Saturday, August 20, 2005

Upon this Rock (Sunday homily)

In today’s Gospel the Apostles face a choice:
play it safe; or a make a commitment
that changes everything.

When the Lord asks an easy question:
“What are folks saying about me?”
They all offer the safe answer: “a prophet.”

Then, Jesus puts them on the spot:
“And who do you say that I am?”

The other Apostles held back:
Simon commits himself with a bold, risky response:
“You are the Anointed One: the Son of the Living God.”

We all face such moments of decision.
Do we commit ourselves, or do we hold back:
“Maybe, could be, but on the other hand…”

These opportunities come…and go!
And we know it—and regret it!

“If only I’d asked that girl out!”
“I could have spoken up, but I was afraid!”
“I should have said, ‘I’m sorry.’”

Simon commits himself;
that’s when Jesus says: “You are Peter—you are Rock—
and upon this Rock I will build my Church.”
Jesus makes a promise here:
the Rock will stand, the Church will stand;
and so she has for 2,000 years,
on Peter and every successor since,
down to Pope Benedict today.

The first reading helps us understand why.

God’s People were in trouble;
God empowers a new leader,
to be a “peg in a sure spot”; a father to Jerusalem.

The pope is our “holy father,”
not for his sake—but for ours!

You and I believe, as Catholics,
that Christ supernaturally keeps his Church infallible:
he protects his Church from teaching or believing error.

That doesn’t mean you, or I, or a bishop,
or even a pope, can’t believe something that’s wrong.

But it does mean that when the Church teaches,
as a body—through the pope, or the bishops altogether—
the Church cannot—will not—teach error.

Now, many things come to mind:
many failures and episodes in history.

History is complicated.
But recognizing that individuals,
in the name of the Church, did stupid and evil things,
is different from saying the Church—as a whole—
embraced, or taught, error.

But here’s the thing: the flaws and defects
aren’t what should surprise us.
What should astonish us is that this promise—
the Church will stand!—has proven true all these years!

Throughout history, there has been every opportunity,
for the Church to go off into a ditch and out of business.
To be killed off, bought off, to be tamed, and fade away.

When things seemed so dark, God sent a Light:
a pope Leo…the Great;
a pope Gregory…the Great;
a pope John Paul…the Great?

And not just popes.
When the pope wasn’t being bold enough,
here comes St. Catherine of Siena!
here comes a Little Flower, a St. Francis, a St. Benedict;
Jesus never forgets his promise to his Church!

Many times, every voice said: “Go that way!”
And the Church, stubbornly resisted—almost alone!

I’ll give you an example.

You’ve heard the Church being blamed for slavery.
Do you know the truth is almost exactly opposite?

Slavery is a universal practice, long before Christ;
it nearly died out during the Christian “Middle Ages.”
It was brought back by “modern” folks, in the 14-1500s!
The Church condemned them!
Do you know what people said?
The Church should mind her own business
and stay out of politics!

Sound familiar?

Sure, the Church could have said, or done, more.
But the amazing story is how,

throughout history, the Church didn’t play it safe,
but was a risky, prophetic voice
for Christ and for human dignity.

And notice I put those together:
“Christ and human dignity.”
Because you can’t separate them.

Jesus Christ alone is the only guarantee of human dignity!
History is filled with movements
that claimed to liberate human beings,
only to enslave and destroy them.
Only Jesus Christ can be trusted to defend human dignity.

So, when you hear someone attack Christ—
or attacking his Voice, the Church—
as an opponent of human “progress”:
Watch out!

You’re hearing it right now!
Research that destroys tiny, embryonic human beings
is justified as being for….wait for it: “human progress”!

Left out is how this so-called “progress”
demands creating human life, in order to destroy it.
Left out, also, is that we can do this research—
right now—without destroying a single human life!
But that takes more time.

Now: who, but the Church, is a voice against this?
Yet, the easy thing would be to go along with it!

Everybody likes a prophet we agree with;
we can’t stand a prophet who says we’re wrong.
But that’s exactly when we need the prophet, isn’t it?

Jesus called Peter not to play it safe,
but to take a stand.
What will we do?


Rich Leonardi said...

Wonderful homily, Father, both doctrinally and pastorally. What I wouldn't give to see you standing at my parish pulpit on any given Sunday. And what an opportunity you have every week to plant a seed in the hearts of your parishioners. Down the line, it's a safe bet that oaks will grow in Sydney.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Thanks -- but I'm spoken for!

Anonymous said...

I'll second Rich. I'd love to have you as my parish priest.

(Although Archbishop Dolan's homilies aren't bad either:-)


Fr Martin Fox said...

Thanks Donna.

I'm not fishing for compliments--but what did you like in my homily?

Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

Father, can you site a source for your remarks about slavery? I'd love to write more about that myself.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Well . . . let's see. That was all from memory, of things I've read over the years.

I think if you look at "Oh, those terrible Middle Ages," a very good book by a French author, you'll likely see how slavery nearly died out. I think Hillaire Belloc and Chesterton have such information, too -- as would the two histories mentioned in the next paragraph.

If you look at either Bokenkotter's history of the Church, or Crocker's "Triumph," I think you'll find reference to papal denunciations of the revived slave trade.

Almost any history will tell you that the slave trade was revived around the time of the "great explorers" as they ventured down the African coast.

You may well find something on all this over at Catholic Answers, which always has good articles on these sorts of things.

As to my claim that the response was, "mind your own business," I admit I can't cite a source off the top of my head -- but really, that's been the standard response of every political figure, or anyone else, who sought to do what the Church opposed, throughout history! If you really want to find such a quote from a prince or king or slaver, I will bet you will, if you dig enough.

Anonymous said...

I liked the homily because it talked about some very key issues that the Catholic Church now faces both internally and externally. What do you use as hand out material for folks to read to further educate them on issues you discuss on Sunday? Do you have any programs of instruction available to the parishoners beyond RCIA or youth groups? I will travel all over the city to hear information with solid church teaching and when it is given, there is usually a pretty good crowd of folks. I even squeeze into Theology on Tap even though I break the age barrier. Seems like the church has given up on the older cradle catholics or boomers going after RCIA and generation Christ age folks as with the just finished WYD. Just curious.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Sometimes, I will offer further info, or references, in the bulletin, as I did this past weekend.

We have folks who are trying to make things happen with adult faith-formation, but it generally is a challenge. I'm new at this parish, but in time, I'd love to see some Bible studies, and I'd be happy to lead it.

We have an active mens group, we have womens groups, we have Cursillo groups. These help.

There's more to be done; we do what we can.

Anonymous said...

Father, I can tell from your homilies and your blog that you bring a lot to any parish. Having served in a parish council and also on the finance committee, I see what a parish priest goes through on a daily basis. In no way were my comments criticism. I was genuinely interested in seeing what you used or what you offered.