Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, A
September 1, 2002
Jer 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27
1) In today’s Gospel, Jesus rebukes St. Peter with tremendous force. Immediately before this scene in the Gospel came what we read last week, when Jesus changed Simon’s name into Peter, or Rock, and gave him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to bind and loose on heaven and earth. Immediately after that revelation comes today’s Gospel. And as soon as Jesus describes what God’s plan is for him — that he would suffer greatly and be tortured and killed — Peter began to rebuke Jesus. Peter began to castigate the Lord. “No way,” he said. “No way will this happen to you.” Jesus then replied to Peter and said and did several things, all of which are important, as we’ll soon see:
a) He called Simon Peter, Satan;
b) Told him to get behind him because he was now an obstacle;
c) Told Peter that he was thinking not as God does but as men do;
d) Then turned to his disciples and said that if anyone wishes to come after him, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me;
e) That whoever wishes to save his life must lose it, but whoever loses it will save it;
f) That we profit nothing if we gain the whole world, but lose our eternal life;
g) And says that at the end of time, Jesus will repay each one of us according to our conduct.
2) Sometimes we might think that this Gospel refers to something that happened 2000 years ago, but the same set of actions happens actually all the time today. Therefore, in order to understand what happened in the Gospel, and also to hear more clearly what Jesus is trying urgently to say to us today, I’m going to give a few examples in which we see ourselves and those we know continuing to behave like Simon Peter in the Gospel.
3) In the past month, I’ve had several visits from people trying to obtain sponsor certificates to be godparents. One person was living in a relationship with someone to whom he was not married. Another person was married civilly to someone who had divorced the husband she married in the Church. A third person hadn’t been to Mass in years and showed no intention of changing and coming to Mass in the future. In each of the circumstances, I had to say that I could not give them a sponsor certificate and in each case the person was upset. A couple of them mentioned that they don’t understand the Church’s rules in this regard. I tried to explain to each that the Church is just trying to be faithful to Christ, who himself said that sex is meant only for a sacramental marriage, that, as he said very clearly, if we divorce someone to marry another or marry someone who is divorced, we’re committing adultery; and that we have the obligation to keep holy the sabbath day. To be a Godparent, I always say, means setting an example that God comes first, that we try with all our effort to live by God’s standards, not by man’s, and that anyone who chooses to live by man’s standard’s rather than God’s, is not fit to be a godparent. But I also told each person that there was something much more important than whether they can be a godparent or not. The issue was the state of their soul. I described to each that what they were doing has always been considered a mortal sin, something that if we die without having been reconciled to God for those sins, we could spend eternity outside of heaven. Paraphrasing Jesus in today’s Gospel, I asked them what would it profit them to continue in this activity if it would mean the loss of eternal life? No human relationship, even if we happen to love someone else, is worth that. Nothing else that we could do on Sunday could be more important than that. I tried to persuade the man living with his girlfriend to move out, stop sleeping together and, if he really loved her, look into getting married; I tried to help the man married civilly to a woman who is married in God’s eyes to another to look into determining whether her first marriage was invalid and therefore capable of receiving an annulment; I talked to the third about coming back to Mass and the sacraments. But none was willing right now to do so. They were all thinking not as God does, but as man does, and therefore putting their eternal life at risk. Jesus is coming, as he tells us at the end of the Gospel, to repay each one of us according to his conduct. And he couldn’t be clearer that we profit nothing if we gain the most beautiful companions, a tremendous amount of pleasure, more money or leisure on Sunday, if we lose our soul.
