Archive for the ‘St. Peter’ Category

Lessons from the Sins of Simon Peter & Judas

April 9, 2019

After arresting [Jesus] they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest; Peter was following at a distance. They lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter sat down with them. … About an hour later, still another insisted, “Assuredly, this man too was with him, for he also is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.” Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed, and the Lord turned and looked at Peter, and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly.

– Luke 22:54-55,59-62

This threefold denial by Simon Peter was perhaps the most regretted moment of his life. He denied even knowing Jesus Christ, his teacher, friend, Lord, and God. How humble Peter was to share this story with the Early Church and how wonderful that the Holy Spirit inspired its inclusion in the Gospels! He shows us the fallen can get back up, wanderers can return, sinners can be forgiven, and even those who gravely sin can go on to become the greatest saints.

Jesus would go on to rehabilitate Peter after the Resurrection, alongside another charcoal fire by the Sea of Galilee. Mirroring the three denials, Jesus asks three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” and Jesus reinstates him as shepherd of his sheep and lambs. The Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession) is likewise a personal encounter with Jesus Christ where we re-profess our love for God and receive his restoring forgiveness through the ministry of his ordained priest.

Though Simon Peter’s sins were forgiven they were not without loss and opportunities squandered. During the Passion, as they led Jesus away, “they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus.” If Simon Peter had not sinned in denying Christ the night before he could have been there, ready and willing to get behind his Lord, pick up Jesus’ cross and follow him. How beautiful that would have been! But this opportunity fell to another Simon.

Thanks be to God, St. Peter went on to repent. He did not give up to despair like Judas Iscariot. When Judas saw Jesus condemned and on his way to execution he deeply regretted what he had done. (One theory for why Judas had sold Jesus out is he wanted to trigger a confrontation with the leaders of Israel which would force Jesus to wield his mighty powers and take the throne.) Judas tried to return the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and elders saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They answered, “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.” Flinging the money into the temple, Judas departed and went off and hanged himself.

What if instead, on Good Friday afternoon, Judas had immediately ran to Calvary Hill? What if he had thrown himself down before Christ hanging on the Cross and begged his forgiveness? What would Jesus have said? What would Jesus have done? I think we already know the answer, or could pretty closely guess. Jesus would have forgiven Judas.

So come to Jesus in sacramental Confession. Come sooner rather than later and more than just once or twice a year. And, once wonderfully absolved, resolve and strive to sin no more. Though sins can be forgiven, we see that every sin or delayed conversion entails some loss, an opportunity missed.

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Christ Calls in Ordinary Time

January 16, 2019

As [Jesus] passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they left their nets and followed him.

— Mark 1:16-18

A remarkable thing about this calling of Simon Peter and Andrew is its ordinariness. The pair are not called through a vision or by angels. Mark mentions no miracles performed there on the shore. We know from John’s Gospel that they have met this rabbi before. Jesus simply tells them to follow him.

This call does not happen on a Jewish holy day, in the Temple, or in a palace, nor at Jerusalem or Rome. (The region of Galilee was an unesteemed place for the Jews and doubly so for the Romans.) Simon and Andrew are not clergy nor scholars, neither governors nor generals. They’re fishermen who work nights doing manual labor. They’re not on spiritual retreat or pilgrimage, they haven’t journeyed for days to a holy mountain of God. Yet Christ walks up to them and calls these two brothers during an ordinary day at their place of work.

Jesus Christ the God-Man does extraordinary things through the ordinary. He makes use of water for his baptism, bread for his Eucharist, and human pairing to reveal his loving union with the Church. He uses our human words to communicate God’s Word in the most published book on earth. He dwells (and waits) for us in every Catholic tabernacle. He makes himself so accessible that, if we are unattentive to him, we can disregard his presence and graces amidst familiar things.

Ordinary Time has returned in the Church. Though not a “special” season like Advent, Lent, Christmas, or Easter, its name does not derive from a lack of value but from the ordinal numbers which count its weeks (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) The color of this time is green because it is a season for our ongoing growth. So let us follow the Christ who greets and calls us like Simon Peter and Andrew even in Ordinary Time.

