TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY 2020
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Saint Mary’s Church Street, 23 August 2020
“Economic consequences of pandemic may well challenge people’s mental health and their sense of personal identity and worth. Some may be tempted to give in to a pattern of despair”.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus poses a double question. He first asks his disciples: “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” Just as in today’s world, in those days people had different answers. The disciples answered saying that some of the people thought Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life, others Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. These ideas were pointing in the right direction. They saw that the identity of Jesus was to be sought in the message of the prophets who witnessed to the caring and protective presence of God in the history of his people. God always remained faithful to his people.
Jesus then directly questions the Twelve: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered immediately: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Jesus is the one whose life reveals fully the God of love and fidelity. Jesus Christ is the true friend who is always faithful and never abandons us. He knows where we fail, and where the most intimate hopes of our hearts lie.
Jesus then responds to Peter’s profession of faith: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church”. The Church is where we encounter the mercy of God and the hope that it beings.
The Church, then and now, is called to make present among men and women, wounded by so many divisions and conflicts, so many sufferings and uncertainties, God’s peace and the hope-filled power of his love.
Looking at this dialogue between Jesus and Peter, we begin to understand the life of the Church. The Gospel makes it very clear that Peter did not come to that profession of faith just based on his own ideas. Peter had opened his heart to a power greater than he had, a power that comes from God himself.
Yet in the very next section of the Gospel we will see how Peter refused to accept Jesus’ teaching on the suffering he is to endure. Peter is a weak human being, yet despite knowing Peter’s weakness, Jesus gives him a title that is also a mission. He is to be a rock on which to build his Church. We find the identity of Jesus in his Church.
This does not mean however that in the concrete the Church always mirrors the idea of Church that was wished by Jesus Christ. The Church and the community of believers in Jesus are called to constant conversion, to purify the Church to be a Church with faith and trust in Jesus.
That purification is not about external structures as such, but as to how those structures reach out to others mirroring the God of love revealed in Jesus Christ. An inward looking Church will miss the point and become zealous about irrelevant or marginal things or even the opposite to what the Church of Jesus Christ is called to be.
Jesus choses Peter knowing that he is weak and impulsive and that his loyalty can at times be short-lived. Yet Jesus choses him. Jesus knows that we are humans who are called to be his followers but who often fail him. He knows that the Church does not always mirror his own vision. Jesus does not acquiesce in our failure and sinfulness. Rather he challenges us weak humans to stand up again, to place our hearts on a journey with him.
Each of us should gain courage and hope from the fact the Jesus knows our weakness, yet still loves us, and chooses us. Jesus loves us whoever we are. He loves us when we flourish and he loves us when we fail. The faith and hope that spring from his message should never allow any of us to fundamentally doubt himself or herself no matter how many times we fail.
We are facing very difficult times in our world. The pandemic threatens relentlessly. We face unknown threats. Many may unexpectedly find themselves facing shattering change in their lives. Jobs will be lost, even among those who has never before experienced insecurity. This may well challenge people’s mental health and their sense of personal identity and worth. Some may be tempted to give in to a pattern of despair.
In the midst of the current difficulties, we need to be building a society that will reach out to these who find themselves unexpectedly in dramatic situations and create a culture in which no one is ever driven to despair. The Church should never forget – as it has done in the past – that the message of Jesus is not a harsh judgmental one that grinds people down, but always one of hope that enhances people and restores them.
The Christian community must be one of generosity and solidarity alongside those who experience poverty and self-doubt. It must also be a community where the hope that comes from the fidelity of God to his people gives hope to people in our time in the face of challenges they may never have expected. Jesus loves us whoever we are. He loves us when we flourish and he loves us when we fail.
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God who brings hope to all of us and calls us to witness to that hope to those around us. In the troubles of our times, the Church must become the warm embrace of God’s love for all those who are tempted and tried by distress and anxiety.