Sunday, September 12, 2021

A Divided Mind is a Terrible Thing


(Twenty-fourth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on September 12, 202 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.
  Read Isaiah 50:5-9a; Psalm 116:1-9; James  2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35.)

[For the audio version of this file, click here: Twenty-fourth Sunday 2021]


They say that a mind is a terrible thing to waste.  But in today’s gospel story Peter shows us that a divided mind is simply a terrible thing!

Peter had a divided mind at Caesarea Philippi 2,000 years ago.  That was his problem.  There Jesus asked him point blank—in front of all the other apostles, “Who do you say that I am?”  Peter’s answer was clear and Holy Spirit inspired: “You are the Christ.”  Today we listened to St. Mark’s account of the story.  St. Matthew in his version includes Jesus’ response to this profession of faith by Peter.  Our Lord said, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”  On this point, Peter was definitely thinking “the thoughts of God.”  But, sad to say, it didn’t take him very long to begin thinking other thoughts—specifically “the thoughts of men.”  And it’s here that we encounter the division within his mind.  Of course, looking at it all from our perspective 2000 years after the fact, we can be tempted to say, “How could Peter have been so blind to the truth about Jesus?  How could he have made this monumental blunder?”  The answer is: Very easily! 

After Peter had made his profession of faith, St. Mark tells us, “[Jesus] began to teach [him and the other apostles] that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.”  Now that may make perfect sense to us, but it didn’t make any sense to Peter—and for good reason!  Almost all the Jews of the day expected the Messiah to be a great warrior-king, who would conquer the Romans and restore the nation of Israel to its former political and economic greatness.  They didn’t expect a suffering Messiah who would die and rise from the dead to reconcile the entire world to God—even though that type of Messiah had been prophesied in passages like the one we heard in today’s first reading from Isaiah 50.  In fact, if you had taken a poll in first century Palestine on this issue, nearly 100% would have said they expected a warrior-king Messiah, not a suffering God-man Messiah.  And, of course, they would have been wrong!  (It just goes to show what most polls are worth!)

Given that background, I think Peter’s reaction is quite understandable.  After all, he was just following the majority, expert opinion of his day.  And so, when Jesus began to speak about his passion and death Peter predictably responded, “Not you Jesus!  Never!  You’re the Messiah we’ve been waiting for; you’re the anointed one of God—that can’t happen to you!”  To that Jesus retorted, “Get behind me, Satan.  You’re thinking the thoughts of men, not the thoughts of God.”

A divided mind is a terrible thing.  Just ask Peter! 

But you know what, my brothers and sisters?  Our minds also can and do become divided at times.  Even in very holy people, the thoughts of men constantly do battle with the thoughts of God.  And every time we let the thoughts of men win the day, we are led into sin.  Now let’s be clear about it: the thoughts of men in the year 2021 don’t all have to do with the identity of the Messiah.  Some do involve religion, but they also extend into every other area of life.  Let me share with you today a few examples of the more common thoughts of men which pervade our modern culture.  As I read these to you ask yourself: Have I ever believed any of these things?  Do I believe any of these things?


1.    Some human lives are worth more than others.  Another way to say that is that some human lives MATTER more than others.  (That’s the thought of men which stands behind every crime against innocent human life.  It’s the thought of men that stands behind a lot of the violence we’ve seen in our major cities in the last year and a half.  It’s the thought of men that stands behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  It’s also the thought of men that Hitler believed.)

2.    It’s my body, and I’ll do whatever I want with it.

3.    The moral character of our leaders doesn’t matter; what’s important is the economy—or their position on climate change. 

4.    Certain actions like lying, cheating and stealing are only bad if a person gets caught.

5.    Tolerance is a virtue.  (Can you imagine someone saying that to Jesus?  “Hey Jesus, stop criticizing the sins of the Pharisees!  Live and let live, man.  Don’t you know that tolerance is a virtue?”  And you think Peter got reprimanded?  I would love to have heard Jesus’ response to that one!)

6.    My sin is between God and me—period.

7.    Whatever it is, it’s okay as long as it happens between consenting adults, and nobody gets hurt.

8.    Animals and human beings are of equal value.

9.    Reality is whatever I say it is.  If I want to be a boy on Monday, a girl on Tuesday and some combination thereof on Thursday through Sunday that’s my business and you have nothing to say about it.


It took me about two minutes to think of those thoughts of men.  That’s because there are so many of them to choose from.  They’re literally everywhere; we’re bombarded with them many, many times each day!

So, what can we do?  Are we doomed to have these thoughts of men ruin our lives here on earth, and destroy our chances at eternal life?  OF COURSE NOT!  Jesus has won the victory over every evil thought, word and deed.  But we must allow that victory to be made manifest in us.  And how do we do that?  The answer is in Romans 12, verse 2.  There St. Paul writes, “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”  To think the thoughts of God—in other words the thoughts God wants us to think on any and every issue—we need to allow the Lord to work on our minds, to form them and to change them whenever they need to be changed.  This means we’ve got to spend time with Jesus each day in prayer; we’ve got to read his word and let its message soak in; we’ve got to read good spiritual writings which convey to us God’s truth, and we’ve got to receive the sacraments of Eucharist and Penance worthily and frequently.  Getting our minds renewed requires effort on our part.  It’s not a magical phenomenon. 

I’ll conclude today with this observation.  St. Peter has two letters attributed to him in the New Testament.  Read the first one sometime soon.  There you’ll find something which might surprise you after hearing today’s gospel story. I say that because there you’ll find a beautiful, profound teaching on the sufferings of Christ, and on the positive value of our sufferings.  Now remember, this was written by the same Peter who got all upset at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus mentioned the Cross.  So, what happened to him between that event and the time he wrote this letter?  Very simply, during the intervening years, he allowed the grace of God to work on his mind and change it, so that the thoughts of God concerning the Cross eventually became the thoughts of Peter.  At Caesarea Philippi, his divided mind had been a terrible thing; but now the division in his mind had been healed, and that was a wonderful thing!  May we allow the grace of God to touch our minds in the very same way.