First Reading: Is 22:19-23; Psalm: 138. R. v. 8bc; Second Reading: Rm 11:33-36; Gospel: Mt 16:13-20
THE FAITH WE PROFESS
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
Why are you Christian? Why are you Catholic? Why do you believe that there is salvation in Jesus Christ? Are we really convinced of our faith? If we thought the answer to these questions are so easy, perhaps we may hesitate a little when we reflect on the following conditional questions. What if we were born and nurtured in a Muslim or Hindu family or in a community predominantly Buddhist? Do we think we would have become Christian today? What if we were brought up by an Imam or a Brahmin? Do we think we would be seated in this Church this morning?
The answer to these conditional questions is ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ Religion does not reveal God to us; it is God who reveals himself to us in whichever way he chooses. Religion only attempts to lead us to the truth, to God; but it is God and only God who ultimately reveals himself to those who wish to know him. God is truth and truth is what every true religion seeks. And any religion that truly seeks the truth in the right way, finds God. We may not completely claim that Christians or the Catholic Church has the monopoly of truth. But we can rightly claim that the divine truths in the Catholic Church have all the potency required to inspire and convert people of other religions to the Catholic faith. But not without their attentiveness and docility to the Spirit of truth.
So today, as Christians and Catholics, Jesus is asking us not to follow him perfunctorily but to discern the faith and know the truth of the faith. In the gospel reading, Jesus begins by asking his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” The opinion of people about Jesus matters. What we have learnt and heard about Jesus also matters. But our conviction and faith in Jesus Christ matters most. And this was why Jesus had to ask his disciples again, and this time around directly, “But who do you say that I am?” It was Simon Peter who replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus pointed out that it was God in heaven who revealed this to Peter and not flesh and blood.
The coming of Jesus into our world is the fullness of divine revelation. And the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church at Pentecost is God’s way of gradually opening up this divine revelation to the Church. Today, we are privileged to have compilations of inspired writings in both scripture and tradition that furnish us with the teachings of Christ and the oral traditions of the apostles. So our task presently is no longer about discovering the identity of Jesus for that is already revealed in the scriptures. The question however that we should be asking ourselves today is the level of our faith conviction in the revealed truths of these inspired writings. So, do we believe in the revealed teachings of the Church? Are we convinced of the faith we profess?
The gospel passage of this morning reveals that Jesus is obviously not pleased with those who do not know their faith. Jesus does not enjoy the company of disciples who follow him blindly. However, our faith and conviction in Jesus Christ will not make us super humans. It will not make us immune to sin. Peter would deny Jesus three times even after professing him as Christ, the Son of the living God. He was human after all. But Peter did not fall away from the fold because he knew deep within his heart that Christ is God. When we know and are convinced of the faith we profess, we may fall but not fall away. Peter whom Jesus made the head of the apostles and of the Church carried out this ministry faithfully to the end because he was convinced of his faith in Jesus Christ.
Being born into the Catholic faith is not enough to save us. But do we truly believe in that faith? Do we truly believe in Jesus Christ? Many Catholics who fell away from the faith did so because of their shallow knowledge of the faith they professed. Not many Catholics have the desire to search into the depths of the beliefs of the faith. God reveals himself to those who truly seek to know the truth. The conversion of the Anglican clergyman, John Henry Newman to Catholicism in 1845 was a surprise to many. Newman disclosed that the reason he converted to Catholicism was because he considered the Roman Catholic Communion the Church of the Apostles. For Newman, the Roman Catholic Church didn’t just claim to offer the truth; it was the Truth. Newman dedicated his whole life in pursuit of the truth wherever it might lead. This inspired the composition of his popular hymn “Lead kindly light.”
One of the shocker I had as a young altar boy was learning that a fellow altar server left the Catholic Church to become Muslim. Although the father of this boy was a Muslim but the boy always chose to accompany his mother who was a Catholic to Church. I do not know what informed his decision to leave the Church. But I later learnt he was the only son of his father and was probably persuaded to make that decision. I will not be as shocked as I was then were it to happen now. But I probably would think that he wouldn’t make that decision if he had an in-depth understanding of the Catholic faith.
Why are we Catholics? Could it be because we were born and nurtured in the faith? Do we believe in the sacraments of the Church? Do we believe in the Holy Mass? Do we believe in the doctrinal teachings of the Church? Do we have the desire to search into the truths of most of the beliefs we profess but doubt?
Peter was given a new name when he revealed the true identity of Jesus. He became the leader of the apostles and the Church. Although Jesus predicted Peter’s denial; but he also assured Peter that he would not fall away. “But I have prayed for you Simon that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” (Lk 22:32). Through apostolic succession the faith of the Church has remained indestructible till date through the guidance of the Pope. If we searched into the truth of the faith, our faith will be enlightened and strengthened and we will never fall away. And if we lived by these teachings, we shall be saved.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, may we not follow you blindly but seek to deepen our faith in you. Amen.