Homilies for June 2023

For Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, and the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – June 4, 2023

Readings: Ex 34:4b–6, 8–9Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 562 Cor 13:11–13Jn 3:16–18    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/060423.cfm

Very often, our celebrations throughout the liturgical year focus on what God has done. At Christmas, we celebrate that God took on human flesh. At Easter, we celebrate that Jesus was raised from the dead. On the Solemnity of the Assumption each August, we celebrate that God brought the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul, to heaven at the end of her earthly life. All things that God has done. As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity — “Trinity Sunday” — we celebrate not only what God has done, but who God is.1 So who is God? God is a trinity of Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; God is a trinity of love. The Collect for today’s Solemnity says that God has “made known to the human race [this] wondrous mystery.” The Trinity is not just a truth that we attempt to study and master. No, the Trinity is and remains a mystery, one that we will only fully understand in the life to come.

Despite its being a mystery, we confidently profess our belief in the one and only God; our belief in the Father almighty, and in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. All three — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — are worthy of being adored and glorified; three Persons, but only one God. Venerable Fulton Sheen, the Catholic bishop and televangelist, would say that, just as the three angles of a triangle do not make three triangles, but one triangle, so there are three persons in God, but only one God. Even though the Trinity in its fullness is an eternal mystery, that does not mean that we do not attempt to comprehend some aspect of this Trinitarian mystery. There is plenty that we can still say about the Trinity, even if words will never capture the fullness of the mystery. We can still speak about and celebrate who God is as a Trinity of persons.

Love is at the center of beginning to comprehend the Trinity. True love is always directed toward another. When two people love each other, the love is not just in one or the other; love must be between them and must unite them. Love binds them together. We hear the words of St. John in this Sunday’s Gospel: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). God the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father. The love is not just in the Father and not just in the Son; love is the mysterious bond uniting the Father and Son. We call that mysterious bond of love the Holy Spirit. We can rightly say that the Trinity is a relationship of love, revealed so that we “might not perish, but might have eternal life.”

The Trinitarian God created us in His image and likeness, so you and I are created by love, created in love, and created for love. In the very opening pages of the Bible, there is already a foreshadowing of the Trinity, when God says, “Let us make man in our image and likeness” (Genesis 1:26). As we grow in appreciation of who God is, we grow in the understanding of who we are, as men and women created in the image and likeness of a God who is love. God gave us life because of His love for us, and God’s love sustains us at every moment. Beginning in Baptism and in each of the sacraments, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” have been given to us, as St. Paul says in today’s Second Reading. Our God-given ability to love is what makes us distinct as humans and what makes us like God. Animals may seem to love, but they do not love as humans love, with the use of our mind and heart. We can choose to love, even when it’s difficult, even when the “spark” seems to be gone, even in the midst of suffering. Sin turns us in on ourselves, but love — God’s love especially — orients us toward another, toward God, toward our brother and sister, toward our neighbor.

In today’s Responsorial Psalm, we recited: “Glory and praise forever!” Glory and praise forever to the one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Who is God? Love. So we commit ourselves to God, commit ourselves to love, each and every time we sign ourselves in the powerful name of the Trinity: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ – June 11, 2023

Readings: Dt 8:2–3, 14b–16aPs 147:12–13, 14–15, 19–201 Cor 10:16–17Jn 6:51–58  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/061123.cfm

On December 4, 1912, shortly after four o’clock in the morning, a fire broke out in the basement of St. Philip Neri Church in the Bronx, New York. In very little time, the entire church building was engulfed in flames. Thankfully, a passerby noticed what was happening and summoned the priests and the fire department. The two parish priests — Fr. Daniel Burke and Fr. Joseph Congedo — arrived on the scene, and one can only imagine what it was like for them to see their beloved church engulfed in flames.2

What happened next, on a purely rational level, doesn’t make much sense: the two priests rushed into the burning church. Why would someone do that? Why on earth would these two priests dare to enter where even firefighters were reluctant to go? We come to realize that it was not what these priests risked their lives to save, but who. There was someone inside whom they loved. A New York Times article published the following day tells the story: “Groping through the smoke, [the two priests] made their way to the altar and emerged a few moments later bearing the Host.”3 It was not what was inside, but who, and that “who” was Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist.

