Here’s my homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 24, 2008. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/082408.shtml
Thanks for reading and for all of your comments and feedback! Fr Jim
As if we haven’t had enough coverage, enough advertising, enough newspaper stories and magazine articles about this years presidential election, we are entering the time of the campaign where it’s going to get even more intense. In the next two weeks the Democrats and then the Republicans will hold their respective conventions to nominate their candidates (which is pretty much just a formality at this point since everyone knows who the nominees are) - then there will be debates - probably a few more commercials, commentators commentating and come November 4th, our nation will elect our next president.
In the process, we will hear a lot about "polls" - who’s ahead - who’s "winning" - who’s behind. Polls will tell us why people are voting for one candidate over another. What issues are on people’s minds - how those issues and the candidates response to them (or even how they change their positions on those issues) affect people’s vote.
All of this, eventually leads to the American people deciding who will lead them and in which direction the country will go. And if we’re not happy with it, well in 4 years we get to do it all over again (not to mention congressional elections that pop up every 2 years as well)
Electing our leaders is a tremendous responsibility and people can list some legitimate pros and cons over this process. Some people are very passionate about who they’re voting for and then there are those who don’t know who the two nominees are. But the fact remains no matter what you’re level of interest, what your stance on the issues are, all of those who are adult citizens every one of them has the opportunity to vote for our next president.
We grow up with this - kids elect class Presidents, teams (sometimes) elect captains - clubs and societies all vote for their leaders. Even at work - people might not get to vote for who will be their boss, but they elect who’s going to deal with them as they vote for people as a Union leaders..
Growing up with that experience throughout our lives, its understandable that people sometimes look for that in the Church. When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, some in the media treated the conclave that would elect a new pope like a type of presidential election. People were interviewed, surveys were conducting asking questions like "what are you looking for from the next Pope" "What issues do you hope the Pope will address" - some even used political language labeling cardinals, the "potential popes" either being conservative or liberal.
Those are important things, especially given that as members of the Church, everyone of us have probably have our own opinions on a lot of issues. Whether it’s about priesthood or moral questions, we all hold our own opinions and we can get passionate about all of these issues. We can also become disappointed in the human failures we see at times from our leaders. All of that fuels many who ask why don’t we get a say in who is our next Pope - or who’s our Bishop or even our Pastor...
Today’s scriptures answer that for us, and we have to have a sense of humility and dealing with it. St. Paul in the Second Reading asks us, Who has known the mind of the Lord? Who’s been his counselor? Quite simply, God’s not looking for our input - he’s not looking for campaign managers, or consultants. He’s not reading polls of what’s people want from their leaders.
God, who has given us our very lives - God who wants us to live in his Kingdom has given us an outpost for that Kingdom here on earth - and that is what the Catholic Church is. God himself calls people to lead it. That’s how he intends it.
And we can see how God reveals his plan almost 800 years before Jesus was born. God speaks to his prophet Isaiah and in that first reading, we heard how God spoke through Isaiah about the one who would lead His people.
God says I will summon my servant...who will be a father ... to the house ...I will give him the key to this house. I will fix him to a place of honor. He’s revealing that His divine authority will be experienced among us through a fellow human being - someone who’s a mortal, sinful, fellow human being - but one who has been set apart, who is in relation with Him. (An interesting side note is that in this passage from Isaiah - this "leader" will be given a robe, a sash - holding a place of honor - all images we can see in the Pope of today...)
Fast forward 800 years and Jesus is asking his disciples in the Gospel we heard - who do you say that I am? The responses we hear could be the poll results of that day and age – among segments of followers - Group "A" says your: John the Baptist; Group "B"Elijah; Group "C": Jeremiah; Group "D": One of the Prophets - only one person, a minority opinion to be sure, says "You are the Christ, the son of the living God."
Something within Peter, the same Peter who is so often wrong, the same Peter who so often fails in his love - devotion and leadership to Jesus and the disciples - the Holy Spirit works within that same Peter which enables him to utter those words you are the Christ - you are the living God.
Peter probably wasn’t the crowd favorite. We can read in the scriptures how there were other disciples who were perhaps personally liked better. He had his squabbles with some of the other guys. Even John was "the beloved" disciple, the closest friend to Jesus. But this isn’t about popularity, God chose Peter to be his first Pope - and the apostles, the disciples and Peter himself accepted that as a gift to the Church and something that was continually dependent on the Holy Spirit to direct.
For close to 2000 years, there has been an unbroken line of 265 popes from when Jesus first gave this authority to Peter to Benedict XVI today. God has and continues to provide for us, continues to guide us. The question that remains is – instead of our thinking we know better who should be in charge, are we willing to let God continue to lead us?