February 22nd Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle

Mass readings for today are here

Following on from yesterday's post I have found myself doing a lengthy post. 
I am hoping it might be a useful addition to your resources while I am away during Lent

Gospel  Matthew 16 : 13-19



When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

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,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 

Reflections

This is the only place in the gospels that the word "church" is used. 
It is the justification for Peter being considered the first Pope in Roman Catholic tradition 
Simon which is a Hebrew name meaning "to hear or be heard" is renamed by Jesus to Peter, (Cephas in the Greek), which means "rock." 
 A rash fisherman becomes the rock on which the church is founded, is given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and receives significant spiritual power.

Why? 

Because when Jesus' asks the disciples who they think he is, Peter responds that Jesus is the Messiah. Most of the time Peter got things wrong more than he got them right but on this occasion he came up  "smelling of roses."

This story is just over midway through Matthew's Gospel. 






Peter is a lot of things at this point, but he is, frankly, nothing like a rock that anyone would want to build on. 

Just five verses later, he receives the full force of Christ's anger when he objects to the idea of a suffering Messiah: "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." 
Peter the rock of the church foundation is now a stumbling block in a mere five verses and it isn't long before the unreliable Peter is famously denying that he even knows the Son of the living God.


God changed Abram's name to Abraham, which means the "father of a multitude," before he had even a single child. Simon became "the rock" and was promised the keys to the kingdom right before his most famous and spectacular  failure when he denied he knew Jesus three times.



The Gospels describe for us a man who is big-hearted and enthusiastic, yet hot-headed and impulsive. He wants to do what Jesus asks, but sometimes makes promises he cannot keep, or rushes into things without thinking them through. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, Jesus recognises the unique value of Peter.

He generously gave up all things, yet he can ask in childish self-regard, "What are we going to get for all this?"

Peter is willing to accept Jesus' doctrine of forgiveness, but suggests a limit of seven times. 
He walks on the water in faith, but sinks in doubt.






He refuses to let Jesus wash his feet, then wants his whole body cleansed. 
He swears at the Last Supper that he will never deny Jesus, and then swears to a servant maid that he has never known the man. 
He loyally resists the first attempt to arrest Jesus by cutting off Malchus's ear, but in the end he runs away with the others.
In the depth of his sorrow, Jesus looks on him and forgives him, and he goes out and sheds bitter tears. 
After the Resurrection, Jesus tells Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep.  

 


What a great comfort to us ordinary mortals to know that Peter can show his human unflattering weaknesses in the presence of Jesus and still be loved.

Good overview of this passage here

and there is a  fine reflection here from John Mark ministries web : (by Rowland Croucher and others) and is called The Rock That Moved.

The BBC site has a pretty thorough and well written review of the life of Peter here which begins :

"He is one of the most carefully described characters in the New Testament, and yet the picture we have is a composite from various authors at various times and there are still many things the Bible does not tell us. However, there are other sources of evidence now available that can take us closer than ever before to the historical Peter. 
Great insight can be drawn from modern science, archaeology and countless other ancient texts, many of which have only come to light recently having been lost for centuries......"

The Gatekeepers of The Kingdom of Heaven  


In a concrete time, culture and  place Peter was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven and his  task and that of subsequent Popes has been to try and mould a troubled world into something resembling the Kingdom of God. 


Through baptism and the sacramental life of the church we are always being challenged to read and interpret the signs of the times.

The church is going through a difficult task today.

It is a temporal institution meant to be understood eternally.







IN THE SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN
Papal shoes from Bata museum  image from here



So we have Popes wearing the shoes of the fisherman Peter and we wonder where they are leading us and whether one size fits all !














 Henri Nouwen said :
 “One of the greatest ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power – political power, military power, economic power, or moral and spiritual power – even though they continued to speak in the name of Jesus, who did not cling to his power but emptied himself and became as we are.
We keep hearing from others, as well as saying to ourselves, that having power – provided it is used in the service of God – is a good thing.







With this rationalization, crusades took place, inquisitions were organized, Indians were enslaved, positions of great influence were desired, episcopal palaces, splendid cathedrals, and opulent seminaries were built, and much moral manipulation of conscience was engaged in."
H/T to Monastic Mumblings for this quote of Henri Nouwen.


