Friday November 18, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier
Dedication of the Churches of Saint Peter and Saint Paul
Reading (Acts 28:11-16, 30-31) Gospel (St. Matthew 14:22-33)
Today the Church celebrates this Feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul. These are the churches in Rome. The Basilica of Saint Peter is in Vatican City, and the Church of Saint Paul Outside the Walls was initially built outside the walls of the old city of Rome. They are basilicas dedicated to the apostles who died there in Rome.
As we hear in the first reading the manner in which Saint Paul came to Rome and how he went from ship to ship and finally arrived in Rome where he lived for two years, seeing people and preaching the Gospel to anyone who would hear, the important thing to be able to recognize is that for the apostles to come to Rome was part of God’s providence for them. Especially for Saint Paul, when he made it a point of honor that he would never preach anywhere where Jesus had already been preached and the Lord had already been preached in Rome, now we hear that he took courage because he found some who already believed. So it was not a point where he was discouraged because someone else had already preached the Lord there and there were already believers, but at this point you see how God turned things around, that this great saint who had preached the Gospel in pagan lands, even to the point of being stoned and beaten and whipped and so on, now took courage from the fact that there were already Christians who were there who could support him and who could help him. Then we hear about Saint Peter trying to walk upon the water; first of all, struggling with the idea that what he saw on the water was not a ghost but was in fact the Lord, then walking on the water toward the Lord, and then sinking when he took his eyes off of Jesus and began to doubt.
We see now a couple of things for the Church and for us individually. For the Church, of course, we see that it was God’s Will and His providence that the Church would be founded in Rome. On the natural level, this might not make a whole lot of sense. Why, when Jesus never even stepped foot out of Israel, would He want His Church founded in Rome instead of in Jerusalem? But it was precisely because that was the center of everything. Jerusalem was already a holy city dedicated to the Lord. Of course, we also know, as we spoke about yesterday, that in the year 70 Jerusalem was destroyed. Jesus had told His disciples that was going to happen. Within that generation, He said, not one stone would be upon another. He was not going to found His Church in the very city that He knew was going to be destroyed, so the Church was founded in a place that was going to remain.
But also, the Church has to recognize–and does–and each one of us needs to recognize that all of the things that happen in our lives are part of God’s providence. Just as we can see the path that it took to get the two apostles to Rome, so too we see that God is going to work in our lives in ways that do not seem sometimes to make much sense. I suspect that as Saint Paul was going from place to place and ship to ship, if one did not know where he was going it might seem that he was just being blown away by the wind, but he knew exactly where he wanted to go and that was the path that was required to get there. Well, God knows where He wants us to go, and He knows the path by which we are going to have to get where we are going. So we need to make sure we are keeping our focus on Christ, otherwise when the path does not seem to be the one we would expect it to be, like Peter we are going to take our eyes off of Jesus, we are going to notice all the things around us, and instead of staying on the right path we are going to get on to a different one because we think it is going to be more suitable and it is going to help us to get where we think we are supposed to be. God knows where He wants us to be, and we need to take the path that He sets before us–not the one that we would prefer. We have to see all things as part of His providence.
The Church has recognized that for two thousand years. The individuals in the Church, however, each and every last one of them has had to go through this exact same struggle as the apostles did. All of us will have to do the same thing, to learn to trust, to put everything in God’s hands. As I said, the Church Herself does that perfectly; the individuals within the Church, from the Pope right on down, we are all human, we are all weak, we are all frail, and we all have to learn the same lesson. We falter and we quake and we take our eyes off of Jesus sometimes, but nonetheless, the Lord, Who protects His Church and guides the Church, will also protect and guide each one of us. We simply need to keep focused. We need to seek His Will. We also need to have the courage to get out of the boat and to be willing to walk on the water toward Him if that is what He is going to command us to do, simply to trust completely in Him that He is the One Who will guide us in every aspect of our lives, that He will take care of us and give us the grace we need to be able to know Him and to do His Will.
That is the lesson we learn from these two great apostles. They followed the Lord right to the point of death. We need to learn the same lesson, that all the things that happen in our lives, no matter which way things seem to twist and turn, if we simply keep our eyes on Jesus we can be confident that we are on the right path and that we are not going to sink in the midst of all the turmoil.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.