The Time St. Paul Corrected St. Peter

August 31, 2018

Jesus gave Simon the fisherman the keys to his kingdom and changed his name to “Rock” (that is, “Petros” in Greek, or Peter):

I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19a)

The significance of these things is found in the Old Testament. The Lord changed the names of Abram, Sarai, and Jacob to Abraham, Sarah, and Israel to declare what God would achieve through their lives. (Abraham, for example, means “father of a multitude.”) In the old Davidic dynasty, the king’s chief steward and master of the royal household would carry a key symbolizing his authority. Thus, for Jesus’ Kingdom – the Church – Peter is given the great power and office of prime minister:

Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19b)

Yet, despite his divine calling, St. Peter was not always perfect in his personal example. The New Testament records that on one occasion he had to be fraternally corrected by St. Paul.

In the early years of the Church, as belief in the Gospel began to spread from Jerusalem into pagan lands, the question arose of how much of what God commanded through Moses needed to be observed by the Gentile (that is, non-Jewish) converts. God gave not only the Ten Commandments in the Old Covenant but some 613 religious rules, touching on many areas of daily life, including food and clothing. These precepts were called the Mosaic law.

St. Peter’s vision at Joppa and his subsequent visit to Cornelius the centurion’s house in Caesarea (recounted in Acts 10) revealed to him God’s will that Gentile converts to Christianity need not be obliged to observe the full Mosaic law. But others were teaching, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” Around the year 50 A.D., the Apostles and other Church leaders gathered for the Council of Jerusalem to settle this question.

There, some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers in Christ stood up and said to the assembly, “It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.” But St. Peter replied, “[Why] are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.” (Acts 15:10-11) And the Council decreed that Gentile Christians were free from observing the bulk of Jewish religious rules and customs.

The Dispute at Antioch: Saints Peter & Paul by Jusepe de Ribera

But there was a later episode at Antioch where Peter’s personal example did not match his professed beliefs, and St. Paul was moved to correct him:

[W]hen Cephas (the Aramaic word for “Rock” or “Peter”) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews also acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14)

Apparently, the “people from James” were Jewish Christians who were disapproving of Peter eating non-kosher meals with the Gentile Christians, leading Peter to withdraw from table fellowship with those non-Jewish converts. St. Peter, the first Pope, was preserved by God from teaching error, but he was not immune to personal faults. Paul publicly corrected Peter because his failure in leadership was leading to scandal within the Church. Spirit-led fraternal correction is a spiritual work of mercy and a duty of Christian love.

The Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law says:

[The Christian faithful] have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.” (Canon 212, Section 3)

In this present, painful season in the Church, let us remain faithful but not silent. Let us insist of our shepherds that these scandals may lead to cleansing through true leadership and effective reform.

One Bible, Many Interpretations

October 20, 2017

Not everyone understands God in the same way Catholic Christians do. Consider the Mormons, Oneness Pentecostals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses:

Mormons teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three Gods, and that we too can become Gods in our own right someday.

You may reply to them, for instance, with James 2:19, “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble,” but Mormons will have some explanation for that New Testament passage which fits their theology.

Oneness Pentecostals teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three persons but three manifestations of one divine person, God.

You may ask them who Jesus is praying to in Matthew 26:39 when he says in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will,” yet Oneness Pentecostals will offer some answer for why Jesus is not actually praying to another person.

Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is not divine, not God, but God’s first and greatest angel, and that the Holy Spirit is not a person but the active force of God the Father in the world.

You may point to John’s prologue, where we see “the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh,” or to John 20:28, where “Thomas answered and said to [Jesus,] ‘My Lord and my God!‘” However, Jehovah’s Witnesses will surely have some answer for these verses.

