In today’s reading, we see Peter cut through the hemming and the hawing and get right down to the heart of the matter. The people who saw Christ only from afar tried to put Him into a convenient box – a category with which they were familiar. But our Lord transcends categories; He cannot be conveniently placed in a safe, familiar framework and considered in terms of what we know. He must be encountered as an individual, both fully human and fully divine. He must be encountered in relationship.
This is exactly what Peter does. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter, under the inspiration of God, smashes through the categories and encounters Christ as He truly is: the Son of God; the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity; Our Lord, who exists in relationship to the Father and the Holy Spirit and who exists — or, at least, who desires to exist — in relationship with us… who absolutely should exist in relationship to us… not because that relationship makes Him better, but rather because it moves us toward completeness. That is to say, God is complete in and of Himself. In His mercy, He offers us a completeness that can only be had in relationship to the totality of completeness, which is God Himself.
While Peter recognized that Christ transcends categories, others of the day had other things to say: some said Christ was John the Baptist, because they could see in Christ things that reminded them of John. Christ, after all, acted in some ways as a herald of the divine… but He is far more than that. He was no mere herald, but is Himself divine.
Some said Christ was Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets because they could see in Our Lord elements of a prophet, and so they tried to put Him in that box. But we know that Christ is more than a prophet. A prophet speaks what God tells him to speak; Christ, being one Person of the Blessed Trinity, spoke through His own authority.
The same thing happens today. People — some people, anyway — try to put Jesus into a little box… consider Him, categorize Him, forget Him. Why? Because that is safe, and because doing so requires nothing further from the individual.
Some people say they believe Jesus was a good man or a good teacher or a great spiritual person, but that they do not accept His divinity. And this, after all, at some level, seems to be a safe out. To say that He was a good man — but just a man — gives the individual permission to pick-and-choose. After all, if He was just a man, then He had only the authority of a person… the same as you and me. Nothing He ever said is really binding on me if I think I know better.
But this is not the truth. This is not reality, and this does not deal with reality. It ignores it in hope that it will go away. It is the wrong notion that it will be more convenient if one kicks the decision to deal with reality down the road and comes back to it later. But the truth doesn’t go away. Sooner or later, the truth has to be encountered. It has to be recognized. And it has to be dealt with, either in this life or in the next.
I assure you, it is far better to deal with reality in this life, because if you kick it down the road long enough you eventually run out of road. Jesus doesn’t go away. In the two millennia since He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary, He has shown remarkable staying power. One might safely say supernatural staying power.
Those in power in the Jewish world 2000 years ago tried to destroy the memory of Jesus and to end the movement His disciples and apostles maintained, and they failed. Pagan Rome, center of temporal power in the ancient world, not only could not stop the Catholic Church despite brutal persecutions but was eventually overcome by it and became Christian itself.
Other attacks on the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church have likewise failed. The so-called Reformation, more accurately rebellion, has splintered into tens of thousands of competing factions, each with a part of the Truth but lacking the totality of Truth.
There is also the rise of Muhammadanism in the east, which is recognizable to any student of history as being just another Christian heresy in both nature and origin. Muhammad first became aware of monotheism through the heretical teachings of Ibonian monks, who denied the divinity of Christ.
And in our present day, we are living through the tag-end of the so-called Enlightenment, which broadly speaking seeks to cast off belief in God and replace it with what? Science? Secular humanism? Absolutely nothing whatever? The desired replacement has never been as clear as the revolution itself. It’s really not possible to believe in nothing, and secular humanism breaks down under even the loosest scrutiny. Science is a fine thing, as far as it goes. It is perfect for describing the natural world. That is its realm. However, it is totally unequipped to describe the supernatural world. Using science to consider God is akin to using the Bible as a manual of aerodynamics. Your intentions may well be good, but you’re using the wrong tool.
There is one Truth, and that is God. There is one Church that possesses the fullness of truth — not by the merit of the Church itself but by virtue of the fact that it is the Body of Christ; the Church is the Body and Christ is the head — and that is the Catholic Church. Christ Himself said to Peter, “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.”
Now, two-thousand years later, we Catholics still stand with Peter. We, like Peter, should strive to truly encounter Jesus. To enter into relationship with Him. We shouldn’t try to make Him fit into safe, familiar categories, but instead understand that we will be transformed by the encounter.
God does not change, but we must change. We must be transformed by our relationship with Jesus so that we become what we were meant to be from the beginning.
It is in the encounter with Christ that we can see Him as He is. And once we see, we can truly begin to be transformed.