In an age where everything seems upside down, where it can seem like there is more evil in the world than good, people may ask, “Where is God?” We can rightly point to the many ways that God comes to us: within each one of us, in his Word in Sacred Scripture, in the beauty of the world that he has created, and in so many other ways. In their recent document, The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church, the U.S. Bishops reflect, “The Lord accompanies us in many ways, but none as profound as when we encounter him in the Eucharist. On our journey toward eternal life, Christ nourishes us with his very self.”4 Christ was present in the tabernacle of that burning St. Philip Neri Church in the Bronx. Christ is present in the tabernacles of big and grand churches that everyone has heard of, like St. Peter’s Basilica. Christ is present in the tabernacles of tiny mission chapels in places that almost no one has heard of. Christ is present in the tabernacles of our parish Churches and on the altar each and every time Mass is celebrated.

So where is God? He is in our midst; we might say that he is in humble disguise. “Your God is there, in what looks like bread and wine?” someone might ask. “Yes,” we would respond, because Jesus wanted to come to us in a way that we could understand, in a way we were familiar with, in a way we could receive. The Eucharist is not a what; it is a who. It is Jesus who loves us, and he asks only that we would love Him in return. When you love someone, you would run into a burning building to save that person, like those priests in 1912. When you love someone, you would rearrange your schedule to spend time with them, like we Catholics do on Sundays. When you love someone, you would go out of your way to show in little ways that you care, like we Catholics do by genuflecting toward the tabernacle and by bowing before receiving Communion. When you love someone, you cannot stay apart. As we thank Jesus for coming to us in his Body and Blood at every Mass, how could we possibly stay away?

On this Corpus Christi Sunday, we should remember that the Eucharist comes to us through the priesthood. If these years of Eucharistic Revival in the United States are to bear fruit, we must accompany our Eucharistic devotion with prayers for an increase in priestly vocations in this country and around the world. No priest? No Eucharist. Where do priests come from? (Unfortunately, they do not grow on trees.) Priests come from families. In our local Catholic communities, especially in our parishes, we need to quit thinking that priests come from other people’s families. We are destined to continue to have a “vocations crisis” until we begin to realize that priests can come from our families, from our parishes, from among our sons, grandsons, relatives, and friends.

May God give us priests from our families so that the Eucharist may always and everywhere be celebrated, so that we don’t have to look far to say, “There on that altar, there in that tabernacle — there is God.” You would not run into a burning building for something, but you would for someone, to save someone you love. Fr. Burke and Fr. Congedo ran into St. Philip Neri Church in spite of the flames because they themselves were interiorly on fire with a love for Jesus in the Eucharist. May God send us good and holy priests to bring us the Eucharist, and may the Eucharist that we celebrate and receive this day set each of us on fire with a love for Christ, whom we bring in his Eucharistic Body into the streets of our towns and cities, that he may be always and everywhere praised, adored, and loved.

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus – June 16, 2023

Readings: Dt 7:6–11Ps 103:1–2, 3–4, 6–7, 8, 101 Jn 4:7–16Mt 11:25–30    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/061623.cfm

Octaves are important in the life of the Church. Originally, an octave — from octava dies, “eighth day” — referred to Christians gathering each Sunday, each “eighth day,” to remember Jesus’ Resurrection. In our modern liturgical calendar, we celebrate the Octaves of Christmas and Easter. We have just celebrated Corpus Christi, but it should be noted that the traditional date for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is the Thursday following Trinity Sunday; in most dioceses, Corpus Christi is moved to the following Sunday. But the traditional celebration of Corpus Christi on a Thursday — the day of the Last Supper — is important for the dating of today’s celebration of the Sacred Heart. In Jesus’ appearances to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, he asked that the Feast of the Sacred Heart would be celebrated on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi. Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart on the Friday following Corpus Christi Sunday; in the traditional arrangement, the celebration of the Sacred Heart would be the crowning moment to conclude the octave of Corpus Christi.

The original liturgical calendar would have helped us connect Jesus’ Eucharistic presence with his Sacred Heart. How do we honor Jesus’ Sacred Heart, especially on First Fridays? By receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. The love that his Sacred Heart represents takes flesh in the Eucharist. The Eucharist was at the center of the life of St. Margaret Mary, the seventeenth-century French Visitation nun, who was called “the beloved disciple of the Sacred Heart.” (St. Margaret Mary was not the first or the only one to venerate the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but she is perhaps the most well-known and is connected with the establishment of the Feast, and later Solemnity, of the Sacred Heart.) As a young girl, St. Margaret Mary preferred to spend time in the Eucharistic presence of Jesus rather than amuse herself with the play of other children her age. In both a literal and spiritual way, we can say that Jesus fed the deep hunger of St. Margaret Mary for Christ.

