Monday, June 29, 2015

Kept the Faith

[Herod] had [Peter] taken into custody and put in prison under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. He intended to bring him before the people after Passover. Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the Church was fervently being made to God on his behalf.  Acts 12:4-5

He 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 16:16-18

I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me.  2 Timothy 4:6-8A

What is “this rock” of which Jesus speaks? 

Some say the rock is Peter.  His name certainly means rock.  However, what Jesus was asking for from the disciples was a mark of their faith in him and that is what Peter delivered.  Peter said that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  This rock was Peter’s faith.  That same faith was the standard by which St. Paul looked back upon his life.  In the letter to Timothy, he measures his success by one standard only: “I have kept the faith.”

Herod also was trying to energize support among certain Jews by persecuting the new Christians.  The notes to the New American Bible for today’s first reading explain: 

While Luke does not assign a motive for [Herod’s] execution of James and his intended execution of Peter, the broad background lies in Herod’s support of Pharisaic Judaism. The Jewish Christians had lost the popularity they had had in Jerusalem, perhaps because of suspicions against them traceable to the teaching of Stephen.

In the persons of Peter and Paul – and in their confrontations with civil authorities -- we see once again that political leaders really do not know what to do about inspiring church leaders.  Sometimes, civil leaders take the view, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”  Thus, some historical records point out that Senator John F. Kennedy (as a candidate for President) offered support to the civil rights movement led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  However, historians note that Kennedy’s actions were of a wary ally who also was trying to energize votes of a critical block without alienating others.[i]

Sometimes, when they do not join up as wary allies, they just throw them in jail.  Nelson Mandela.  Martin Luther King. Dorothy Day.  Jesus of Nazareth.  St. Peter in chains. St. Paul in prison.

Maybe on this feast of Peter and Paul, we should realize not to place too much trust in the political leaders of any branch of any government.  Sometimes they may rule or vote or speak in accordance with Catholic teaching.  Other times they may not.  Such leaders as these are not the rock which Jesus asked Peter to build the Church.  Rather, Jesus asks Peter and us to build the Church upon the rock of faith, not political expediency or calculations.

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