THE INDEFATIGABLE CHURCH OF CHRIST
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Acts 12: 1-11; Ps 34:2-9; 2 Tim 4, 6-8. 17-18; Mt 16, 13-19]
The Church is undergoing tremendous challenges in recent times. The world has developed so fast and so much because of advancement in science and technology. Cultures, lifestyles and moral trends are changing as well. With secularism and secularisation, religion is losing its presence in society, and morality as well. However, not only is society affected, but our own members as well. Regrettably, it seems the values of our Catholics are formed more by society than the Church and the gospel. This affects not just our laity but even the clergy, religious and the hierarchy of the Church as well. We are not immune from the degeneration of the world. Instead of growing in holiness, even some of our priests and religious are corrupted by the values of the world, whether it is in materialism, riches, power or sex. The scandals of the hierarchy have rocked the faith of many Catholics. Many have left the Church out of disillusionment.
Will the Church be able to withstand the onslaughts of the Evil One, seen in the negative and evil forces growing from strength to strength in the world? The encouraging assurance of today’s scripture readings on the Solemnity of St Peter and Paul is that the Church will be protected from the gates of hell. Jesus declared, “You are Peter and on this rock, I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.” This is the promise of our Lord given to St Peter and his successors. Jesus will defend the Church from falling into error and from destruction. This is because the Church is built on Rock.
What is this rock? This rock refers primarily to the faith of Peter who confessed that Jesus is the Christ, “the Son of the living God.” By this confession, Peter is declaring that Jesus is the Anointed One of God, the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament, the son of David and therefore as King, also the Son of God, and more importantly, the Eternal Son of the Father. Unless we share this faith with Peter, we will not be able to stand firm on the gospel, neither with the Church nor with Peter and His successors. This was why when Peter made this confession of faith in Christ, it was not due to his intelligence or reasoning but by a divine revelation. Hence, the Lord said to Peter, “Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.” It is not incidental that Jesus addressed Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah” because the word, “Jonah” which means “dove” in Hebrew, suggests that Peter had a special link with the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that the Lord gave to the apostles at Pentecost that empowered Peter as the head of the apostolic college to deliver the first homily with power and brought about the conversion of three thousand who were baptised on that Pentecost day.
Arising from this faith in the Lord, we have faith in the authority of Peter and his successors to guide the Church of Christ. For the Lord did not just give Peter the authority to teach, decide and govern, but the guarantee of His divine assistance. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.” It is our belief that the Church is more than just a human institution, unlike the institutions in the world. These have come and gone. As an institution the Church has withstood more than 2000 years, and is still standing strong in spite of all the trials and scandals affecting the Church. But if the Church could stand for so long unlike the other human institutions, empires and kingdoms, it is because the Lord is watching over the Church through His successor, Peter and the apostles and their successors. Only with this faith in Christ and His successor can we withstand the gates of hell.
Indeed, this divine assistance given to Peter is confirmed in the scriptures and in the history of the Church. In the founding acts of the Church, beginning with the gathering of the Twelve apostles, and Jesus appointing Peter as the one to hold the key, that is, to be given the authority to safeguard the Church, our Lord also promised Peter that He would be with him in his weakness. Jesus clearly foresaw how the Church would be persecuted just as He was persecuted. Immediately after the Confession of faith, Jesus foretold His passion and resurrection. “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Mt 16:21) Jesus warned His disciples, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.” (Jn 16:20)
In another founding act of the Church, our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist. Indeed, the Eucharist makes us Church. Therefore, the Church can never be without the Eucharist because the Church is the Body of Christ. The Eucharist is also connected with the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and His resurrection. What is instructive is that after empowering the apostles to “do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19), the apostles were still jostling for power. (cf Lk 22:24-27) The Lord assured Peter, “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Lk 22:31) Jesus knew that Peter by himself without His assistance would fail him. This authority of Peter to shepherd the Church of Christ was sealed after His resurrection when the Lord entrusted Peter the task of feeding and looking after His sheep. After Peter renewed his profession of love for the Lord, the mere love of human friendship, and realising how inadequate his love was, Jesus still instructed him to feed and tend His sheep. (cf Jn 21:15-19)
In today’s first reading, we have a clear demonstration of how the Lord continues to stand by the side of Peter when he was persecuted. This was the third time that he was arrested and the second time to be put in jail. It is significant that the account of Peter’s miraculous escape from jail was reminiscent of God delivering the Hebrews from Egypt. Like the Hebrews, Peter was in jail at the Passover week. Then the Lord sent an angel to release him just as He sent the angel to free the Hebrews from death by bypassing their doors. Just as the chains fell from the hands of Peter and he put on the belt and sandals, so, too, the Hebrews were set free from the chains of Pharaoh and in the middle of the night, wearing belt and sandals they walked out of Egypt into the Promised Land. When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know it is all true. The Lord really did send his angel and has saved me from Herod and from all that the Jewish people were so certain would happen to me.”
So today, we take hope that God will remain faithful to His Church. We should not fear or be shaken by what is happening in the Church and in the world. The Lord will ensure that His Church and His vicar on earth will, under persecution, be protected from harm and not be destroyed. Just as the Lord stood by Peter, the shepherd of the Church, and Paul, the symbol of the missionary dimension of the Church, we too as Church must stand together with our chief shepherd, Peter and his successor. We will not just keep the “Church of the living God”, strong as “the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), but we will continue to look beyond ourselves to the world as we engage in evangelising and missionary activities to spread the gospel and grow the Church.
This is why it is the duty of every Catholic to pray for the Holy Father and his bishops so that, guided by the Holy Spirit and protected from the temptation of the Evil One, they will continue to steer the Church through this very difficult time of turmoil and bewildering changes. This was what the early Church did. Indeed, “All the time Peter was under guard, the Church prayed to God for him unremittingly.” We must follow the early Church in supporting our Church leaders, most of all by praying for them as they pour out their life as a libation for us.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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