In St. Margaret Mary’s visions, she saw flames emanate from Jesus’ chest (a hallmark of depictions of the Sacred Heart), and he showed her that it was his loving and lovable heart which was the source of these flames. Jesus told her that his heart, aflame with love, could not contain within itself his burning charity. His Sacred and Eucharistic Heart burns with a pure love for each one of us, but this love is so often met with the ingratitude and contempt of man, as Jesus would tell St. Margaret Mary. Just as Jesus chose to use St. Margaret Mary help spread the “flame” of his love, so he chooses to use each of us each time we receive him in Holy Communion.

The fact that Jesus chooses to use us is reflected in the image of the yoke in today’s Gospel. We are well familiar with the lines: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me . . . For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” The yoke is used to connect two oxen or other animals together to pull a plow or some other heavy weight. Joined together by the yoke, the burden is lighter on each animal. In the case of plowing, they must work together so as to plow in straight lines. Jesus has not left us to find our own way through this life. God has chosen us “from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own,” we heard from the Book of Deuteronomy today. Jesus has chosen us, has yoked us to himself in Baptism. His love is primary; he always takes the initiative first. As St. John says in today’s Second Reading, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.” He takes the first step toward us, asking us to take the other side of his yoke, to work together with him, to learn from him, to be close to him. Close to his Sacred Heart, we cannot help but be set ablaze ourselves. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto thine.

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 18, 2023

Readings: Ex 19:2–6aPs 100:1–2, 3, 5Romans 5:6–11Matthew 9:36—10:8    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/061823.cfm

In the shadow of Friday’s Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, today’s Gospel opens with the description that Jesus’ heart was “moved with pity” for the crowds, “because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” Like the crowds, without the presence of Christ in our lives, we are aimless, disoriented, without belonging. However, our readings today are filled with reminders that, in Christ, we belong to the Father. We are “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation,” our First Reading from Exodus tells us; we are “his people, the flock he tends,” we heard in today’s Responsorial Psalm. God has made us a kingdom, a nation, his people, his flock; we belong, and, in him, our lives find a definitive new direction.

God bore the Israelites “up on eagles’ wings” and brought them safely out of slavery in Egypt. Through the blood of the Passover lamb and the following exodus, instead of continued slavery and the prospect of imminent death, God brought life and freedom to the people of Israel. St. Paul, in today’s Second Reading from the Letter to the Romans, reminds us that, “while we were still sinners, Christ,” the new Passover Lamb, “died for us,” and we are “justified in his blood.” By this justification, we are brought not only life and freedom in an earthly sense, but we are promised eternal life and the freedom from slavery to sin. We have been “reconciled to God” and “saved by his [Son’s] life” in Baptism. Of this good news, we boast; we are called to tell the world!

If God is going to make of us — like our Jewish brothers and sisters — a kingdom of priests, we should not be surprised that sacrifice would be at the center of our life and worship, for a priest is one who offers sacrifice. An altar, the place of sacrifice, stands at the center of every Catholic Church. Each time we gather for the celebration of Mass, the Eucharistic sacrifice is the high point of our worship, and the very “source and summit” of our lives as Catholics (Lumen Gentium, 11). In the Eucharistic sacrifice, the one sacrifice of Christ, who died for us on the Cross, is presented again in an unbloody manner until Christ’s coming in glory.

Our belonging to Christ is through our incorporation into the Church, built upon the foundation of the twelve apostles, who are named in today’s Gospel passage. To these twelve and to their successors, the bishops, Jesus gave authority. Great enough would have been the “authority over unclean spirits” and the authority “to cure every disease and every illness,” but Jesus gives them the still greater authority to bind and to loose, to forgive sins and to celebrate the sacraments in his name until his coming in glory. Our belonging to Christ, who gives our life direction, is visible in and through the Church. In Baptism, our life in Christ begins, and, through the other sacraments, that life is nourished and deepened within us.

Our bishops, the successors of the apostles, connect us not only to the sacramental authority given to the twelve, but to Christ himself, especially to his Resurrection. As we resume celebrating one of the numbered Sundays in Ordinary Time (today being the eleventh), we know that the Easter Season for this year is past. Or is it? Each Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection, and we are invited to embrace an “apostolic experience” of the Resurrection. The apostles were the ones who peered into Jesus’ tomb and, with their own eyes, saw that it was empty. The apostles were some of the first to see (and touch!) the Risen Lord, to encounter him in their midst, to be fed by him. For the apostles, the Resurrection was not an abstract historical fact; the Resurrection was real and was life-changing.