Some of you may remember the 1968 film Shoes of The Fisherman adpated from the novel by Morris West starring Anthony Quinn as a fictional Pope at the height of the Cold War.
A major secondary plot in the novel and the film is the Pope's relationship with a theologian and scientist, Father DaviTelemond The Pope becomes a close personal friend of Telemond but to his deep regret, in his official capacity, he must allow the Holy Office to censure Telemond for his heterodox views. To the Pope's deep grief, the shock of the censure, combined with his chronic medical problems, eventually kills Father Telemond, who has been slowly dying all this time from a cerebral aneurysm. Great story !


Morris West's  protagonist Pope Lakota was inspired by the life of Ukrainian Catholic Cardinal Josyf Slipyj. Slipyj was released by Nikita Khrushchev's administration from a Siberian Gulag in 1963, the year of the novel's publication, after political pressure from Pope John XXIII and United States President John F. Kennedy. Slipyj arrived in Rome in time to participate in the Second Vatican Council.
Pope John XXIII died on the day the novel was published, June 3, 1963. Pope Paul VI was serving as Pope when the film version was released.



Much of the characteristics of Father Telemond were based on the controversial French Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I remember reading his book Hymn of the Universe and Phenomenon of Man as an adolescent hungry for something to read by a churchman that could integrate my faith with my love of science.

I don't agree with everything he wrote but it is clear that he was a man of deep integrity and I was saddened by the treatment he received from the church.

Teilhard was seen by the Vatican as a threat to the integrity of the faith. Rome insisted that his religious writings should not be published; he was forbidden to teach or even to speak publicly on religious subjects; he was banished from his native country.

Yet his ideas were disseminated informally and sometimes secretly by friends and colleagues in the church. He became a hero and a role model for a whole generation of younger priests and theologians. He set the stage for the renewal movements which finally came to flower in the era of Vatican II.
At the same time he also suggested a programme for the reconstruction of science. He put forward a systematic critique of traditional science which was just as radical and just as provocative as his criticism of traditional religion, and he provoked equally extreme reactions in the scientific community. 
A small number of world-class scientists took his ideas seriously enough to structure their own work on Teilhard's model, but the majority of scientists reacted as defensively as the Vatican theologians. 

As  I read this below today I was struck by how the events taking place in the Middle East and North Africa are in line with Teilhard de Chardins prophetic vision

"The noosphere is analogous on a planetary level to the evolution of the cerebral cortex in humans. The noosphere is a "planetary thinking network" -- an interlinked system of consciousness and information, a global net of self-awareness, instantaneous feedback, and planetary communication. 

At the time of his writing, computers of any merit were the size of a city block, and the Internet was, if anything, an element of speculative science fiction. 
Yet this evolution is indeed coming to pass, and with a rapidity, that in Gaia time, is but a mere passage of seconds. In these precious moments, the planet is developing her cerebral cortex, and emerging into self-conscious awakening. Will we be able to approach the Omega point that Teilhard de Chardin was so excited about ?

This convergence however, though it was predicted to occur through a global information network, was not a convergence of merely minds or bodies -- but of heart, a point that he made most fervently.





 



"It is not our heads or our bodies which we must bring together, but our hearts. . . . Humanity. . . is building its composite brain beneath our eyes. May it not be that tomorrow, through the logical and biological deepening of the movement drawing it together, it will find its heart, without which the ultimate wholeness of its power of unification can never be achieved?"

Interestingly Commonweal and America magazine have a great dual  2009 article here to refresh ourselves of Teilhard de Chardins views . It is well worth a read.
Sadly, I can't embrace all of Teilhard's vision that human can redeeem themselves totally here on earth . 
I can only imagine that this happens after death but sometimes when I am in a more sceptical mood (!), I  wonder that maybe there are vested interests and a dangerous power in a church that sells me a horrific apocalyptic vision as the means of redemption. 

After all, Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven was within !! 

That is why I prefer the idea of liminal space and am more comfortable with the idea of a gentler more permeable threshold  being crossed to reach God.

