The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Vigil Mass of the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 16, at St. Thomas Ã Becket Parish in Reston.
So often, when we reflect on different persons in the Scriptures, we see a reflection of ourselves. That was the case last week when we identified with the deaf man who had a speech impediment. That is the case again this week when we identify with St. Peter.
As we prayerfully reflect on today's Gospel scene, we first see St. Peter clearly affirming that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Anointed One, the Savior. "But who do you say that I am," Jesus asked. "Peter said to him in reply, 'You are the Christ.'" This was a real act of faith on St. Peter's part.
Yet, not long after this profession of faith, we see St. Peter unable to accept the implications of what being the Christ would mean for Jesus. He was unable to accept what Jesus was telling him, namely, that as the Christ, the Savior, Jesus "must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days." St. Peter could not accept that, so he "took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him. Jesus in turn, rebuked him, saying, "Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do." Yes, Saint Peter struggled to understand and to accept the implications of what following Jesus "along the way" really means.
Are we not like St. Peter ourselves? We too are "on the way" with Jesus. We claim that He is our Lord and Savior; we claim to be His disciples, His followers. Every day along the way invites us to acknowledge who Jesus is for us; what place does Jesus have in our lives. Sometimes, we readily and eagerly profess Him to be the Christ, our Lord and our Savior; we eagerly and willingly follow His footsteps. But then, there are those other times when we find the implications of following in His footsteps to be difficult or burdensome. Sometimes, we say "no" and sin.
However, Jesus never gave up on St. Peter, even when later Peter denied Him three times. In fact, after He rose from the dead, Jesus restored Peter to intimate union with Him.
Jesus never gives up on us either. He is forever faithful and always merciful. He keeps calling us to turn back to Him, to get up whenever we fall, with the help of His divine grace. So then, we must never give up on ourselves; instead, we must reach out for His helping hand, by which He restores us to a new level of friendship with Him. We must never cease trying to respond to His divine mercy working in our lives.
This is why prayer is so essential in our daily lives. In the experience of prayer, we open our minds and hearts to the transforming power of the Lord Jesus. In darkness, uncertainty, dryness, even in our sinfulness, we must be people of prayer. Both at home and here, in the prayer of this Eucharistic Sacrifice, we must reach out to let the Lord transform us and lead us to a deeper union with Him. The Sacrament of Penance, confession, is also so necessary in our lives.
This is why ongoing formation in the faith is so important. We can never learn enough about our Catholic faith, because it is so rich and full of meaning for our entire lives. Today, the catechists and youth ministry volunteers of this parish are being commissioned, so that with God's blessing transforming their efforts, they may form you, the parishioners here, in your deepening understanding of what you believe and of why you believe what you believe. In that way, you will be equipped, within the various stages of life, from youth through the senior years, to give a credible witness to Christ and the Truth He proclaims through His Church.
This is why we must daily deny the selfishness in us in order to be open to the Lord and to others. Jesus reminds us today, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." Denying the self does take on the shape of a cross, for in reaching up to the Lord and out to others, we leave aside the self-centered aspects of our personality. That is difficult, but it is, in the end, freeing and life-giving. Again, the daily experience of living and interacting with others provides us with countless opportunities to say "no" to the self and to say "yes" to God and others. Examples abound, like stifling a sarcastic comment or a "put down" of another, reaching out beyond what is expected, never giving up on someone who is struggling.
Yes, we are walking "along the way" with Jesus, the Christ, our Lord and Savior, Who tells us that being His disciples necessarily involves being like Him. It involves a process of dying and rising. Like St. Peter, we may sometimes try to change that direction, but like him, we must turn back to Jesus and allow Him to guide us more closely. Our Lord will walk with us every step "along" the way if only we let Him be with us. Oh, let us let Him, because we have nothing to lose and everything to gain, including eternal life!