The Resurrection of Christ gave the lives of the apostles the definitive new direction that Christ wants to give to us. We rely upon the Church and her bishops to connect us to the witness of the apostles, to connect us to the life-changing reality of the Resurrection. We may be back in “Ordinary” Time (from ordinalis, “numbered”), but there is nothing ordinary about it; each day of our lives, especially each Sunday’s celebration of the Resurrection, is extraordinary. The apostles were entrusted with the mission to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. As members of this kingdom, we share in the mission of the apostles: to announce to the world that Christ’s kingdom is already in our midst and that we await the fullness of the kingdom on the last day.

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist – June 24, 2023

Readings: Is 49:1–6Ps 139:1b–3, 13–14ab, 14c–15Acts 13:22–26Lk 1:57–66, 80    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/062423-Day.cfm

We are used to celebrating the feast days of saints on the date of their death, on their “birthday” into eternal life. However, there are only three notable exceptions where we celebrate earthly birthdays: the birth of Jesus (Christmas), the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (September 8), and today’s nativity of St. John the Baptist. The date of today’s solemnity is not meant to suggest any historical accuracy, but is fittingly three months after the celebration of the Annunciation on March 25, when the Angel Gabriel announced that it was already the “sixth month for [Elizabeth,] who was called barren” (Lk 1:36). Three months later, today, we celebrate the birth of the last in a long line of prophets, John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord, the one who bridges the Old and New Testaments. The Ordo notes that today’s celebration falls near the summer solstice, which Augustine found fitting as daylight in the northern hemisphere begins to grow shorter after the birth of John — who said he must decrease, and Christ must increase (Jn 3:30) — until daylight begins to increase again after the birth of Jesus.

How is it, then, that John the Baptist is included only with Jesus and Mary in having their birth, their nativity, celebrated? What is the criterion for inclusion in such a short list? The answer, it seems, has to do with original sin. Jesus and Mary, we know, were conceived without original sin. But John the Baptist? While the Church has never spoken definitively on this subject, there is a longstanding tradition — a theological hypothesis — that John the Baptist was cleansed from original sin while in the womb of Elizabeth and that he was then born without original sin.

Theologians point to Lk 1:41 to defend the notion that John was cleansed — “baptized,” if you will — in utero: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice . . .” The Catholic Encyclopedia explains: “Now as the presence of any sin whatever is incompatible with the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the soul, it follows that at this moment John was cleansed from the stain of original sin.”5 To be clear, the Catholic Church has never affirmed (nor denied) such a tradition, but it does help us to understand how the nativity of St. John the Baptist made it to such a short list of celebrated births.

Zechariah, John’s father, is struck mute because of his disbelief at the message of the angel that Elizabeth would bear a son. It is only through the naming of John (the name given to Zechariah by the angel for his son) that Zechariah’s tongue is freed and his speech is restored. What does Zechariah do with his recovered speech? “He spoke blessing God.” Zechariah spoke his prayer of praise, the Benedictus, the “Canticle of Zechariah,” which is daily on the lips of clergy, religious, and all those who pray Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. In naming us at Baptism, each of us has had our lips freed and our lives unbound. Do we use so great a gift to speak and to live blessing God? Zechariah blesses God for the gift of John the Baptist, who would “be called the prophet of the Most High” and who would “go before the Lord to prepare his way.” John pointed out the “dawn from on high [who would] break upon us;” in Christ’s Resurrection, the light of the Son has shone upon us, and we await the fullness of that light at his coming in glory.

Cultures throughout history have elaborate rituals for the naming of newborn children. There is power in a name. In naming John, Zechariah’s tongue is freed. Jesus’ name speaks to us of his mission: “God saves.” God has called each of us by name. But for what purpose? The meditation of St. John Henry Newman comes to mind:

[God] looks on me individually,

He calls me by my name. . . .
God has created me to do Him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me

which He has not committed to another.
I have my mission — I never may know it in this life,

but I shall be told it in the next.

Somehow I am necessary for His purposes . . .
I have a part in this great work;
I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught.

I shall do good, I shall do His work;
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth
in my own place, while not intending it,
if I do but keep His commandments
and serve Him in my calling.