A diagram of the true, ancient, catholic, and orthodox understanding of the Holy Trinity:
One God in Three Divine Persons

In my personal encounters, advocates of Mormon polytheism, Oneness Pentecostal modalism, or Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Arianism-like theology have all been sincere, friendly, and not unintelligent people. They studied the Bible, regarded it as God’s infallible Word, and used it to support their beliefs. All of them proudly claimed the name of “Christian.” And yet, the undeniable fact that their theologies contradict each other proves that these praiseworthy personal traits are not enough to guarantee a true understanding of the Christian Faith. Indeed, Bible-alone Christians find a multitude of conflicting interpretations amongst themselves. Texts out of context can yield several defensible, though incorrect, interpretations. Likewise, interpreting biblical texts outside the context of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church results in many errors.

At my previous assignment, a few years ago, two very nice Jehovah’s Witnesses visited my rectory and we conversed for a couple of hours. At one point we debated whether Jesus’ numerous “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John were professions of his divinity (echoing the “I Am Who Am” spoken from the burning bush in Exodus.) One of my guests remarked, “We can’t really be certain what he meant.” I replied to the effect, “You’re right! — If your opinion and my opinion are all we have to go on, if there’s no visible authority on earth with power from Christ to infallibly answer essential questions, then we can never be certain our biblical interpretations are true. Many sincere, reasonable, and scholarly Christians strenuously disagree about the Scriptures. Without a clear and reliable teaching authority within the Church we would be left as sheep without a shepherd and inevitably scatter!”

2nd Timothy 3:16 states that “all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching,” but ‘useful’ is not the same thing as ‘sufficient,’ or saying that the Bible is ‘all you need‘ to know the truth. While inspired words do come from God (as is taught in 2nd Peter 1:21) the problem remains of knowing which texts belong to Scripture. There was much debate among early Christians over which New Testament writings were inspired and should be included in the canon. The early Church Fathers’ lists of the Bible books varied. The Letter to the Hebrews? The Shepherd of Hermas? The Book of Revelation? The Didache? The Letter of James? The First and Second Letters of Clement? How could this question of canon be definitively resolved, particularly when some inspired books seem to have pseudonymous authors?

Recall that Jesus is not known to have written anything in the Gospels (besides perhaps something in the dust near the woman caught in adultery.) He did, however, establish a Church. Through this Church, the New Testament was composed, collected, canonized, and celebrated. This process was certainly not complete within the first century AD. It was the Catholic Church, her pope and bishops, who ultimately canonized the twenty-seven New Testament books which all Christians acknowledge today. Most Christians revere the Holy Scriptures as God’s infallible Word, and this is good and right, but for some reason many of them reject the Catholic Church through which the Scriptures come.

One belief shared by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses is the idea that a “Great Apostasy” devastated the early Church. These religions say a great deception occurred soon after the death of the apostles causing the vast majority of self-professed Christians ever since to hold core doctrines widely different from the truth. The New Testament does contain passages warning Christians not to be mislead (as by “wolves in sheep’s clothing,”) and false prophets and heresies arise in every age, but was there a “Great Apostasy” soon after the apostles that so corrupted Christianity that foundational teachings (like the true nature of God) were thoroughly abandoned and forgotten?

All Christians will agree that Jesus is a wise man. Jesus was indeed a wise man who built his house on rock. Jesus declared to Simon, “‘I say to you, you are Peter [that is, you are “Rock” in Greek] and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.’” (Matthew 16:18) If Jesus is a wise man who built his house on rock then we can be assured that even though “the rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house–it did not collapse; [his Church] had been set solidly on rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)

Jesus entrusts the keys of his Kingdom to St. Peter
A Sistine Chapel fresco by Pietro Perugino, c. 1482.

After building his Church upon Peter for some forty years did Jesus let it go to shambles and neglect to repair it for about eighteen centuries until Joseph Smith or The Watchtower came along? If so, Jesus really dropped the ball. If the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses are right, then God managed to get all of the New Testament books infallibly written, correctly canonized, and faithfully passed-on through millennia, but failed to preserve the truth about himself in that same Church much beyond the apostles croaking.