Jesus tells us we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we are born of both water and spirit. 
“In truth I tell you,” exclaimed Jesus, “unless you are reborn, you cannot see the kingdom of God.” “How can someone,” asked Nicodemus, “be born when they are old? Can we be born a second time?” “In truth I tell you,” answered Jesus, “unless you owe your birth to water and spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Most of us can work out what Jesus means by born of spirit but born of water is a bit trickier. The literalist will just say, “Oh, that's baptism,” and leave it at that. 
But Jesus seemed to infuse  his teachings with many levels of meaning, discernible to those who have the ears ready to hear it.
For Jesus, water is a natural element that is a parable in itself. For example, if we look at Jesus’s life as depicted in the Gospels, we see that it echoes the flowing in and receding back of the ocean’s tides. 
Jesus would repeatedly flow out into society to teach, spread the gospel of Christ, and share fellowship with his neighbours, only to recede back into himself, into lonely places to pray.
 
If we are truly to realize Christ in its fullness, we should remember that both solitude and society are essential.
The artist, poet, or musician who spends their life creating great works yet ignores regular fellowship with his community is as spiritually off-kilter as the good hearted soul who dedicates their life to helping others yet ignores that solitary inner dialogue which is essential to self-growth.

Solitude and society are like a tidal river, each side continually feeding the other. Or in the eloquent words of the Spanish author and statesman Miguel de Unamuno:

"Only in solitude do we find ourselves; and in finding ourselves, we find in ourselves all our brothers and sisters in solitude–in solitude and only in solitude can you know yourself as a neighbour, and as long as you do not know yourself as a neighbour, you can never hope to see in your neighbours other "I’s" –
It is solitude that makes us really sociable and human.


The gospel is full of references to Jesus as a door and here we have the kingdom of heaven as a place of entrance and exit with gatekeepers to boot.

As I was reading around today a recurring theme kept cropping up : "On the Edges."
Regular readers of my blog will know of my interest in liminal thin spaces where it is  easier to apprehend God.



Below is an interesting extract taken from Richard Rohr's excellent article called






 "Jesus says the same of himself in John’s Gospel (10:7) where he calls himself “the gate” where people “will go freely in and out, and be sure of finding pasture” (10:9).  What an amazing permission!  He sees himself more as a place of entrance and exit than a place of settlement.  Funny that we always noticed the “in” but never the “out”!  
There is a place and time for being outside, or you never really understand or appreciate the inside.  A gatekeeper stewards the doorway in both directions, and knows the right motivation and timing for both. Like a good shepherd, s/he leads to the best pasture at the best time. 

I remember when a Bishop once told me:  “Many of the best Catholics in my diocese left the church for a while—and then came back for adult and right reasons.”  One does not hear that kind of wisdom much anymore. Today it is all about being a consummate insider, which now is called “orthodoxy.”  Jesus clearly was much more concerned with journey, integrity, and what we would call “ortho-praxy” (correct practice) more than mere correct ideas or correct group.  

Jesus was not teaching or maintaining any purity system (which is to say a “belonging system”), but Jesus used everything, even people’s mistakes/”impurity”, to bring them to God!  Good news for everybody, if they are honest.  He was into a process of transformation more than a belonging system.
  For example, he says lovingly to an inquisitive scribe:  “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34) – affirming his particular stage on the journey, without telling him to go all the way right now.  

He wanted searchers more than settlers, prophets more than priests, honest journeys more than gatherings of the so called healthy.  He had been taught well by his own Jewish exodus and exile.

All of these situations are describing the unique and rare position of a Biblical prophet—he or she is always on the edge of the inside.  Not an outsider throwing rocks, not a comfortable insider who defends the status quo, but one who lives precariously with two perspectives held tightly together—the faithful insider and the critical outsider at the same time.  Not ensconced safely inside, but not so far outside as to lose compassion or understanding. 

Like a carpenter’s level, the prophet has to balance the small bubble in the glass between here and there, between yes and no, between loyalty and critique.  The prophet must hold these perspectives in a loving and necessary creative tension.  It is a unique kind of seeing and living, which will largely leave the prophet with “nowhere to lay his head” while easily meriting the “hatred of all” – who have invariably taken sides in opposing groups (Luke 21:16-17).  The prophet speaks for God, and almost no one else, it seems.



































