When we are confronted with someone presenting a religious message,
there are three ways we can respond.
First, we might say, “Isn’t that interesting?”
When I was in Washington DC a week ago,
I saw some Buddhist monks in their bright orange robes.
That was my response: “isn’t that interesting?”
A second response is, “Is this useful?”
A lot of people send their children to Catholic schools,
even though they aren’t themselves Catholic, or even Christian.
They do it because they see it in terms of being useful.
To be blunt, a lot of Catholic parents do this.
How else to explain that there are many families
whose children are in the Catholic school all week long,
but are seldom seen at Sunday Mass?
Then there is a third response we can give.
And that is to ask, “Is this true?”
Really, isn’t the most important question?
Week after week, priests like get up and give homilies
on the Church’s teachings, on the Scriptures.
Maybe we make it interesting, we may make you laugh,
and maybe we give something practical…
But in the end, the only real question is: Is it true?
When Peter and Paul gave their witness – not in a beautiful church,
but maybe in a synagogue,
or else in someone’s home or on riverbank or in a public square,
there was no reason for anyone around them to say, “is this useful?”
The Catholic Faith was something entirely new; no one had heard of it.
No one important believed it.
It had nothing behind it,
except extravagant claims by these odd fellows.
Have you seen a preacher on Fountain Square?
Or maybe seen these excited fellows on late-night TV?
Don’t you think that’s how Peter and Paul looked to the Romans?
Think about how you would react,
if instead of listening to me, here,
you were listening to Peter or Paul.
On the street corner.
Why would you stop? And why would you believe?
One of the conceits of our age
is we think we’re smarter than anyone else ever was.
So folks will think, oh, sure they believed,
because they were so gullible. You think so?
You think people 2,000 years ago never met a fanatic?
Never had anyone try to sell them snake oil?
They never said, as my mother always did:
“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is?”
Then, now and always, people ask what gives meaning to life.
In every age, people have gazed at the stars
and wondered what caused them to be there,
and to move in the way they do.
Even in AD 2014, scientists tell us so much about the universe,
and the Big Bang that sparked it all.
And yet they will admit how little they really know;
and they still ask what Romans might have asked, 2,000 years ago:
who started it all? And why?
Here come Peter and Paul – and others – who say,
none of the gods you Romans believe in are true.
They are false, every one of them.
The one true God is the God of the Jews.
He created it all. And he revealed himself, not to you,
the Masters of the Earth,
but to this odd people who you conquered.
And to that people God himself came, became man.
He became, not a Roman, not a Greek, but a Jew!
And do you know what you Romans did? You crucified him!
The one true God died on a cross – and rose again!
That’s your hope! Not Caesar, but Christ!
And God’s Plan was to send me—Peter, Paul—here, to tell you!
If you ever go to Rome,
as you know I did earlier this year,
you can visit the places
where both Peter and Paul’s bones were buried.
There are huge churches—basilicas—built over their graves.
Their bones are still there;
you can actually see the bones of Peter, they are on display.
And while it would take too long to explain it,
I tell you there is no good reason to doubt
those really are Peter’s bones, and Paul’s,
in the two churches that bear their names.
So while we might wonder about a lot of things
about this Catholic Faith,
here’s a good, hard fact which hard-nosed people can appreciate:
their bones are in Rome.
They both came there—and died there.
And early Christians marked their graves,
and honored them for centuries, until those churches were built.
Peter stood in the Lord’s tomb on the third day, and saw it was empty;
later that day, he saw the risen Lord.
When he was crucified about 30 years later, in Rome,
do you think it was for any other reason but this?
They killed him because he made people believe it. Same with Paul.
Let’s put it even more plainly:
why were either of them even in Rome?
So we are faced with Peter and Paul, too.
We hear their words.
We see their witness, in their own blood.
And I put the question to you:
Is it true? If so, what changes, today, for you?