In truth, our Lord Jesus Christ succeeded in preserving both his teachings and the hierarchical authority he gave to his Church, from St. Peter (the first pope) and the apostles to Pope Francis and the bishops in communion with him today – a clear and necessary line of teaching authority spanning the centuries through Apostolic Succession and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Holy Catholic Church perfectly canonized the New Testament books and safeguarded Christ’s teachings long after the death of the apostles because she is “the pillar and foundation of truth.” (1st Timothy 3:15)

As a Catholic, you will encounter people who present very different interpretations of the Bible. Do not let your hearts be troubled. There are good reasons for everything we believe as Catholics. They may claim to know the Bible but we are blessed to know Christ’s Church from which the Bible comes. St. Joan of Arc, who personally experienced the sometimes messy mystery of the Church as a divine and human institution, said, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they are just one thing and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.” If you love Jesus Christ, then love his Body and Bride, his Holy Catholic Church.

The Heights of Holiness

April 12, 2016
Tall G.K. Chesterton shakes a girl's hand

Servant of God G.K. Chesterton

How tall have the famous Catholic men and women of past and present been? Precise figures can be hard to find, but here is a sampling:

6’ 4” — Servant of God G.K. Chesterton

6’ 0” — Venerable Pope Pius XII

5’ 10” — Our Lord Jesus Christ (based upon the Shroud of Turin) , Pope St. John Paul II

5’ 9” — Pope Francis

5’ 8½” — Servant of God Bishop Fulton Sheen  (or 5’ 7” according to his niece )

5’ 8” — Blessed Pope Paul VI

5’ 7” — St. Peter the Apostle (based on the bones found beneath St. Peter’s Basilica’s high altar) , Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

5’ 6” — Pope St. John XXIII

5’ 5” — Servant of God Pope John Paul I

5’ 4” — St. Therese of Lisieux

5’ 2½”— St. John Neumann

5’ 2” — St. Joan of Arc , St. Junipero Serra

5’ 1½”— St. Ignatius Loyola

5’ 0” — Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Pope St. Gregory the Great’s Reflections on John 21

April 10, 2016

From the Catena Aurea or Golden Chain, St. Thomas Aquinas’ collection of Church Father quotes.

  • It may be asked, why Peter, who was a fisherman before his conversion, returned to fishing, when it is said, “No man putting his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” The craft which was exercised without sin before conversion, was no sin after it. Wherefore after his conversion Peter returned to fishing; but Matthew sat not down again for the receipts of custom. For there are some businesses which cannot or it can hardly be carried on without sin; and these cannot be returned to after conversion.
  • The [disciples’] fishing was made to be very unlucky, in order to raise their astonishment at the miracle after: “And that night they caught nothing.”
  • It may be asked, why after His resurrection He stood on the shore to receive the disciples, whereas before He walked on the sea? The sea signifies the world, which is tossed about with various causes of tumults, and the waves of this corruptible life; the shore by its solidity figures the rest eternal. The disciples then, inasmuch as they were still upon the waves of this mortal life, were laboring on the sea; but the Redeemer having by His resurrection thrown off the corruption of the flesh, stood upon the shore.
  • To Peter was the holy Church committed; to him is it specially said, “Feed my sheep.” That then which is afterwards declared by word, is now signified by act. He it is who draws the fishes to the firm shore, because he it was who pointed out the stability of the eternal country to the faithful. This he did by word of mouth, by epistles; this he does daily by signs and miracles.
  • By holding this last feast with seven disciples, [Jesus] declares that they only who are full of the seven-fold grace of the Holy Spirit, shall be with Him in the eternal feast. Time also is reckoned by periods of seven days, and perfection is often designated by the number seven. They therefore feast upon the presence of the Truth in that last banquet, who now strive for perfection.

Jesus Asks, “Do You Love Me?”

April 9, 2016

Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (detail)In St. Peter along the shore of Galilee, Jesus is asking this question of us: “Do you love me?” We each have a choice to make in how we respond.

You can answer like Simon Peter in the high priest’s courtyard, with blasphemous denials and lingering regret. Or you can answer like St. Peter the Rock, who said, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you,” and then lived a life which proved that love.  How are you going to answer?

I do not know the particulars of Christ’s will and plan for you, but I know it consists at least in this: to pray every day, to attend Mass every week, and to strive to do His will for the rest of your days.