Image above The importance of Elsewhere-The Kingdom of Heaven by Damien Hirst
People inside belonging systems are very threatened by those who are not within that group.  They are threatened by anyone who has found their citizenship in places they cannot control.  Christians called this place “the kingdom of heaven”. 

When one has found their treasure elsewhere, and is utterly grounded in the passion and pathos of a transcendent God (to use Walter Brueggemann’s magnificent words), they are both indestructible and uncontrollable by worldly systems.  Without it, they will seek their treasure and payoffs inside of each passing kingdom.

If you look at some who have served the prophetic role in modern times, like Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, John XXIII, Simone Weil, and Oscar Romero, you will notice that they all hold this exact position.  They tend to be, each in their own way, orthodox, conservative, traditional clergy, intellectuals, or believers, but that very authentic inner experience and membership allows them to utterly critique the very systems that they are a part of.  

You might say that their enlightened actions clarified what our mere belief systems really mean.  These prophets critiqued Christianity by the very values that they learned from Christianity. Every one of these men and women was marginalized, fought, excluded, persecuted, or even killed by the illusions that they exposed and the systems they tried to reform.  It is the structural fate of a prophet.  You can only truly unlock systems from within, but then you are invariably locked out.

When you live on the edge of the inside, you will almost wish you were outside.  Then you are merely an enemy, a pagan, a persona non grata, and can largely be ignored or written off.   But if you are both inside and outside, you are the ultimate threat, the ultimate reformer, and the ultimate invitation."

 David Adams has written a book entitled ‘Walking the Edges’ – Living in the Presence of God  in which he quotes the French poet Guillaune Apollinaire:
Come to the edge
He said. They said,
We are afraid.
Come to the edge
He said. They came
He pushed them, and
they flew.
Adams writes about the saints who call us:
" to walk the edges, to adventure and risk for the love of God, to discover a deep and more profound world than the small artificially safe world that we make for ourselves. Come and stand where the wind blows freely, come and be silent before your God and hear his calling to you. God is not a theory to be studied.  He is the “God with whom we have to do”: God wants each of us to enjoy a personal relationship with him. God is not a problem for us to seek to solve: he is a great mystery to be enjoyed. If our minds are too small to grasp this, we can discover our hearts are big enough to accept it… So come, walk the edges."
 Back to Richard Rohr again:

"Being on the edge of the inside is a prophetic position, not a rebellious or antisocial one. When you live on the edge of anything with respect and honor, you are in a very auspicious position. 
You are free from its central seductions, but also free to hear its core message in very new and creative ways. 
When you are at the center of something, you usually confuse the essentials with the non-essentials, and get tied down by trivia, loyalty tests, and job security.
Not much truth can happen there."




This interesting article called Crossing The Line by Keith Anderson explains the differing views that Peter and Paul had in the early mission of the Christian church.

"They recognized – Peter and Paul, these two great leaders of the early church – that the church was bigger than the both of them, and big enough for them both. 
Both were called, and though they were very different, and ministered to different people of different lands and different customs, they recognized that their unity was in the Gospel. 

They held the line, and crossed the line at the same time.

 A French theologian Michel de Certeau in an essay he wrote in 1973,  “How is Christianity Thinkable Today?”, reflects on the decline of the church, and he asks how can we imagine a vital, living, church today, and from where that vitality and life arises.
This was his answer.  
He says that one function of the church is to create a sense of place – what we experience here as a sense of home – a building, a community, a sacred space with its own language and rituals.  Like any “place” it has boundaries. 
Like the walls and doors of our building, our community has certain activities, certain behaviours, and members.  It has limits.

  He says the other function of the church is to transgress the very boundaries and sense of place that it creates, to transcend the limits that it sets, to cross the line the church itself has established.  Simply, the work of the church is to draw lines that are made to be crossed.

Certeau says that there is “a coordination between necessary grounding points (languages, theories, institutions) and critical divergences (inventions, ‘prophetic’ actions, or displacements hidden within each Christian experience).  But both these functions are equally necessary.”


