Thursday August 5, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Jeremiah 31:31-34) Gospel (St. Matthew 16:13-23)
In the first reading today, we have an extremely important prophecy from the prophet Jeremiah. God speaks through His prophet and says, The days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel. The Old Covenant, which was written in stone, the covenant made with Moses that the people had been following all this time, as well as the covenant made with Abraham, was what the people thought was going to be their salvation. Yet, as we know from what Saint Paul tells us, nobody was justified by the law because no one could follow it perfectly. And so the days were going to come when God was going to make a new covenant, and He was going to write His law in their hearts and in their minds. He has done exactly that. That new covenant, of course, is Christ.
So He asks His disciples, Who do you say that I am? and Peter is able to make that astounding act of faith, revealed to him by God the Father, to be able to say, You are the Christ, the Son of God. Just think about what those words mean – “The Son of God” – He is the Second Person of the Trinity. Remember, the Jewish people believed that there was only one person in God, so for Peter to be able to make this statement is quite astounding, but also that Jesus is going to turn right around and tell Peter, You are rock, and on this rock I will build My Church, because if there is going to be a new covenant, there is going to be a new form of worship and there is going to be a new people of God that is established. And that is exactly what Jesus is doing. But shortly after Peter makes this act of faith, he refuses to accept what Jesus has to do to be able to fulfill His work as the Messiah. He does not want Jesus to have to suffer and to die, and he begins to rebuke Our Lord. Jesus has to turn on him and say, Get behind Me, Satan! You are not thinking as God does, but as men do.
Now this is an important thing for us. We know that Jesus is the covenant. We know that He has founded a Church. We know that He has given the Church everything in the sacraments and in Her teaching, yet all too often we do exactly what Peter did and we fail to see the Church as being divine. We see it only as some sort of human institution. No doubt, the Church is filled with sinners, and therefore it is filled with men who are going to do some pretty stupid things – and they have for 2,000 years; that has not changed. But if all we do is look at the sins of the priests and the bishops, as well as the people who make up the Church, then we are going to fail to see the reality. If all we did was look at the humanity of Jesus, we could never, ever say, “You are the Son of God. You are the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.” The humanity is true – He is also the Son of Man – but He is the Son of God. If we are going make our profession of faith to be able to say that Jesus Himself founded the Church, the Church therefore is Jesus Christ. The Church is not a human institution; the Church is a divine institution. And so we do not get caught just looking at the humanity, and therefore the weakness, of the people who make up the Church; but what we have to focus on is the divinity.
We have to be able to recognize that we are incorporated into this new covenant and that we no longer live according to mere human standards. We are called to live according to divine standards. We have been made members of Jesus Christ, which means we are no longer merely human but we share in the divine nature, we share in the divine life. We are called to live holy lives as members of a holy Church. That is exactly what Saint Peter tells us and he quotes what Moses is saying to the people: You are a chosen race; you are a royal priesthood; you are a people set apart. God has chosen you for Himself, and He does not want you just to be set aside so that you can live your human life. He wants you set aside so that even in this world you can live a divine life, so that you can live a holy life. You are not God, obviously, but you share in the very nature of God Himself. And if all we do within our own selves is look at the humanity, we are failing to be able to recognize the fullness of the truth that God has written in our hearts and in our minds. We somehow think that we cannot live the way Christ has told us to live because we are only human. That is not true. We can live the way that God created us to live because we have the fullness of the truth, because we have the sacraments, because we are incorporated into Christ, because we share in His divine nature. It is not something which is beyond us. On the natural level, yes, it is completely beyond us; but that is the nature of the new covenant: that we can live the way God created us to live. But it is to make the same act of faith as Peter did, and then put it into practice; instead of doing what Peter did and make the act of faith and then turn around and think that it cannot happen the way God wants it to be, in fact, the way God has made things to be.
So if we are going to make this act of faith, we need not only to look at the humanity of Christ, but we need to keep firmly in mind the divinity of Christ, the divinity of the Church, and the divinity at work within our own selves. Therefore, we must live according to that truth. We must see things in that light and we must live in that light. This is purely a gift. It is nothing that we have done; it is nothing that we have deserved. It is going to be easy to sit back and say, “Oh, no, I’m too much of a sinner. I can’t do that.” That is not true. If it were up to us, if it were by our own power and our own ability, yes, that would be true. It is a gift, and it is by God’s power that this is happening in you. It is by God’s grace that you are able to live according to the way of Jesus Christ. That is not to be merely human; it is to be raised up to a divine level of acting and of being. You have that ability because of the promises God has made through the prophet to give us a new covenant. That new covenant is Christ, and you have been incorporated into that covenant so that you can make that same act of faith: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. You have been incorporated into Him so that He can continue to live His life in this world in and through you.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.