Back in the 1950’s, when Catholics still spoke of Africa as a distinctly “mission” continent, a film on the missions in East Africa was shown to the children of St. Mary’s School in Corning, New York. A well-produced Technicolor movie, it illustrated both the earnest work of the missionaries and the devotion and the simple Christian dignity of the black African converts. Then, to fill out the movie hours, the projectionist concluded with an American film on sports-car games and contests. Daredevil drivers jumped their autos through flaming rings; stockcars battled stock cars, racing about the field and bumping into each other in a madcap game.
The contrast between the two moving pictures did not escape the kids.
At the end of the show, a fifth-grader said to Sister Suzanne, “Why do we go over to convert the Negroes in Africa? They ought to come over here and convert us!”
“… Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect.” (Romans, 12:2, Today’s second reading).
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q491: Why did Jesus get so angry with Peter in today’s gospel (Matt 16:21-27)?
Think for a moment about a different scenario. Pretend that your father is at a very advanced stage of cancer, and only has a day or two to live. You go to visit him, wagging your finger in his face and telling him that everyone is wrong about that terminal diagnosis; he surely will not die from cancer, so he’d better stop thinking about such nonsense. I suspect that if the man in bed had the strength to do it, he would just roll his eyeballs and wonder what kind of a child he had raised!
Now look at today’s scenario. Jesus has just told the apostles that he would be killed when they got to Jerusalem, but would be raised from the dead. Picture the apostle Peter taking Jesus aside, wagging his finger in his face in a very scolding, reprimanding way [that is what the word “rebuke” means], and telling him that he has to stop talking such nonsense. After all, it doesn’t fit the “victorious warrior” image that befits the Messiah. Jesus didn’t lose a heartbeat. He immediately told Peter to get out of his way; Peter was acting like a “Satan,” an obstacle in his path.
Peter just didn’t “get it.” To be Messiah did not mean to receive power and glory in the human political or military sense. Rather, Jesus came to teach us that Messiahship means self-sacrifice and self-giving. If that is true for the Messiah, then it is also true for his followers. Peter, and You, and I have to rethink what it means to be a true Disciple. There is no room for seeking honor and glory; there is only room for self-sacrificing love. Your home and your workplace are the testing grounds to prove your ability to use these weapons effectively.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Peter’s scorn for Jesus’ prediction (CCC #554) would soon change to recognition of the need to “deny self” and follow Jesus, even with our crosses (CCC #2029). This actually makes us “partners” in this redemptive mystery (CCC #618).
Q334: How does one “gain the world” yet still “forfeit his life” (Mt 16:26)?
I have heard a vivid image used many times to contrast two types of behavior, so much so that I do not know the original source. The context for this image is the area of moral choices that every Christian faces daily; and the comparison is between a thermometer and a thermostat. We find that illustrated today in St. Paul’s wonderful advice (Second Reading: Romans 12:1-2). St. Paul teaches, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern the will of God.”
I suspect there have been many times that we “went along with the crowd” and did whatever the peer pressure of the moment demanded. But this is not the kind of kind of behavior that Jesus demands from a disciple. It is nothing more than a “thermometer life” – one in which a person responds in lock-step to whatever the sinful social environment around him demands. That is what St. Paul meant by “conforming yourself to this age.”
On the other hand, a “thermostat life” is one where the person takes positive actions, makes appropriate decisions based upon truth (i.e., excessive heat or cold). It is a process of simple discernment. This is what St. Paul calls us to: to discern the “signs of the times,” the situation at hand, so that we can discern God’s will, rather than act on our selfish desires or those of peers. Jesus teaches in the gospel today that lack of such discernment can result in gaining the whole world, but suffering the loss of one’s eternal life (Mt 16:26).
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The more we renounce our selfishness, the more we walk by the Spirit (CCC #736). The baptized continue to struggle against disordered desires, but will prevail with God’s grace (CCC #2520). It is only through prayer that we can discern the will of God and obtain the endurance to do it (CCC #2826).
Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me
Last week we heard Jesus praise Peter for his act of faith, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” But today when Jesus tells Peter what kind of messiah he has to be, Peter may have felt a bit like Jeremiah, “You duped me, Lord.” The Rock has become a stumbling block! We know that Peter did accept Jesus as a suffering messiah and eventually followed him on the path that every disciple must walk — the way of the cross. St. Paul call us to follow the road to Calvary, to offer our selves as a living sacrifice, a life of self-giving for the good of others. Self giving costs. Are we ready to pay the price of acknowledging Jesus as a suffering messiah, as crucified Son of God?
Lord Jesus, I bring you all the situations in which I find it hard top follow in your footsteps. Take from me all resistance to your ways.