Jesus as an Undercover Boss

April 7, 2016

During the seven week span from Easter to Pentecost, the apostles were firsthand witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, but they lacked their mission. In those days, Jesus was not always visibly with them and the Holy Spirit was not prompting them to preach the Good News. And so, the apostles had extra spare time on their hands. But even if you’re a person who has seen Jesus Christ risen from the dead you still need to eat. Therefore, Peter says, “I am going fishing,” and six others decide to go along with him. Fishing the Sea of Galilee was Peter’s line of work before Jesus called him to become a ‘fisher of men.’

Jesus Appears on the Shore in John 21In today’s Gospel, Peter goes back to his old job. And then, unexpectedly, Jesus shows up at Peter’s workplace. Like an “undercover boss” on TV, Jesus comes in disguise. Jesus’ glorified and resurrected body allows him to conceal or change his appearance. At first, amid the routine of their work, the disciples fail to recognize him. But after catching their huge catch of (153!) fish, they realize “it is the Lord” and begin acting differently. How would you respond if the Lord appeared at your workplace as a customer, co-worker, or boss?

Sometimes we Christians slip into mentally separating our life at church from our life in the world; for example, working in the world without thinking of our faith. But we must remember to honor and serve Jesus Christ always and everywhere. You have probably heard of the importance of ‘seeing Christ in others.’ Seeing Christ in others means treating them like you would treat Jesus Christ himself. Now, of course, a Christian should not worship anything or anyone other than God, but Jesus wants you to love other people through the love you have for him.

As Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, when he comes in his glory with all the holy angels with him, Jesus will sit upon the throne of his glory and all the nations shall be gathered before him. And Jesus, the king and judge, shall declare to them, “Amen, I say unto you, inasmuch as you did it to one of these least of brethren of mine, you did for me.” Therefore, recognize Jesus encountering you, unexpectedly and disguised, at the place where you work—in your customers, your coworkers, and your bosses—and love them with your love for Christ.

Popes Are Not Perfect — Wednesday, 27th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

October 8, 2014

Readings: Galatians 2:1-2,7-14; Luke 11:1-4

[W]hen Cephas came to Antioch, I [Paul] opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the Gospel, I said to Cephas [Peter] in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, …forgive us our sins….”

Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (detail)The Church on earth is both human and divine — it is holy, yet made up of and led by sinners. When the apostles asked Jesus how they should pray he told those men who were to become the Church’s first leaders to always ask that God the Father would forgive their sins.

Some bulk at the doctrine of papal infallibility asking, “How can a pope, a sinful man, be infallible?” (One could likewise ask how sinful men could write the Sacred Scriptures.) A pope is infallible when he proclaims a doctrine by a definitive act as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful regarding faith or morals, but nothing guarantees that he and the Church’s other leaders will never make sincere yet unwise decisions, or that they will never commit serious sins. Infallibility is not the same as impeccability. Imagine the Church as car on the interstate. The Holy Spirit provides guard rails to prevent us from crashing, but we do not always drive as straightly and speedily as we could.

In today’s reading from Galatians, St. Paul recalls the time he gave some fraternal correction to the first pope. St. Peter had not been teaching error regarding the Gentiles and the Mosaic Law, but his personal example (withdrawing from their company so as not to offend the circumcised) was sending a mixed and wrong signal. Even St. Peter could make a mess of things sometimes. Popes, bishops, and priests need the help of our prayers. Like St. Augustine observed: for you, they are leaders; but with you, they are Christians. They are disciples of Jesus Christ who, like yourself, must strive and follow after Him daily.

“Get Behind Me” — 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

August 31, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 16:21-27

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.  Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”  He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

In Hebrew, “satan” means “adversary.” Peter is not the devil, but in opposing the Father’s true will for the Messiah, Peter is acting as an adversary and an obstacle to Jesus. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, during the temptation in the desert, Jesus told the devil, “Get away, Satan!” Later, in describing the Last Judgment, Jesus tells the unrighteous goats on his left, “Depart from me, you accursed…” Yet to St. Peter, Jesus says, ‘You are my friend, so get behind me… Stay close to me, and follow my lead.”

