21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
In today’s gospel we hear Jesus asking the question “who do you say that I am?” This is a very important question because it is one that applies to all time and all places. Therefore, it is a relevant question for today’s church. When Peter, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, comes up with the right answer – What does Jesus do? Jesus makes Peter the first Pope at the head of His Church, the Body of Christ.
You remember when Saul was persecuting the Church, he was stopped by Jesus and asked the question “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me? Saul said “Who are you Lord?” Jesus said “I am Jesus, the one whom you are persecuting.” As a result of his conversion Saul becomes St. Paul - one of the greatest saints and teacher of the Catholic faith. Now Jesus asks us the same question “And who do you say that I am?”
This is something that we need to think about because it is asked of us by Jesus. Therefore it is an important question. For us Jesus is truly the Son of the living God and we are members of His body, the Church. But which church are we members of? And is that important?
Although it is one, Christ’s church also is plagued with division and dissension from within and without. The Bible tells us that there will always be those who do not accept the authority of Jesus’ teachings, the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the only universal Christian Church that has existed since the time of Jesus. Think about it.
We should not be ashamed of our faith – we should not be afraid to talk about it in front of others – we should not be afraid to mention our differences for fear of offending anyone. But we should always do so in the spirit of Christian charity – no one should be afraid of the truth.
Isn’t it true that every other Christian group is an offshoot of the Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox churches broke away from unity with the pope in 1054. The protestant communities were established during the reformation, which began in 1517. Most of today’s protestant groups are actually offshoots of the original protestant offshoots. For example the Church of the Nazarene just started in 1908. The Mormons in the early 1800’s and the Jehovah’s Witnesses started in the late 1870’s by Charles Taze Russell.
The Anglicans began with Henry the 8th of England break with Rome in 1534. The Lutherans, who have fractured into many different Lutheran divisions, were started in the early 1500’s by Martin Luther while the Dutch Reformed Church which follows the teachings of John Calvin began around 1571. In 2004 the Dutch Reformed church reorganized and merged with the Evangelical Lutheran church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands and now call themselves the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. Those who did not want to change broke away from them and now call themselves the Restored Reformed Church.
There have been so many break always in the protestant community that it is a difficult task to keep track of them all. For example in the United States alone there are over 35,000 different Christian denominations each one of them calling themselves the one true church.
Most of these protestant communities are fairly recent and there are more coming every day as they continue to split amongst themselves mostly over doctrinal issues.
Think about it. Only the Catholic Church existed in the tenth century, in the fifth century and in the first century – if you were Christian in those years you were Roman Catholic. It is the truth that the Catholic church has been faithfully teaching the doctrines given by Christ to the apostles, omitting nothing. It is true also that the line of popes can be traced back in unbroken succession to Peter himself. This is unequalled by any institution in history.
Even the oldest government in the world is new compared to the papacy. So with all of this diversity in the Christian community how do we find this one true church? And is it important for us to do so? How do we do so in Christian charity without causing further division? Actually the one true church is easy to find. Look for the church that is still One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
One because Jesus established only one church not a collection of differing churches. The Bible says that the church is the bride of Christ. Jesus can have only one spouse and that spouse is the Catholic Church, which teaches one set of doctrines. The same set of doctrines which were taught by the Apostles. This is the unity of belief to which scripture calls us (Phil 1:27, 2:2)
Although some Catholics dissent from officially taught doctrines, the Church’s official teachers – the pope and those bishops who are united with him – have never changed any doctrine from the very beginning. Over the centuries, the Church comes to understand some doctrines more deeply but it never understands them to mean the opposite of what they originally meant.
The Church is Holy. By His grace Jesus makes the Church holy, just as He is holy. This doesn’t mean that each member is always holy. Jesus said there would be both good and bad members in the church (John 6:70) and not all members of the Catholic church will go to heaven (Matt 7:21-23). But the Church itself is holy because it is the source of holiness and is the guardian of the special means of grace Jesus established, which are the sacraments (Eph 5:26)
Jesus’ Church is called catholic, which means universal in Greek, because it is His gift to all people. He told his apostles to go throughout the world and make disciples of “all nations” (Matt 28:19-20). Nowadays the Catholic Church is found in every country of the world and is still sending out missionaries to “Make disciples of all nations”. The church Jesus founded is apostolic because he appointed the apostles to be the first leaders of the church and their successors were to be its future leaders. The apostles were the first bishops and since the first century there has been an unbroken line of Catholic bishops faithfully handing on what the apostles taught the first Christians both in Scripture and oral tradition (2 Tim 2:2)
These beliefs include the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacrificial nature of the Mass, the forgiveness of sins through a priest, baptismal regeneration, the existence of purgatory, Mary’s special role in salvation, how we are saved and much much more, even the doctrine of Apostolic succession itself.
Early Christian writings, especially those of the early church Fathers, prove that the first Christians were thoroughly Catholic both in belief and practice and looked to the successors of the apostles as their leaders. What the first Christians believed is still believed by us, members of today’s Catholic Church. No other church can honestly make that claim.
It is One because Jesus wanted it so. It is Holy because it is the Body of Christ. It is Catholic because it is universal having members in every country in the world. And it is Apostolic because it can trace its roots all the way back to the Apostles. Next Sunday Jesus will tell us that if we would come after him, we must die to ourselves and carry a cross.
Just think. What if Jesus had left this world without giving us a Church to support and guide us on that journey? How much more difficult it would be. We could so easily be led astray by false doctrine and Gospels. Even those in the church who do not agree with all the teachings of the church, stay with it because they know that it is the one true church. They do not want to make the same mistake that Martin Luther did. And how do we know we are in the church the Jesus wants us to be in? How can we be sure we are in the "right" church, and what makes our church unique?