Therefore I will trust Him.6

Lord, you have cleansed us from original sin in Baptism and have called us by name; may we trust in the unique calling that you have given to each one of us, and may we have the grace to do your will, to speak your blessing to a world in need.

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 25, 2023

Readings: Jer 20:10–13Ps 69:8–10, 14, 17, 33–35Rom 5:12–15Mt 10:26–33    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/062523.cfm

We live in an increasingly anonymous world. In this highly technological and post-pandemic age, fewer and fewer are the opportunities to meet people, to really meet people — to get to know someone intimately and to let oneself be known. A renewal of Catholic parish life is needed as so many anonymous Catholics slip into the pews and out again without anyone ever knowing their story, perhaps not even their name. Then again, we see so many who have stopped coming to church altogether, many of whom claim to be “spiritual, but not religious” — who connect with God, but without wanting the constraints of a religious community and the associated traditions.

We know that we are created in the image and likeness of God who is a Trinity, a communion of Persons. We were made by communion and for communion; man is a communal being, not meant to go through life alone. When it comes to the practice of our faith, our need for community is essential, not ancillary. As a being made by God, man naturally searches for him, and this relationship is meant to be lived out both personally and communally—that is, spiritually and religiously. In an age where isolation and loneliness are greater threats than ever, it is perplexing that so many attempt to “go it alone” spiritually, distancing themselves from a religious community. Catholic communities, especially Catholic parishes, should provide strong antidotes to today’s epidemic of loneliness.

In response to whatever and whomever may cause us anxiety or fear, Jesus speaks in the words of today’s Gospel: “Fear no one” and, we could add, fear nothing. Have no fear, be not afraid; these are such familiar words of Jesus, especially in his post-Resurrection appearances. We find a similar sentiment in the words of the Prophet Jeremiah in the First Reading, who trusts that “the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.” We need not be afraid of those who can harm only the body, but we need be wary only of the one who can “destroy both soul and body.” If we are living the life of a Christian in both its personal and communal dimensions, then the one who could destroy soul and body “will stumble” and “will not triumph.”

The fact that our faith has personal and communal dimensions means that we must exercise our faith both in our private and our public lives. In our private lives, there is our personal life of prayer and our striving for holiness in hidden ways each day. In our public lives, there is the person that we present at work, at school, at the grocery store, etc. In public, just as much as in private, we are called to be “unapologetically” Catholic (i.e., not to apologize for our faith). It is easier and, in fact, more comfortable to keep our faith a private, personal matter. However, there should be no division between who we are in private and who we are in public; Christ calls us to a unity of life. “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel. “But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

It’s relatively easy to agree on a personal level, in a private way, with our many Catholic beliefs: for example, that all life, especially life in the womb, is sacred; that Jesus reveals to us the truth about the human person and our sexuality; that we believe that Jesus is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament and that we must prepare ourselves to receive Him. This personal, private faith must manifest itself in my public life, too. Examples of “Catholic” politicians notwithstanding, I cannot privately hold one thing to be true and publicly uphold the opposite. What happens, then, when we must witness publicly to our faith, when we must speak up with our voices and with the witness of our lives for our beliefs? What about when we are called to publicly defend the sacredness of human life, to publicly speak the truth about the human person and human sexuality, to proclaim publicly our belief in the Eucharist? “Fear no one,” Jesus says.

As Catholics, we exercise the public dimension of our faith each time we come to Mass. Our inner, private following the Lord moves us to worship him publicly. The COVID-19 pandemic taught us powerfully that there is no substitute for attending Mass in-person — that we cannot be nourished in the same way from our homes on a Sunday morning. As human beings made for connection, we need community to live out our faith; we need the community that Christ founded, the Church. The Church is for us not only a community of like-minded individuals striving for holiness. The Church is the fount of grace, as Christ chooses to give his “gracious gift” through the sacraments, which come to us only through the Church. Strengthened by the grace of the seven sacraments, the Lord gives us what we need to be his followers in the private and the public dimensions of our lives, to be both “spiritual” personally and “religious” communally, acknowledging Christ before all.