Peter & Judas — Wednesday, 14th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

July 11, 2014

Judas Iscariot and the chief priests and elders at the temple, their money on the floor.Readings: Hosea 10, Matthew 10:1-7

The names of the Twelve Apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter,  … and Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus.

What was the difference between Peter and Judas? Both were full-fledged apostles (although the Gospels always list the twelve apostles with Peter first and Judas last, much like how the Lord’s Prayer begins with “our Father” and ends with “the Evil One/evil.”) Was the difference that Peter believed Jesus was a good man and Judas did not? No, for Judas said after betraying Jesus, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” Was the difference that Judas was a sinner and Peter was not? No, for at one of their first encounters, Peter “fell at the knees of Jesus and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.'” In the Passion, Judas betrayed Jesus and while Peter denied him three times beside the charcoal fire in the high priest’s courtyard. The vital difference between Peter and Judas was in their ultimate responses to their sins.

Judas fled and fell into utter despair. Like those in our first reading who “cry out to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’ and to the hills, ‘Fall upon us,’ Judas welcomed dark oblivion. After the resurrection, when Peter was fishing in his boat, Jesus appeared on the shore. Though Peter was lightly clad, he did not run and hide like Adam and Eve in shame, but swam to Jesus enthusiastically. At that second charcoal fire, Peter professed three times that he loved Jesus.

Let us follow Peter’s example rather than that of Judas and encounter Jesus in the confessional. For those who love Christ, hope in Christ, seek Christ, and run to Christ, will find his mercy.

One Bible, Many Interpretations

April 29, 2014

Mormons teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three Gods, and that we too can become Gods in our own right someday.

You may reply to them, for instance, with James 2:19, “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble,” but Mormons will have some explanation for that New Testament passage which fits their theology.

Oneness Pentecostals teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three persons but three manifestations of one divine person, God.

You may ask them who Jesus is praying to in Matthew 26:39 when he says in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will,” yet Oneness Pentecostals will offer some answer for why Jesus is not praying to another person.

Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is not God, not divine, but God’s first and greatest creature and that the Holy Spirit is not a person but the active force of God the Father in the world.

You may answer with the beginning and end of the Gospel of John: with John’s prologue where we see “the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh,” and the gospel’s climax, John 20:28, “Thomas answered and said to [Jesus,] ‘My Lord and my God!'” However, Jehovah’s Witnesses will surely have some reply for these verses.

A diagram of the ancient, orthodox, Christian conception of the Holy Trinity

A diagram of the ancient, orthodox, Christian conception of the Most Holy Trinity: One God, Three Divine Persons

In my personal experience, advocates of Mormon polytheism, Oneness Pentecostal modalism, or Jehovah’s Witnesses Arianism-esque theology have all been sincere, friendly, rational, and not unintelligent people. They were all well-versed in the Bible, regarded it as God’s infallible Word, and used it to support their beliefs. They all proudly claimed the name of “Christian.” However, the undeniable fact that their theologies contradict each other proves that these admirable personal traits are not enough to guarantee a true understanding of the Christian Faith. The problem is that there seems to be more than one possible internally-coherent interpretation of the Bible. Just as texts out of context can suggest several defensible, though incorrect, meanings; interpreting biblical texts outside the context of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church leads to many errors.

Last week, two very nice Jehovah’s Witnesses visited me at my rectory and we spoke for a couple of hours. I believe we were debating whether one of Jesus’ “I Am” statements in John’s Gospel was a profession of his divinity when one of my guests remarked, “We can’t really be certain what he meant.” I replied to the effect, “You’re right!–If your opinion and my opinion are all we have to go on, if there’s no visible authority on earth with power from Jesus Christ to infallibly answer biblical questions, then we can never be certain our interpretations are true–since many sincere, reasonable, and even scholarly Christians firmly disagree. Without a clear, external teaching authority within the Church, we would be left as sheep without a shepherd and inevitably scatter.” Most Christians revere the Holy Scriptures as God’s infallible Word, and this is right and good, but for some reason many of them reject the Catholic Church through which the Scriptures come.

