Homily 21st Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., pastor, Saint Joseph's Catholic Church, Dalton, GA
This weekend, Pope Benedict is in Madrid Spain for World Youth Day. This wonderful event is an opportunity for young people from all over the world to gather and celebrate their faith and listen to the Pope. Countless young people are praying, going to confession, attending Mass, and just hanging out with other Catholics from countless nations – a great sign of the unity of the Catholic Church.
Our church is universal because it was founded by Jesus on Peter, who professed his faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, as we read in today's Gospel. Jesus says to him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so 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. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
The Pope is the successor to Peter, the first Pope, and the promises made to Peter continue to be fulfilled in the Catholic Church. The Father reveals himself to us in the person of Christ, and the truth that Jesus came to proclaim, the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, is handed on and entrusted to the Church and is protected from the netherworld by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So when the Pope speaks to the youth this weekend, he is speaking that truth handed down to us over the centuries to a modern world that still needs to hear it. In his Message to the youth, he says, “today’s culture tends to exclude God, and to consider faith a purely private issue with no relevance for the life of society... we see a certain “eclipse of God” taking place, a kind of amnesia which, albeit not an outright rejection of Christianity, is nonetheless a denial of the treasure of our faith, a denial that could lead to the loss of our deepest identity.”
As Jesus said to Peter “upon this rock I will build my Church”, the Pope says to us, “it is vital to have roots, a solid foundation! Today, many people have no stable points of reference on which to build their lives, and so they end up deeply insecure. There is a growing mentality of relativism, which holds that everything is equally valid, that truth and absolute points of reference do not exist. But this way of thinking does not lead to true freedom, but rather to instability, confusion and blind conformity to the fads of the moment. As young people, you are entitled to receive from previous generations solid points of reference to help you to make choices and on which to build your lives.”
The Church protects us from this mentality of relativism and the fads of the moment through its teaching. The teaching of the Church is a sure and certain guide in the midst of the tempest of the world. It gives us that solid reference point, Christ, and it shows us the way to true freedom and true security and true happiness.
Jesus asks Peter the question, “Who do you say that I am?” That is the central question of our faith, and Peter's response has been our guiding light for two millennia. The Pope says, “Christian faith is not only a matter of believing that certain things are true, but above all a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is an encounter with the Son of God that gives new energy to the whole of our existence. When we enter into a personal relationship with him, Christ reveals our true identity and, in friendship with him, our life grows towards complete fulfillment.”
So that question is asked to each of us individually, “Who do you say that I am?” Do we define ourselves only by our family background, our place in society, our work and study, our accomplishments? Or do we define ourselves in reference to Christ? Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” All the gifts and challenges of life, our family, our work, our achievements, take on their true and greater meaning when seen in Christ.
The Pope encourages us, “Dear friends, build your own house on rock. Try each day to follow Christ’s word. Listen to him as a true friend with whom you can share your path in life. With him at your side, you will find courage and hope to face difficulties and problems, and even to overcome disappointments and set-backs.”
Jesus would promise Peter that the “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against [the Church].” And the Pope points out where the attacks of the evil one come from today, he says, “there is a strong current of secularist thought that aims to make God marginal in the lives of people and society by proposing and attempting to create a “paradise” without him. Yet experience tells us that a world without God becomes a “hell”: filled with selfishness, broken families, hatred between individuals and nations, and a great deficit of love, joy and hope. On the other hand, wherever individuals and nations accept God’s presence, worship him in truth and listen to his voice, then the civilization of love is being built, a civilization in which the dignity of all is respected, and communion increases, with all its benefits.”
This ideal of a “civilization of love” is founded on the lives of individuals who know who Christ is and respond by loving him. In the Catholic Church, this knowledge and love is very concrete and practical. We see it especially in the sacraments Christ gave to the Church. The Pope says, “Dear young people, learn to “see” and to “meet” Jesus in the Eucharist, where he is present and close to us, and even becomes food for our journey. In the sacrament of Penance the Lord reveals his mercy and always grants us his forgiveness. Recognize and serve Jesus in the poor, the sick, and in our brothers and sisters who are in difficulty and in need of help.”
This individual love of Christ naturally expresses itself in community. The Pope says, “we come to see that our personal faith in Christ, which comes into being through dialogue with him, is bound to the faith of the Church. We do not believe as isolated individuals, but rather, through Baptism, we are members of this great family; it is the faith professed by the Church which reinforces our personal faith.”
And isn't that the beauty of World Youth Day? Young people from all over the world, representing all nations and peoples are united in the faith professed by Peter, given to us through the eyewitness of the Apostles, handed down to us by countless generations of Saints, is now celebrated with our beloved Pope Benedict. We should pray for our youth, that when they come home from this once in a lifetime event, on fire with the Spirit of Christ, they may share it with all peoples throughout the world. As the Pope concludes, “Christ is not a treasure meant for us alone; he is the most precious treasure we have, one that is meant to be shared with others. In our age of globalization, be witnesses of Christian hope all over the world.”
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