WHAT A GREAT FEAST DAY!!! The Celebration of the St. Peter and Paul!!! The readings for the Mass can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/062908.shtml
As always, I’m most grateful for your even reading my homily - and appreciate your feedback. The only way I can continue to (hopefully) connect with the people I’ve been sent to minister to is by knowing when I do connect and when I don’t - so thank you for your messages, and even your constructive criticisms. God Bless!
You may or may not have heard of this group called the Pew Forum. The Pew Forum is like those organizations Gallup, Zogby, & Ramussen who do those political survey’s to tell you what percentage of the people they interview are going to vote for one candidate over another or their opinions to certain issues are.
Well the Pew Forum is a polling group, that basically focuses their exhaustive studies on the religious beliefs, practices, & opinions of the American people.
This past March, they released their “Religious Landscape Survey” which got a lot of media attention, as well as some discussion among the United States Catholic Bishops. While Roman Catholics make up the single largest religious denomination in the United States (about 24% of the American population is Roman Catholic) - what generated the most interest was the number of Catholics who were raised Catholic and have left the Church. They estimate about 10% of the American Population are people who have left the Catholic Church for another religion (or no religion at all). That number is larger than the total number of members in many other religious groups.
The Pew Forum followed up with a second part of their survey which was released this week. It gave some more interesting feedback about the beliefs that Catholic people hold which really differ from what the Church teaches. Two statistics really stood out - the survey stated that only 16% of Catholics believe that our religion is the one true faith (now this probably comes out of a sense of trying to be sensitive to the many different religions in our nation, but, our Church still teaches that Catholicism is the one true faith) and a second surprising statistic said that close to 30% of Catholics perceive God as an impersonal force rather than someone they could have a personal relationship with.
Today’s feast of St. Peter and St. Paul and these readings couldn’t come at a better time. Because the blood of these two martyrs demands our attention - they call us out asking “who do we say that Jesus is?”
Peter started out as a fisherman, and probably wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed (no offence to him - it’s in the scriptures, you can read all about his ups and downs) yet the man who denied he even knew who Jesus was when the mobs were getting ready to kill Jesus - the man who was plagued by doubts and his own failures throughout his years of following Jesus - we know him as our first Pope - the “rock” upon which Jesus would build the Church upon.
Paul, started as a great persecutor of the Church. He starts out as a murderer - one who was a Jewish zealot who was going to protect Judaism from these “crazy Christians.” So he approves of the killing of early Christians. Yet after his conversion, he will become one of the most effective missionaries and preachers to the Early Church - helping to evangelize Europe and parts of Asia, as well as writing 14 letters that are a part of the New Testament.
Both would be killed for doing these things - Peter would be crucified, Paul would be beheaded.
But what happened? How do we explain those types of turn-arounds? They gave their lives not because Christianity was a nice idea, not because they bought into Jesus’ teachings, not because they simply held a certain belief in this particular faith... They gave their lives because they had a personal, vibrant, authentic, relationship with God - they had an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ - the Holy Spirit dwelt within them.
That’s why Peter at the end of the First Reading can say, reflecting on how once again God has stood by him during his imprisonment -“I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me...” - That’s why Paul can say in the Second Reading “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength.” These men have experienced how God was with them and that He can work through them and in that, God would change the world through them.
It’s fitting that the Gospel has Jesus looking to Peter and asking him the question “Who do you say that I am?” Because that is the question for all of us to answer -
Is Jesus simply a nice moral teacher who gave us some ideals that we aspire to?
Is Jesus a philosopher, who had interesting theories on man’s existence that we are curious about?
Is Jesus a stranger, someone we’ve heard about but don’t really know intimately or personally in our own lives?
Many people might fall into a lot of those different camps - and this isn’t to condemn people who do - it’s a challenge to go deeper. Peter and Paul wouldn’t give their lives for a nice moral teacher, for some philosopher, for someone they didn’t know personally - and Jesus wouldn’t ask us to do that either. These two martyrs invite us to make St. Peter’s words in the Gospel today our own and truly see that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
When we begin to let that in, that has the power to truly change us. We can see that God has a specific plan for us - that God loves us - that God stands by us throughout our ups and downs - and the more we are in love with God, the more we willingly offer our lives up to Him - we become happy to die to ourselves and our wants and really want to live for Him and the service of one another.
In that mini-martyrdom on our parts, God will use us to change the world once again - maybe not so much by spreading the Gospel to those who’ve never heard it, but by living the Gospel, in front of those who’ve never really seen it lived out.