Peter was the grounding point – the chief disciple, based in Jerusalem where Jesus died and rose again, leading the original movement of Christianity within Judaism. 
Paul was the critical divergence.  Paul and his helpers took that same Gospel beyond Israel, into the rest of the known world.  Both Peter and Paul were necessary for the church to grow.

Certeau writes, “The Christian movement is always the recognizing of a particular situation – and the necessity of a new step forward.  There is always a necessary risk in being different.  It requires simultaneously a place and a ‘further,’ a ‘now’ and an ‘afterwards,’ a ‘here’ and an ‘elsewhere.’




The church sets limits and the church transgresses the very limits it sets, for the sake of its life, its vitality, the vitality of its people, and for the sake of the Gospel.

Certeau puts it this way about the church: “Boundaries are the place of Christian work, and their displacements are the result of this work.”
This is not how we usually think about the church.  We think of church as set in place, unchanging, eternal, constant – which is comforting to some and boring to others.  But from its inception, the church has always been changing, as we see in this meeting between Peter and Paul. 

Paul took the Gospel to the Gentiles and transformed Christianity from a Jewish movement to a global religion.  Throughout its history, the church has always drawn lines and crossed them for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of Christ.  That’s what Jesus’ life and ministry were all about.

These two works of creating place and transgressing its boundaries are usually seen in the church as being in conflict with one another.  But in fact, they are complementary.  They are both necessary.  They are both rooted in the Gospel. 




Two disciples : two different visions but
the church needs both its Peter and Pauls' now, just as much as it did then.


















Certeau argues, and I agree, that this is the place where Christianity and the church are “thinkable,” where the church is the most alive. He says, “In the last analysis, Christianity is thinkable only if it is alive.  And there is no life without new risks in our actual situation.

Interestingly, the Anglican church in the UK has readily picked up on Richard Rohr's idea of the necessity of paying attention and providing space to live on the "edge of the inside".  
This is their account of how Richard Rohr's idea inspired them to come up with
"AWESOME’  which they describe as an "exciting project between ‘Edge of the Inside’ and Norwich Cathedral to sensitively but powerfully marry the best of traditional and contemporary Christian worship in a single event."

In the 1940s, an obscure lecturer
named Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy who taught at Leipzig, Breslau, Harvard and Dartmouth wrote a book called, “The Christian Future” where he warned about the danger of hearing too much information without enfleshing or incarnating that information in some way.
He suggested that the news cycle had the power to dehumanise people as they learned to reduce information about suffering to a mundane topic among other topics for the day.
The Church is called the Barque [Bark] of Peter for good reason; 
Peter the fisherman and all Popes should be our navigator and assurance of safety as they steer us through the stormy seas of this life.

When Peter navigated the sea of Galilee it was by day and by night, and by night time, steering was done by making use of the stars. 
Without such stellar knowledge, a sailor would largely be lost at sea.




 
And it is in the stars that we see another point of illumination: a key reference point for such navigators is the polar star; in the northern hemisphere, of specific interest is the North Pole star. 

Its location is normally determined by looking up the Great Bear, which directs the eye to the Pole Star.
But though “Ursa Major” means “the Great Bear”, it is but one of several names given to this constellation. A less known name is that of “St Peter’s Barque”.



Its outline seems to show it is Peter’s boat in the skies. 

It's a lovely image of Peter sailing on this celestial river, along with with some of the other stars as saints and souls.








  


CONTINUITY and HOLDING THE TENSION.


The most outrageous gift of all is that "God proved his love for us because while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 
 It reminds me that if we do not have to earn God's love, then it is our duty to live out our gratitude for it and try to work our differences out within one church.




THE SECOND COMING
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

by WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

This last verse makes me think that although Christ has already been incarnated once in our specific history, at a specific time and place, the resurrected Christ is now outside of time and works through us so that He can be born again in us and us in Him, again and again , every minute of every day for all time.


When Christ chose Peter the fisherman and gave him the keys of the kingdom maybe he was ensuring that he would be a catcher of all of us. 

Would Christ want us to make needless holes in His net ?


Instead wouldn't He want us to mend the holes that have appeared in His church so that we do not fall apart and that the centre will hold ?


Sculpture of Peter by Viktor Schreckengost

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