Let’s look at some of these differences. In a protestant church the emphasis is mainly on the preached Word and the music. Therefore if you have good preaching and good music and the preaching fits with your thinking you will want to go to that church. If the preaching or music doesn’t suit you, you are free to find another church that has what you want to hear.
In a Catholic Church, while the preached word and the music are important, more important is the Holy Eucharist. Christ said: "Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you ... for my flesh is real food, and my blood real drink" (John 6:55). Many of those who were listening to Jesus were shocked. Why? Because the drinking of blood was unthinkable to a Jew. To even touch blood required ritual purification.
All Jesus had to say here when they started to grumble at this was, "No, no, no. This is merely a symbol!" But he didn't. Jesus said, "Does it shake your faith? ... What then if you were to see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before ... ?" (John 6:61, 62). No, Jesus knew that what He was going to institute, namely the Eucharist, and He knew also that it was going to require a radically new way of thinking for His followers. And so many left Him that day and sadly it is a fact that today many still leave Him over that same doctrine.
Catholics believe, as the Apostles taught and as it says in the Catechism, “In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained" [Council of Trent]. "This presence is called 'real' ... because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present" [Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei] (CCC 1374).
So we see that the Catholic Church is being faithful to the Scriptures in believing in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. When parents lament that their children have gone off and joined other religions, We should encourage them not to worry. If they ever really find Christ, they'll be hack for the Eucharist. Consider next the Mass. In Matt. 26:26-28 Jesus said of the bread at the Last Supper, "Take this and eat ... This is my body," and of the cup, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be shed for many for the forgiveness of sins." Giving one's body and shedding one's blood for the forgiveness of sins are biblical expressions that speak of a true sacrifice.
It is this divine, timeless sacrifice of Jesus' death that We "re¬present" in the Mass: "The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord's body and blood" (CCC 1382).
Without the real presence, you can't have the real sacrifice. Next major difference - Confession or the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus said to his disciples whom He sent forth in John 20:23, "Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven; whose sins you shall retain they are retained." The Catholic Church fulfills this by both forgiving and retaining sins (depending on the case) in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. It would be impossible to "retain" sins if the penitent's disposition were not known to the priest in confession. What a great gift we have in this sacra¬ment of mercy. Christ said in Matt. 7:17, 20 "Every sound tree hears good fruit .... Therefore from their fruits you shall know them." The "fruits" of the Cath¬olic faith are the saints.
Has any other religion besides our own been able to produce the likes of Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, John Vianney, Catherine of Siena or Therese of Lisieux, Mother Theresa, Pope John Paul 2nd? What awesome examples they are! And how helpful to read about their lives. If Jeremiah and Onias were able to pray for their people after having died (2 Mac. 15:11-16), and the saints offered "the prayers of God's holy people" before God (Rev. 5:8), does it not make sense for us to seek the saints' intercession?
There can be no doubt that Jesus lived perfectly the Fourth Command¬ment: Honour your father and mother. If Christ lives in us as he did in Paul (Gal. 2:20) shouldn't we venerate Christ's mother as he did, especially since veneration was offered to angels in Josh. 5:14 and Dan. 8:17? How much greater than the angels is Mary! The Catholic Church honours Mary in imi¬tation of her son.
What a marvelous intercessor we have in Mary, who so beautifully manifests the mercy and tenderness of God! What saint failed to honour her? In summary then what does the Catholic Church teach us about how we are saved? God’s plan for us is simple. Our loving Father wants to give us all good things – especially eternal life. Jesus died on the cross to save us all from sin and the eternal separation from God that sin causes. When God saves us He makes us part of His body, which is the Church (1 Cor. 12:27-30).
We thus become united with Him and with Christians everywhere (On earth, in heaven and in purgatory). Best of all, this promise of eternal life is a gift, freely offered to us by God. We can accept or reject it. Our initial forgiveness and justification are not things that we “earn”. Jesus is the mediator who bridged the gap of sin that separates us from God. (1Tim 2:5).
He bridged the gap of sin by dying for us. He has chosen to make His church partners in the plan of salvation (1Cor 3:9).
The Catholic church teaches what the apostles taught and what the Bible teaches. We are saved by Grace alone, but not by faith alone (James 2:24) When we come to God and are justified (that is, we enter a right relationship with God) nothing preceding that justification, whether faith or good works, earns grace. But then God plants His love in our hearts and in response we should live out our faith by doing acts of Love (Gal 6:2) Even though only God’s grace enables us to love others, these acts of love please Him (Rom 2:6-7, Gal 6:6-1-) Thus these acts of love or good works are meritorious.
When we first come to God in Faith, we have nothing in our hands to offer Him. Then He gives us grace to obey His commandments in love, and He rewards us with salvation when we offer these acts of love back to Him (Rom 2:6-11, Gal 6:6-10 and Matt 25: 34-40). Jesus said it is not enough to have faith in Him: we also must obey His commandments. “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, but do not do the things I command?” (Luke 6:46, matt 7:21-23, 19:16-21)
We do not “earn” our salvation through good works (Eph 2:8-9, Rom 9:16) but our faith in Christ puts us in a special grace-filled relationship with God so that our obedience and love, combined with our Faith, will be rewarded with eternal life (Rom 2:7, Gal 6:8-9) Our Catholic Church is wonderfully unique, because of the Eucharist, confession and the forgiveness of sins, because of purgatory, because of Mary and all the saints. We are blessed to be part of it! And we should be eternally thankful that He in His great love has called us to it.
When Jesus asks us “Who do you say that I am?
What answer do we give Him and, more importantly, how does this answer affect our daily life?
God Bless you.
Deacon Bernie Ouellette