Recall that Jesus wrote nothing in the Gospels (except perhaps something in the dust near the woman caught in adultery) but Jesus did establish a Church. Through this Church the New Testament was written, collected, canonized, and revered. However, this process was certainly not completed in the first century AD. In the early Church there was much debate over which New Testament writings were inspired and should be included in the canon. The Shepherd of Hermas? The Book of Revelation? The Didache? The Letter to the Hebrews? The Epistle of Clement? Some early Church Fathers included works such as these in their lists of Bible books, while others left them out. It was the Catholic Church that ultimately canonized the New Testament books which all Christians acknowledge today.

One teaching shared by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses is the belief that a Great Apostasy occurred in the early Church. The New Testament contains verses which warn about false teachers arising who will mislead many. A great deception, those religions say, happened soon after the death of the apostles and explains why the majority of self-professed Christians in history have held core doctrines widely different from their own. I would agree that false teachers and heresies arise in every age, but was there a Great Apostasy soon after the apostles that devastated Christ’s Church and caused his central teachings (like the true nature of God) to be discarded and forgotten?

Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (detail)

Jesus entrusting the keys of his Kingdom to St. Peter (Matthew 16:19)

All Christians will agree that Jesus was a wise man. Jesus was a wise man indeed, who built his house on rock. Jesus declared to Simon, “‘I say to you, you are Peter [that is, you are “Rock” in Greek] and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.'” (Matthew 16:18) If Jesus was a wise man who built his house on rock we can be assured that even though “the rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house–it did not collapse; [his Church] had been set solidly on rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)

After building his Church on Peter for some forty years, did Jesus let it go into shambles and fail to repair it for about eighteen centuries, until Joseph Smith or The Watchtower came along? If so, Jesus really dropped the ball. If the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses are right, then God managed to get all of the New Testament books infallibly written, correctly canonized, and faithfully preserved throughout millennia, but could not maintain the truth about himself in his Church on earth in the hearts and minds of believers much beyond the death of the apostles. More likely, our Lord Jesus Christ succeeded in preserving his teachings and the visible hierarchical authority he gave to his Church, from St. Peter (the first pope) and the apostles to Pope Francis and the bishops in communion with him today. A clear and necessary line of teaching authority runs though the centuries, through the laying of hands and apostolic succession.

You may encounter people who will present you with internally-consistent but very different interpretations of Scripture. Do not let your hearts be troubled. There are good reasons for everything we believe as Catholics. They may “know” the Bible, but we are blessed to know God’s Church from which the Bible comes. If you love Jesus Christ, love his Catholic Church. As even St. Joan of Arc, who personally experienced the complexities of the Church as a divine and human institution, said, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they are just one thing and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.” If you love Jesus’ Church you will love him well. Jesus Christ is risen and his Catholic Church, though ancient, has never died. Christ’s Church, the Bride he protects and for whom he laid down his life, is very much alive.

Important Church Documents Revealed

August 20, 2013


● Encyclicals by the First Catholic Pope:

Blessed be the God” (ευλογητος ο θεος – Eulogetos o Theos)
As Everything to Us” (ως παντα ημιν – Hos Panta Amin)


● An Online Archive of Little-Known Documents from the 21st Ecumenical Council.

Eliakim the Prime Minister Prefigures Peter

April 28, 2013

Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, was master of the palace, the prime minister in the Davidic kingdom. (Isa 22:15,20)
Simon Peter, son of Jonah, is always first in lists of Jesus’ Apostles—while Judas is listed last. (Matt 16:17, Matt 10:2, Mark 3:16. Luke 6:14, Acts 1:13)

Eliakim’s predecessor, Shebna, had hewn a tomb in a great rock which he hoped would be a lasting a resting place. (Isa 22:16)
Simon Peter is declared to be the “rock” (“Petros”) upon which Jesus will build his Church. (Matt 16:18)

Eliakim was clothed with a robe and girded with a sash. (Isa 22:21)
Peter stretches out his hands to be dressed by another. (John 21:18)

Eliakim was “a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.” (Isa 22:21)
Peter is the pope (“papa” or “Holy Father”) to the Church on earth.