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul – June 29, 2023

Readings: Acts 12:1–11Ps 34:2–3, 4–5, 6–7, 8–92 Tm 4:6–8, 17–18Mt 16:13–19    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/062923-Day.cfm

I spent several years in Rome as a seminarian studying for the priesthood, and, for a time, I was assigned to do street evangelization in St. Peter’s Square. For two hours each week, I would go out into St. Peter’s Square with another seminarian, and we would speak with whoever came along. Let me assure you that the adage seems true, that “all roads lead to Rome,” and those roads bring all sorts of interesting people to the Eternal City. I was always struck by speaking to those who had just come out of St. Peter’s Basilica after having been on a lengthy and often expensive guided tour. It was sad that many — after having been supposedly “guided” to appreciate the wonders of this central church of Christendom — had failed to recognize that this church, St. Peter’s Basilica, had anything at all to do with a real man, a real man who was a friend of Jesus, Simon Peter.

In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus pose a question to the disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Some say this and others say that, they respond. Okay, okay, I get it, we can almost hear Jesus say. But, getting to the heart of the matter, Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?” The same question is put to each one of us: Who do you say that I am? As we begin to consider our own response, we look to that of St. Peter in the Gospel. As the spokesman for the other disciples, he says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Not a bad answer! However, in this portion of the Gospel, we happen to have caught Peter on a good day.

Remember that this is the same Peter who, when first called by Jesus, says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” This is the same Peter who, at the Last Supper, will say to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.” This is the same Peter who will promise never to leave Jesus, but then will deny him three times. And yet the Peter that we meet in today’s Gospel is resolute, unwavering: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church links today’s two saints, Peter and Paul, together in this proclamation of Christ as the “Son of God” in its fullest sense:

When the promised Messiah-King is called “son of God,” it does not necessarily imply that he was more than human, according to the literal meaning of these texts. Those who called Jesus “son of God,” as the Messiah of Israel, perhaps meant nothing more than this. Such is not the case for Simon Peter when he confesses Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” for Jesus responds solemnly: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Similarly Paul will write, regarding his conversion on the road to Damascus, “When he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles . . .” “And in the synagogues immediately [Paul] proclaimed Jesus, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’” From the beginning this acknowledgment of Christ’s divine sonship will be the center of the apostolic faith, first professed by Peter as the Church’s foundation. (441-2)

Like Peter and Paul, we must answer the Lord’s question. Perhaps we’re ready to say with them, “You are the Son of God.” Perhaps we are only ready to ask for the grace to respond like Peter and Paul. What is important about the example of today’s two saints is that neither our regrets about the past (and what a colorful past St. Paul had!), nor our fears about the future should hold back our “yes” to Christ today. Like St. Peter, we’ve had our “depart from me, Lord” moments in the past, and we’ll have our “you will never” moments in the future, but let us at least desire to respond, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

During Mass for today’s Solemnity, the Body and Blood of Jesus will be present on the altar, and Jesus will be before us with the same question: “Who do you say that I am?” When we come forward to receive him in Holy Communion, this is his question to us. When the minister says, “The Body of Christ,” we will respond “Amen.” “Amen” means “let it be so,” an expression of our assent. As we respond “Amen” before the Body of Christ, may our “Amen” resound with Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus: Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Christ, Son of the living God.

The seminary where I lived in Rome has a Latin inscription on the exterior of the building: O Roma felix quae duorum principum es consecrata glorioso sanguine. “O happy Rome, you have been consecrated by the glorious blood of the two princes [of the Apostles].” Peter and Paul were united not only in their confession of Christ as the Son of God, but in the shedding of their blood, in their martyrdom. Their blood consecrated not only the Eternal City, but the whole world, which today celebrates these two princes of the apostles and pillars of the Church.

  1. Prime Matters, “Love Never Ends,” The First Draught Newsletter, University of Mary (May 27, 2021).
  2. The Augustine Institute’s video series, Presence: The Mystery of the Eucharist, opens with a dramatic representation of this scene.
  3. “Priests Save Church Relics,” The New York Times (December 5, 1912), 8. www.nytimes.com/1912/12/05/archives/priests-save-church-relics-risk-their-lives-when-church-of-st.html.
  4. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church (2022), no. 5.
  5. C. Souvay, “St. John the Baptist,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910). http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08486b.htm.
  6. John Henry Newman, “Meditations on Christian Doctrine: Hope in God–Creator,” in Meditations and Devotions (1893).
Rev. Ryan Muldoon About Rev. Ryan Muldoon

Rev. Ryan A. Muldoon, S.T.L., is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. He serves as Adjunct Professor of Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue at St. Joseph’s Seminary (Yonkers, New York) and as Parochial Vicar of St. Patrick’s Church (Yorktown Heights, New York).