WHICH WAY IS GOD’S WAY?
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 31:31-34; MT 16:13-23 ]
“But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’” Indeed, we are living in very difficult, challenging and confusing times. The world has changed much because of relativism, technological advancement, globalization and migration that have also brought about the corollary encounter and often clashes among religions and cultures. Which religion is right or wrong? Which religion has the truth? Which philosophy of life is the right one? With the uncertainty of the truth that religion and philosophy can offer, there are also implications on morality.
Because of the change of lifestyle, cultural and moral values have also evolved. There are so many traditional values on family life and the dignity of life that have been called into question. With both parents working to meet a rising standard of living and the costs of living, couples are more independent of each other. The family is no longer as closely knit as in the olden days when our fathers would go to work and come back in the evening to be with the family. Today, the family unit is falling apart, because married couples are spending less and less time with each other and their children. There are a growing number of divorces. Many have great distrust in heterosexual relationships. Instead they think that same sex relationships work better. Marriage and the family are being redefined as two persons coming together or three persons living together. Abortion is the easy way out of responsibility in sexual life. Euthanasia is the way to escape from commitment to our elderly.
Indeed, should the Church compromise her doctrines to suit the reality of modern times? Do we remain faithful to the truths of the gospel and the constant teaching of the Church and preserve the purity of our doctrines? Or do we adapt and change to accommodate the challenges of living up to the doctrines of the gospel and the Church lest we distance ourselves from the larger group of people who find our doctrines intolerable and impossible? The danger of compromise is always there, like that of Peter who could not accept Jesus’ prophecy of His passion. “Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord,’ he said ‘this must not happen to you.’”
Indeed, like Peter, we are unable to accept the ways of God. By so doing, aren’t we no better than the Israelites who broke the Covenant of Moses? Although we might have the New Covenant, it also became ineffective because we are not faithful to it. This was what the prophet said, “See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah, but not a covenant like the one I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant of mine, so I had to show them who was master.”
The crux of the question is, “How then do we know what God’s ways are?” For some Protestant Christians, the key is to acquire the faith of St Peter. This is how they interpret the declaration of Jesus when He said to Peter, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.” In this interpretation, the rock does not stand for St Peter and his successors but the faith of Peter when he declared, “You are the Christ,’ he said ‘the Son of the living God.” With this faith in Christ as the Son of the Living God, we can be sure of what we believe and whom we believe by accepting all that Christ has taught us in the scriptures. Faith in Christ and in the Word of God is all that is necessary to keep us in the truth and find life.
This is also because with our baptism, many Protestant Christians believe that the Spirit of Christ lives in all the baptized. As members of His Church, we all know Christ intimately, personally, and we no longer need the teaching authority of Church since as Jeremiah prophesied, “This is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel when those days arrive – it is the Lord who speaks. Deep within them I will plant my law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people. There will be no further need for neighbour to try to teach neighbour, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know the Lord!’ No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest – it is the Lord who speaks – since I will forgive their iniquity and never call their sin to mind.”
Yet, if we hold this view, then it is difficult to sustain the unity of the Church, which must be unity in truth and in love. There can be no unity in fellowship unless there is unity in beliefs. The fact is that we all interpret the Word of God differently and all claim that they have the Holy Spirit to guide them. If we all differ in opinions and interpretations, then no one knows the exact truth. This leads to relativism. As a result, the Church can no longer be called the the “pillar and ground of truth” (cf 1 Tim 3:15) or the body of Christ (cf 1 Cor 12:12-27) or the Temple of God and the Holy Spirit (cf 1 Cor 3:16) or a spiritual fellowship (cf 2 Cor 13:14). Indeed, how then can the Church be called a People of God, holy, one and apostolic in faith?
Obviously, personal faith, whilst necessary to walk in the way of the Lord, is not enough unless it is also a communal faith, the faith of the Church. The faith is imparted to us by the Church and therefore we are baptized in the faith of the Church. That is why we need the teaching Church. That is why the Lord entrusted to Peter the authority to rule when He said, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. 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.” The keys to binding and loosing refer to the authority of the Church under the leadership of St Peter and the Apostolic College, which is succeeded by the Pope and the College of Bishops.
To walk the truth and way of Christ requires more than reason alone. We need the revelation of God. Faith is not just reasoned but based on revelation. This was what 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.” If it was merely based on reason then we can agree or disagree based on logic. But faith in Christ as the Son of God requires more than mere reason; faith in God’s revelation is in Christ. In all humility, we must recognize that there are many things in life we do not understand. This is where we submit in faith to Christ who continues to govern, teach and sanctify the Church through the governing, teaching and sanctifying authority of the Pope and the bishops. The magisterium is needed to preserve unity in truth through discipleship and order. Unity is the basis for stability and continuity in doctrines, morals and in the institutions, especially the sacraments.
But in fact, the infallibility of the teaching Church is also very much influenced by the infallibility of the believing Church. The authority of the teaching Church does not work independently from the People of God. On the contrary, the Church recognizes the Sensus Fidei of the People of God. That is why the Magisterium must consult the People of God in defining doctrines. Often, it is the faith of the people that helps the Magisterium to discern the truth of the gospel. That is why the Church is always asked to pray, especially for the Holy Father and the bishops, because they are the ones who teach authoritatively. All the more, they need the grace of God, the spirit of discernment, the spirit of truth, the spirit of courage so that they can teach the Word of God without fear or favour. The teaching Church is not exempted from acquiring a deeper personal faith in the Lord. Such personal faith when strengthened will help them to be in tune with Christ, His Spirit and the Word of God. With the psalmist, we pray, “A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, nor deprive me of your Holy Spirit.”
But for us to help the Church leaders to discern, as individuals and as the believing Church, the laity and priests must enlighten the Magisterium by articulating their faith in Christ and their interpretation of the Word of God through their intuitive faith and the study of scriptures. The laity must articulate their views to be heard by the Church. That is why Pope Francis is ensuring that there is greater representation of laity in the Pontifical Councils and in the offices of the Church. In this way, both the teaching and believing Church help each other to discern the way forward that is inspired by a common spirit. The sign that we are the Church of Christ is when we preserve ourselves as One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
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.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.