Wednesday June 29, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of Saints Peter and Paul
Reading I (Acts 12:1-11) Reading II (2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18)
Gospel (St. Matthew 16:13-19)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear this very famous passage from Matthew 16 as Jesus brings His disciples up to Caesarea Philippi to the headwaters of the Jordan River, which was also a place of pagan worship. In the cliff that is right there, there are niches built in where the pagans had all their little shrines, statues of their little gods and goddesses, all along the way. So Jesus brings them to this place with all of these little gods (a Pantheon, if you will) and says, Who do you say that the Son of Man is? “Am I one of these little gods, or am I God?” Peter is the one who speaks up and says, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus blesses him.
Now the question is: Who do we say that He is? When we look at Peter and Paul, as we celebrate their feast today, we see Saint Peter being thrown into prison in the first reading. The angel of the Lord comes and frees him from prison and brings him back out into the city. We see Paul telling us that God has rescued him from the mouth of the lion, and God will continue, he says, to rescue him from every evil threat and bring him safely to His heavenly kingdom. We also know that Peter was crucified and Paul was decapitated. “If this is the case,” we might ask, “Why didn’t God protect them?” He did. God brought them safely to His heavenly kingdom, and it was precisely through their martyrdom that they gave God the greatest glory. Even though they preached the Gospel all around the known world at the time, what gave God more glory even than that was that they were willing to lay down their lives for Him. They knew that He was God. They made their profession of faith that He was God. And they trusted. Indeed, God had freed them so that they could do the work He had set them aside to do. But when the final moment of their life came, they still had to make the same act of faith. Who do you say that the Son of Man is? They still believed and professed that faith to the very end of their lives and professed it now with their blood. And God freed them. He did not free them from the fact that they would suffer martyrdom, but He freed them from the shackles that held them bound to this world so they could be free for eternity.
So now we ask the question: Who do you say that the Son of Man is? If you say, as you look at all the little false gods that this world has to offer, “You’re just like anybody else,” then of what sense is it? But if we can say with Peter, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, then the question that I would ask is: Then why don’t we trust Him? Why don’t we trust Him? Because the reality is that in most of our lives we do not. We profess that He is God, but we do not really trust Him. At which point, we really have to ask: Then what do we believe? We want to be sprung from prison – notice that Peter had to sit there until the very night before His trial. God did not keep him from going to prison, nor did He spring him immediately. Paul, remember, was whipped, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked. God freed him from all the trials but did not free him from ever having to undergo them. Finally, as we have already seen, both of them endured martyrdom, their last and greatest act of witness to Christ. Should we expect it will be any different for us? Saint Paul, at the end of his life, says that he has fought the fight, he has run the race, and he has kept the faith. Will we be able to say the same? Would we be able to say with Saint Paul, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat”?
Will we trust Him? Will we really believe and live that act of faith that we make? Who do you say that the Son of Man is? Be careful of your answer, because once that answer comes forth, you must live your life in accordance with the answer that you give. And we know what the answer is. With Peter, we need to say, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.