully went to Jerusalem, and suffered greatly, and was killed. The Christ Who lost His life for the sake of love and truth. This has reconciled heaven and earth. This has made human life right again, made it worth living. Hope springs up for mankind because this champion has won His battle. And He won it in order to share his victory with us.