Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Upon This Rock I Will Build My Church

February 22, 2010
Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, apostle

By Beth DeCristofaro

(Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “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… (Matthew 16: 15-18)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long. (Psalm 23)

Finlay Currie, a Scottish character actor, did a movie scene which truly struck me as a child. He played Peter in the 1951 movie “Quo Vadis.” The movie, awfully campy in modern terms, was set in the days of Nero’s persecution of Christians. Peter was fleeing Rome along with many others as Nero increased his persecution of Christians. (Peter Ustinov was, in my young eyes, horribly chilling as the malevolent, insane Nero). As Peter walked along a lonely stretch of road exiting Rome, he received a vision of Christ, walking toward the city.

“Quo vadis? (Where are you going?) My Lord,” he asks.

Jesus’ answer was that he was returning to be crucified again because Peter was deserting his people.

Peter was stunned to the core of his soul; he turned around, returned to Rome and confronted Nero. A following brief scene shows Peter being crucified upside down which is historically accurate.

My reaction – remembering this scene for years and years - was about the mysterious possibility and awesomeness that one could see Jesus face-to-face. But it also was about bravery and dedication which Peter found within him when faced with the choice of deserting his God. He overcame his fears to truly be Christ’s rock. Was this something I could ever be capable of? The idea of martyrdom was on the one hand heroic and on the other terrifying.

Then several years ago my family and I visited Rome. We had the awe-inspiring pleasure of visiting the “scavi,” the excavations of the ancient necropolis under St. Peter’s basilica where St. Peter’s burial place is hidden. It has been documented by meticulous scholarly research but more importantly it is a place of sacred sense and imbued with dedication, fidelity, hope and bravery of the generations of Christians which followed. With Peter, these early Christians have said to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

My prayer and my attachment with Cursillo today is that we are part of a living Church who continually says the same with our words and deeds and that we live our lives walking toward, not away, from a living relationship with Christ.

The Vatican has posted a wonderful on-line tour of the scavi. Although you cannot smell the dry earth, feel the weathered (this was all above ground centuries ago!) stone nor experience its hush, the tour gives one the feel for the years and the environment which early Christians experienced. You realize in the scavi that, just as we do today, people years ago sought not only to honor their own loved ones in death but to commit them to God (or the gods as many of the tombs are pagan).

Be patient, sometimes the “go forward” arrows do not respond promptly. Take a few minutes to appreciate the historicity of our traditions and immerse yourself in a virtual sense of the beginnings of the Church.