4) We all need to begin to judge more concertedly by God’s standards. To know what God’s standards are, we first need to see things from His perspective. God has a one-track mind. He wants our salvation. Everything he does and allows is meant to help us to see his love for us and to help us to respond to that love, to choose him who loves us, to choose heaven, which he’s prepared for us, to choose eternity which he wants so much to spend with us. To judge by God’s standards, we have to put our treasure in him, in the things of God, in heaven and in eternity. We can take another examples:
When we start to suffer, to judge by God’s standards means to see these as an opportunity to grow in love of the Lord. Jesus tells us in the Gospel that if we wish to come after him, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him daily. To deny ourselves means to say we don’t come first, we come third, after God and others. To take up our cross means to accept our sufferings as means to help us die to ourselves via the Cross. We pick up a Cross to die on it, just like Jesus did, but this death to ourself leads to resurrection, just like it did in Jesus’ case. Then we have to follow the Lord. There’s a reason why Jesus told Peter to get behind him. Peter was trying to lead the Lord, trying to tell him the way things should happen. Jesus told Peter that if you try to be God, to say how things should or should not happen, then you’re actually being Satan, not a disciple. Jesus told Peter to get behind him, because it’s only behind the Lord that we can actually follow the Lord wherever he leads us. In human life, we will suffer. Some of us will suffer physically because of illness. St. Paul tells us in the second reading to offer up our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Of course we can see doctors and try to relieve the pain and the causes of the pain, but while doing that, we also need to be accepting of whatever God’s will is in our lives, to try to stay behind the Lord and follow him along the way of the Cross, rather than trying to get ourselves and the Lord off that way. Some of us will suffer spiritually because of our proclamation of the faith. That’s what happened to Jeremiah in the first reading. He preached God’s word and everybody was against him. Sometimes when we live our faith, we’ll be criticized by those who are challenged by our putting God first in our lives and loving him above everything else. That might happen. But ultimately it’s worth it! Just as it doesn’t make any sense for us to gain the whole world and lose our soul, so, too, the most loving thing we could ever do to another is to try to tell them about Jesus, eternity, heaven, salvation. If any of us would recommend a stock tip or some other investment opportunity to somebody else to make or save money, or a new diet technique to lose weight, or a new movie to entertain themselves, but would not work to try to help them gain eternity, we’re in essence not thinking as God does, but as man, because it wouldn’t profit them to gain all the money, lose all the weight, have all the fun, if in the process they lose their salvation.
5) So today the challenge is to determine whether we think by God’s standards or by man’s, whether we’re seeking the things that last forever, or just things that will fade away with time. We can do a kind of examination of conscience on some of these areas, together, so that in the light of the world he might help us to see things more clearly:
a) God says we need to go to confession to a priest. The world says you don’t. Do we think like God or the world?
b) God says that abortion is a tremendous evil. The world says, leave the choice up to the woman. Are we judging by God’s standards or by man’s?
c) God says that the parent’s first duty is to raise the child in the faith, by word and example. The world says so many other things are more important, a good job, a good education, keeping them happy. Are we judging by God’s standards or by man’s?
d) God says that using harmful drugs is wrong. Many young people say it gives a great high. Are we judging by God’s standards or by man’s?
e) God says that all sex outside of a loving marriage is sinful, that pornography and even impure thoughts do great damage to us and to others. The world says if it feels good, do it, as long as people say they love each other. Are we judging by God’s standards or by man’s?
f) God says that the Mass is the most important thing in the whole world, that Jesus, God, our Savior is here. The world says that Mass is boring, that there are better, more important things to be doing than coming to Mass. Are we judging by God’s standards or by man’s?
6) We could go on and on, taking other situations that are very common in our world and then situations that are more particular to each of us. But I’m going to leave that as your homework for this week. To take whatever situations in which you find yourself saying, “I know God says this,” “I know the Church he founded, the Pope he chose, the Bishops he’s called, say this,” but “I say this,” and ask yourself whether you’re judging with God’s standards or with man’s. Then, the second part, is to ask whether it’s worth it, if we gained all the money, fame, worldly pleasure, comfort and happiness possible, if we ended up losing our salvation. Then we need to choose to order our life, to place our treasure, in God, in his will, in his love, in heaven, and in eternity.
7) Saint Paul repeats to us today what he wrote to the Romans 20 years after Jesus died, “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. If we do that, when the Son of Man comes to repay all according to his conduct, we will gain our life forever.