Sunday, January 14, 2018

What Jesus Saw in Peter; What Jesus Sees in Us

St. Peter

(Second Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on January 14, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 1 Samuel 3: 3b-10, 19; 1 Corinthians 6: 13-20; John 1: 35-42.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday 2018]

Let me begin my homily today with a poem.  It’s entitled, “What Did You See?”

What did you see in me?
Lord, what did you see in me?
On the day you drove me to my knees,
Filled my bark with fish abundantly,
What did you see in me?

Did you see one who would thrice deny you,
Betray you out of fear?
Did you see a reed bending in the wind
When danger came too near?

Did you see my many stumbles?
Did you see my countless falls?
Did you see me turning away
Despite your constant calls?

Did you see my words of anger—
Thoughts tempting me to hate?
Did you see the taker of Satan’s part,
Turn, for a moment, from heaven’s gate?

Did you see that you would name as ‘Rock’
A man more like the shifting sand?
Did you see that I, being asked to follow
Would often refuse to take your hand?

Yes, Lord Jesus, these you saw,
And clearer still than I can know.
But ne’er did you abandon me,
Despite my wish at times to go.

You saw the cross, embraced it,
Gave your life upon the tree.
Healed, transformed, forgiven—
Your blood has made me free.

And so, dear Lord, I praise you,
In your endless love for me;
For in my deepest darkness,
You saw what I could be.

I wrote that poem about a year ago, as I was reflecting on the life of St. Peter.  Peter’s a biblical character that almost everyone can relate to—because he’s such a great representative of fallen humanity.  Prior to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Peter had some moments of incredible brilliance, when he said and did the right thing—in some cases the best thing.  But he also had moments of abject failure (as the poem indicates), when his character flaws led him to say and do the wrong thing.  And it seems that Peter had the ability to go from one to the other in a matter of minutes.  At Caesarea Philippi, for example, he identified Jesus as the Messiah, and our Lord called him “blessed”; then a few minutes later he objected to the upcoming crucifixion of Jesus, and our Lord called him “Satan”.  At the Last Supper, he professed his loyalty to Jesus (“I will die for you, Lord!”); then, only a few hours later, he denied three times that he even knew Jesus!
And yet our Lord chose this man to be the leader of his apostles and the visible head of his Church here on earth!  I often wonder, later in his life did Peter ever ask the Lord that question in prayer: “What did you see?  Lord Jesus, what did you see in me?  You knew the kind of person I was: weak, impulsive, fearful.  On the day you gave me the name ‘Cephas’—‘Rock’ you knew that I was anything but a rock!  I was more like a reed swaying in the wind.  So why did you choose me and not one of the others?”
The last stanza of my poem I think gives us the answer to that question.  I put these words on Peter’s lips: “And so, dear Lord, I praise you, in your endless love for me; for in my deepest darkness, you saw what I could be.”
Bishop Fulton Sheen used to say that God has two images in his mind of each and every one of us: the image of the person we are right now (with all our sins, faults and weaknesses), and the image of the person he knows we can become if we allow his grace to change and transform us.  Interestingly enough Bishop Sheen always added the point that in the case of the Blessed Mother, there’s always been only one image in God’s mind.  Unlike us, she was perfect.  Because she was free from all sin, she was everything that God called her to be.
The rest of us are like Peter.
Catholic author Matthew Kelly talks a lot about striving to become “the best version of yourself.”  That, he says, should be the goal of every Christian’s life.  But, strictly speaking, it’s a goal that’s unattainable here on this earth, because we’re all sinners.  The only human person who was the BEST version of herself was our Blessed Mother—because she never committed a personal sin. 
And yet, if you strive for perfection, it is possible in this life to become a BETTER VERSION OF YOURSELF!  That’s a goal that everyone can reach.  It’s even possible to become a MUCH BETTER VERSION OF YOURSELF, which is what Peter and the other canonized saints of the Church became.
Today’s readings give us some insights on how to do this.  In the first reading, Samuel says to God, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
 If you want to be a better version of yourself, you need to listen to God as he speaks to you—especially through his Church—and you must make the effort to obey (neither of which is too popular these days.  Most people would rather talk than listen, and very few want to obey God—or anyone else in authority, for that matter).
Our second reading from 1 Corinthians 6 is about chastity and purity (two other unpopular things in the modern world).  St. Paul says, “The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord…. [So] avoid immorality….Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?...Therefore glorify God in your body.”
Here we’re reminded that becoming a better version of yourself involves fighting against your lower nature—and that’s a constant battle for most of us.  But it’s a battle worth fighting!  So we must never give up!
And finally in the gospel, Andrew and another disciple (probably John) begin to follow Jesus, and they spend most of the day with him.  The text says, “So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and stayed with him that day.”  This is a reminder that if you want to be a better version of yourself, you have to spend some time—some quality time—with the Lord.  And you need to do it often!  Having a regular, daily prayer time, in other words, can’t be an option.  It needs to be a priority—along with Sunday Mass.
Peter, thanks be to God, did all these things.  He listened to Jesus, he obeyed Jesus, he fought against his lower nature (especially when it came to his temper), and he built his life on prayer and the Eucharist. And so, in spite of all his weaknesses and failures—that we see so clearly in the gospels—he eventually became a saint.
“And so, dear Lord, I praise you, in your endless love for me; for in my deepest darkness, you saw what I could be.”
God also sees what we can be, regardless of what our past has been, if we follow the example of Peter—the man who eventually became our first pope.