Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Last weekend’s Gospel told us the story of Simon making his great confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. In turn, Jesus bestows on him a new name, Peter, and with that new name, a new identity – the rock on which He establishes His Church. The most essential aspect of our identity is always rooted in our relationship with Christ. As we make our confession of faith, as we proclaim Jesus as Lord, and as we turn to God in humble prayer, our true identity as sons and daughters of God, our true identity as the Church founded on the rock of Peter, becomes clear.
Today, though, the Gospel seems to veer from this pleasant and ideal road. Peter, perhaps a bit full of himself because of his new identity, contradicts Jesus’ prediction of suffering and death. Jesus seems to respond harshly: “Get behind me, Satan.” The lesson is a bit of both. It is instructive for us: though we have this great, noble, and privileged identity of being called sons and daughters of God by baptism and part of God’s chosen people by our belonging to the Church founded on the rock of Peter, we are nevertheless, like Peter, subject to human weakness, flaws, and sin. Our attitude toward the Lord sometimes results in a rebuke rather than tender words. How easily we forget our true identity in favor of what the world expects. Maybe Peter had taken himself too seriously – being the rock on which something is built is, after all, a powerful testimony of identity. Peter is important! Yet for all his importance, Peter must still be humble before Jesus. And so should we. Thus, at every Mass, and every time we celebrate the sacrament of Confession, we acknowledge our sins and our need for God’s presence in our lives. Sum it up, if you will, in this simple axiom: “There is a God, and I am not Him.”
Let’s end on a hopefully more comforting note. What if Peter spoke to Jesus as he did today, not because of pride but because of a total freedom in expressing himself before the Lord? In other words, when Jesus bestows his new identity on him, Peter gained a confidence in Jesus that he did not have previously. Now he is truly free to speak to Jesus from the heart. Even though his heart is misguided, he is honest and true in his words. Let us then, have the same freedom. Let us speak to Jesus honestly and freely from the heart. If our hearts are where God wants them to be, the response will be comforting and filled with peace. If our hearts are elsewhere, let the response be that of Jesus in the Gospel today so as to steer us back to the path we need. Peter’s words did nothing to take away his identity as the rock. Rather, they served as the means by which Jesus called Peter closer and back to the right way. Our faults and failings do not change our identity in God’s eyes, either. May they serve to call us closer to the Lord every day of our lives.