An open mind and a loving heart are all we need to find God
Posted: Tue, 23 Jun 2020 16:38
A reflection for the Feast of St Peter and Paul, (Sunday 28 June 2020) by Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB
This Sunday, we keep the feast of two of our great founding fathers-in-faith, Peter and Paul. They are very different, but complementary, characters in every way: Peter, excitable and often working on a whim, while Paul is perhaps seen as more measured and careful. They were both fiercely proud of their Jewish roots - Paul even going to the extreme of standing by while officials murdered those early followers of Christ. Both men came to Jesus, fully aware of their personal weakness.
Peter, the name given by Jesus to Simon, means 'rock', and Jesus tells us in today's Gospel that he will build his church on this rock. However, especially in these strange times that we live in, it is a rather wobbly rock! Peter does not always prove to be a very good foundation stone. He is reprimanded publicly for urging Jesus not to go to Jerusalem to face trial and death. He promised to be with Christ right to the end but he denies Christ three times as we know; but he reaffirms his love for Jesus three times as well. He gathered those first disciples together to share Resurrection in a lockdown Church: those experiences you have gone through during these past few months have been shared by our founders, women and men gathered in faith and trust, but numbed by fear.
In spite of a shaky first meeting, Peter's foundation is Jesus himself, because he has the insight to see Jesus for who he really is: the son of the living God. For Paul, the foundation of his conversion is seeing that salvation is to be found is not in legalism and the demands of the Law, but in Jesus himself. Like us all, he shares a personal faith. So much so, in fact, that Paul wants to 'put him on', and says that it is no longer he that lives but it is Christ that lives in him.
These two very different characters are able to show us that the Church has never adopted a 'one size fits all' approach that leads to the very rigidity that Paul had to fight in his own personal life. Like all our Church heroes, these saints are all too human. Jesus tells us that we have to come into the reign of God by the 'narrow gate.' This is not a narrowing of the unconditional love that God has for us but a recognition of our own limitations. As Jesus was led by the Spirit to widen his ministry to more and more people, including outcasts, strangers, Roman soldiers, foreigners, lepers, Canaanite women and every kind of sinner, then we should not be afraid to embrace life's diversity and constant surprises. The only narrow gate we need to avoid is a narrow mind and a narrow heart. An open mind and a loving heart are all we need to find God.
Both Peter and Paul were dynamic missionaries of Word and Eucharist. They took a localised message of love from an itinerant Jewish preacher/carpenter into the whole world. Their bravery and witness inspire us on this day. They formed communities of love and justice throughout the Roman World - human communities of love that made their towns and villages that bit better. They were driven to tell others of the joy and peace that came with the message of Jesus' resurrection. They wanted to tell the world about the hope that had been given to them in the forgiveness of sins. Both Peter and Paul inspire us to be an OUTWARD looking Church that is needed always, but especially in this time, as we slowly come of lockdown, having had to face a the trauma of a global pandemic that had forced us to be inward-looking for our own safety and for the good of everyone. The challenge of Covid-19 is to ensure that we move from isolation back into community. Paul reminds us that the Word of God is alive and active and influences our Church to this day.
Today Peter and Paul inspire us by their example to be outward-looking and to realise the truth that if we become an inward-looking church, only concerned about our own future or our past, then we are likely to die out. The Word that both these apostles preached is a living Word, and it is precisely that Word that gives life to our community today.
As we focus on the future, we realise that these leaders inspire us; they help us to see that we haven't always done it this way! An inward-looking Church cannot grow and mature, as we become self-absorbed and only concerned with externals. The challenge of these days is to ensure that we move forward in confidence. We need not be scared or frightened about our new future: trust is essential; we will have to make changes that some of us may find hard.
I will never forget celebrating Mass at the chapel dedicated to Jesus' trust in Peter. In front of the altar, in the 'rock' that tradition places at the centre of today's Gospel. We, as English pilgrims, were gathered around that rock when the peace and tranquillity of our Eucharist was 'disturbed' by a very large group of pilgrims from Southern India. They had travelled thousands of miles and were only there for a limited time. We had to make a decision: are we going to be an inward or outward Church? We could have stood on our personal dignity and demanded that they leave us and show proper 'respect.' We kept the door open and the Indian pilgrims swarmed in to kiss that holy rock as we continued our mass amidst the confusion and noise. I still maintain it was the right thing to do as we tried to follow that outward-looking ministry of Peter and Paul.
Finally are we able to say like Peter that Jesus is the son of the living God? And if we are, why don't we want to tell others about this good news? Surely it should be shared and not kept secret? Otherwise we might not be able to say, like Paul at the end of his life, that we have fought the good fight.
Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
(Attributed to Sir Francis Drake — 1577)
Image: Anonymous, (2013, May 09). Saints Peter and Paul, from a Catacomb Etching. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/image/1200/