Eliakim was given authority, “the key of the House of David.” (Isa 22:22)
Peter is given “the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 16:19)

The Lord said of Eliakim, “What he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open.” (Isa 22:22)
Jesus says to Peter, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt 16:19)

Seeing Jesus At Your Job — 3rd Sunday of Easter—Year C

April 15, 2013

In the seven weeks between Easter and Pentecost, the apostles were filled with faith in the risen Christ, but they lacked something to do. In those days, the visible Christ was not constantly with them and the Holy Spirit had not yet prompted them to preach the good news about Jesus. The apostles had not yet been entrusted with any task, so they had nothing to do.  Even if you are someone who has witnessed Jesus Christ risen from the dead, you still need to eat. Therefore Peter says, “I am going fishing,” and six others join him. Fishing the Sea of Galilee was Peter’s business and livelihood before Jesus called him.

In today’s Gospel, Peter goes back to his old job. Then, unexpectedly, Jesus comes to Peter’s place of work. Jesus comes disguised (as his resurrected body allows) and at first the disciples do not recognize him. But, when they realize it is Jesus, they begin acting differently. How would you treat the Lord if he came to where you work?

Perhaps you’ve heard of the importance of ‘seeing Jesus in other people.’ ‘Seeing Jesus in others’ means treating them as you would treat Jesus Christ himself. Of course, a Christian should not worship anyone or anything but God, but Jesus wants us to love other people by using our love for him. The Gospel of Matthew says, when Jesus comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he shall sit upon the throne of his glory, and before him shall be gathered all nations. And Jesus, the king, will say to them, “Amen, I say unto you, inasmuch as you did it to one of these least of brethren of mine, you did for me.”

Sometimes we mentally separate our work from our faith, but remember that we are to serve and honor Jesus always and everywhere. Jesus comes to you at the place where you work, unexpectedly and disguised, in your customers, your peers, and your bosses. See Jesus in other people and love them using your love for him.

En las siete semanas entre Pascua y Pentecostés, los apóstoles estaban llenos de fe en Cristo resucitado, pero les faltaba algo que hacer. En aquellos días, el Cristo no era visible constantemente con ellos y el Espíritu Santo no había impulsado aún a predicar las buenas nuevas acerca de Jesús. Los apóstoles no había sido confiado con cualquier tarea, no tenían nada que hacer. Incluso si usted es alguien que ha visto a Jesús resucitado de entre los muertos, usted todavía necesita comer. Por lo tanto, Pedro dice: “Voy a pescar”, y seis otros seguirlo. Pesca en el Mar de Galilea era el negocio de Pedro y su subsistencia antes de que Jesús lo llamara.

En el evangelio de hoy, Pedro vuelve a su antiguo trabajo. Entonces, inesperadamente, Jesús viene al lugar de trabajo de Pedro. Jesús viene disfrazado (como su cuerpo resucitado permite) y al principio los discípulos no lo reconocen. Pero, cuando se dan cuenta que lo es Jesús, ellos empiezan a comportarse de manera diferente. ¿Cómo trataría usted al Señor si él llegó a su lugar de trabajo?

Tal vez usted ha oído hablar de la importancia de “ver a Jesús en los demás”. “Ver a Jesús en los demás” significa tratarlos como haría tratar el mismo Jesucristo. Por supuesto, un cristiano no debe adorar a nadie ni a nada sino a Dios, pero Jesús quiere que amemos a los demás mediante el uso de nuestro amor por él. El Evangelio de Mateo dice que cuando Jesús venga en su gloria, y todos los santos ángeles con él, entonces se sentará sobre el trono de su gloria y serán reunidas delante de él todas las gentes. Entonces Jesús el Rey nos dirá: “De cierto os digo que en cuanto lo hicisteis á uno de estos mis hermanos pequeñitos, á mí lo hicisteis”.

Estamos mentalmente separar nuestro trabajo de nuestra fe a veces, pero recuerde que estamos para servir y honrar a Jesús siempre y en todas partes. Jesús viene a usted en el lugar donde usted trabaja, de forma inesperada y disfrazada, en sus clientes, sus compañeros y sus jefes. Ver a Jesús en los demás y amarlos con su amor por él.