The Lord is making a simple but very uncomfortable point.
You can have the world or you can have him.
But in the end, you can’t have both.
I think we accept this intellectually – but do we live that way?
The truth is that quite a lot of us are at home in our world.
It is a world that, for most of us,
largely caters to what we want and need.
You and I are mostly very comfortable
and we mostly live as we want.
More than that, for those of us who live here in Russia,
and much of this area,
we don’t experience much conflict
between our Catholic Faith and the society around us.
For contrast, let’s take a trip back in time
to the world of Saint Paul.
In his time, the contrast was blatant and undeniable.
Every single day, a Christian was confronted
by beliefs and values that were completely alien.
Imagine you are out running errands,
and every store has altars to pagan gods.
You are expected to make an offering to this one or that one.
You meet your friends for dinner,
and at the beginning of your meal,
everyone tosses a bit of his wine on the floor –
that was an offering to the god of wine, Bacchus.
They wait for you to perform the ritual.
This was the Roman world many of the first Christians lived in.
They had no difficulty grasping that the values
of their society were at polar opposite to the ways of Christ.
Meanwhile, in Galilee,
where Jesus had his conversation
with Peter and the Apostles, things were different.
The ways of the pagans were off to the margins.
The temple in Jerusalem, where the true God was worshiped,
was growing more beautiful as it neared completion.
The true faith was being preserved
in an island of relative sanity.
Sort of like our community, here in Shelby County.
At the risk of sounding alarmist, I’ve just got two words.
Wake up! Our culture in 2017
isn’t the world a lot of us were born into.
Here in Russia, we are very happily insulated.
May it long be so! But let’s not kid ourselves.
Our society is becoming, day by day,
more like the world of the first Christians.
In those days, X-rated “entertainment”
was on every street corner. Today, it’s in every home.
In Paul’s time, all around him were people
worshiping Zeus, Apollo, Venus, and Mars.
Today, we worship our own gods,
but none so much as the great gods of “Choice” and “Self.”
Consider the present madness
about what is a man and what is a woman:
we saw what happened with the redefinition of marriage,
and now it’s turned into redefining what basic human nature is.
This is just the opening act of insanity.
More is coming – I’m not any great prophet,
so don’t ask me just what, but it is coming.
If you think our present culture has gone crazy,
I have to tell you, I think it’s only gone about 25% crazy. There’s another 75% to go!
I don’t mean this to be depressing. It doesn’t have to be.
It can be liberating.
The truth is, we never have control; we just imagine we do.
We have a voice, and we lift it up. We have a role to play;
but in the end, the world goes along,
and you and I just live in it for a time.
The only thing we can take out of this world
is other people with whom we share the words of life.
The first Christians didn’t know anything different.
They didn’t vote for Emperor;
no one cared about their opinion;
and most of what happened in the world,
they didn’t even know about. They didn’t have the Internet!
But they did have Christ. They did have the Eucharist,
the Holy Mass, and the other Sacraments.
They had a community of fellow believers,
fellow oddballs who likewise didn’t fit into their world.
They were never under any illusion
that they would have any great influence,
or that the world would ever be, for them,
anything but the Cross.
They would gather on Sunday – late,
because they almost all had to work –
and they would hear the words of Paul:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed.”
And while they listened to those words,
they knew at any moment, Roman soldiers could come
and take them all away.
And here is the great ironic twist.
That tiny, insignificant group,
that meant nothing to the world around them,
ended up making a whole new world,
bring a new civilization to birth.
But it was only possible once they died
to the world they knew.
It is tempting to think that we can somehow hold it together:
the world we’re so used to, and our faith in Jesus Christ.
Peter had that hope. But in the end, like Peter himself,
each of us must choose.