Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Homily for "The Chair of Peter"

Eight days ago, we began this retreat on Valentine’s Day – a day we cherish the love that is around us. We’ve walked through the accounts of Creation, the story of Noah, signs of the covenant, the folly at the Tower of Babel, listening to the distinction between seeing and sight, listening and hearing. We paid attention to what is required for discipleship, the Transfigured Lord, loving one’s enemies, and the necessity of prayer. We heard Mark’s first Passion prediction, and we hear a portion of it again today as we focus on the chair of Peter than guarantees our succession to the Twelve disciples who were Christ’s first friends and witnesses. As we leave here, let’s take stock of the ways our relationship with Christ may have evolved.

Jesus asks the question, “Who do you say that I am?" In the Gospel, he is asking Peter and the disciples, but because of its directness, we feel impelled to answer the same question. Perhaps a subtle change has occurred this week that feels significant. Perhaps our image of Christ is secure and the question is less who he is but more about how he is. Maybe you noticed something different about the way that Jesus smiled, or carried himself, or altered his body language or had a change in his tone of voice. And perhaps this caused you to respond to him just a little differently this time, in a way that is more familiar to you. Who is Christ becoming for you?

With the backdrop of Valentine's Day, think back on a time when you realized you realized you were in love. It felt good, didn't it? And it was confusing and somewhat scary. This other person occupied your thoughts and daydreams and you set out hypothetical plans for your times together. You thought of your moments of intimacy and your desire just to be with the one you found engaging. You probably glowed to your friends and you went through your day a little lighter. Amazing. The person you found attractive was likewise interested in you. Your whole life shifted as you oriented your schedule around your friend. But the moment you knew that would probably come may have seized you with fear. You felt vulnerable - the moment you heard or uttered the life-changing words, "I love you." It was terrifying because you meant it and so much of your life was staked on it. You knew that these words would fundamentally change your life. Even if you have never been able to speak these words with your voice, you may have come to say them interiorly. Words like these are to be shared.

To speak the words, "I love you" creates an interior realignment, a quake, inside of us. To have them received by the one we love places us at the fringes of vulnerability. If our beloved accepts them and honors our affection, nothing can tear us down from the ceiling because we are flying so high. To hear our beloved say, "I love you too" makes our heart explode. What a feeling. We can scarcely contain our astonishment. Falling in love changes everything.

These are the words Christ speaks to us today. He has been with his disciples for a while and has showered them with acts of kindness and charity. Their friendship has grown to the point where he wants to see where he stands with them, and they with him. So he asks them, "Who do you say that I am?" He really means, 'I've been with you all this time and I've constantly given myself to you. I've cared for you as best I can. I've stood by you and my heart has led me to surprising places in life, and you have been a big part of it. I've shown you in so many ways my love for you, and I want to know personally, honestly, "Who am I to you? Do you love me?"' He is standing there at risk awaiting your response. He wants you to respond in truth. How are you able to answer?

It is something special to know Christ yearns deeply for you. It is what we have come to experience this week, and still he wants an answer to his question. He doesn't want you to leave without answering him. He doesn't want it expressed in church-language, or the customary ordinary responses we give to the Son of God. He wants us to answer honestly based on our experiences with him. He wants our true selves to answer the question - from one friend to another - an answer that arises from one's shared life from the deepest core of our soul.

But we know we have to be careful. Shallow words won't do. A trite answer is a travesty. Maybe we can't answer as we would like yet. Maybe we are fundamentally disposed to him, but find ourselves unsettled with him or unable to trust him because we have been burned once before. Maybe we can't let ourselves be vulnerable. Maybe we can't be intimate. Maybe no one has ever told us how beautiful we are and we don't know how to receive plain old love. However you respond, Christ wants your honest answer. He won't turn away from you. He can't because he yearns for you too much.

Beware of your answer! It may change you. If you are able to reply, "I love you," your head will have to follow your heart. Other parts of your being will follow suit. Allow Christ to reply to your response. If he says "I love you" to you, know that something fundamental inside him will change too. It is staggering to know Jesus Christ, Lord of the Universe, falls in love with us. We need time to accept this. We need time to savor it. We need our personal quiet time to enter the stillness to let his love permeate throughout our lives. His love brings forth our greater love.

As you head back to your regular life today, think for a few minutes on what has happened with you this week. Maybe something did change within you interiorly - maybe it was seismic, perhaps it was just a subtle shift. In a few moments, we will be at the Table of our Lord. Let's take the graces we have received this week and offer them back to him. In a few moments, he will demonstrate to us how much he loves us - as individuals and as a people. As he gives himself to us, reflect upon the ways you might respond to his banquet of love. We may be ready to leave the retreat, but he stands in front of us awaiting our answer. Upon Peter's answer, he built the church. Your answer may sustain it.