Tag Archives: Peter

The Cross of Confusion

Mark’s Gospel describes growing numbers following Jesus in Galilee as he begins his ministry, but growing numbers also find him hard to understand, the gospel says.

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Scribes come from Jerusalem and say he has a demon, the Pharisees begin to plot with the Herodians, the followers of Herod Antipas about putting him to death. When they hear about him in Nazareth, his relatives say, “No, he doesn’t have a demon. He may be out of his mind,” and they come to bring him home.

Besides the leading elite and people from his hometown, ordinary people begin to distance themselves too. They may be the people in Mark’s Gospel today who question him “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (Mark 2, 18-22) Not only Jewish leaders and scholars, not only his own family and his hometown, but ordinary people of Galilee find him too much for them.

Jesus brought change, radical change, and change can be hard to accept. Many who heard him weren’t ready for new wine, they preferred the old.

Commentators describe Mark’s gospel as a Passion Narrative with a prelude. In other words, Mark’s early stories announce the story of his Passion and Death and Resurrection. Jesus dies alone, forsaken by many ordinary people who flocked to him at first.

Commentators also see Mark’s gospel written to help the Christians of Rome facing a surprising brutal persecution by Nero in the mid 60s. Rome usually singled out Christian leaders in times of persecution, but this persecution seemed to strike at ordinary Christians as well. The senseless, arbitrary persecution left Rome’s Christians confused and wondering what this all meant. Mark’s account reminds his followers they must follow him without always understanding.

Confusion and lack of understanding are part of our world today, aren’t they? We are living in a time of rapid changes. For many, the old wine, the “old days” are better.

The Cross of Jesus may not come as hard wood and nails. As in Mark’s Gospel, it can come in confusion and lack of understanding. A Cross hard to bear.

Jesus in Caphernaum

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  Near the shore of the Sea of Galilee, in Israel, one can visit the excavations of the ancient town of Capernaum. There the Franciscans have built a lovely hexagonal church over the restored ruins of a circular stone house, with the opening for its front door clearly visible. We pilgrims believe in our hearts of faith that this is the house mentioned in today’s Gospel.

      ” On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told Him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left and she waited on them.

     ” When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to Him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door.” (Mk 1; 29-33).

     We believe that right at that door Jesus healed dozens, if not hundreds, of people (including the paralytic, who was lowered with ropes through the ceiling). He might also have preached the Good News of the Kingdom in front of that humble threshold.

     I cannot help but imagine my Lord residing in my own private room within my heart. I know that there, through the Eucharist or prayer, planned or unexpectedly, He continuously “grasps my hand and helps me up”. He stands at the door of my heart and encourages me to serve, to invite all those around me, in my family and community, who might need some of the hope and healing that He compels me to share. This is what I live for.

     And He asks for more: ” Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” (Mk 1; 38). With His holy companionship I am asked to reach out to those beyond the locust of my comfort zone: to the stranger, the different, the unpleasant one,the hopeless one, the one whose political ideas or interests are so different from mine.

     May He give me the strength and faith, and courage, to try and “grasp” the hand that might reject mine. He has given me so much undeserved grace and love. He has given me the eyes to “see Him”. For what “purpose” has He come to me, if not so that I may be an instrument of His peace and love?   

                                      Orlando Hernandez

Saint Andrew, brother of Peter

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November 30th is the Feast of St. Andrew. On the lakeshore in Galilee Jesus called him and his brother Simon Peter to follow him. We only know a few details about Andrew. What are they?

He’s a fisherman, of course. Andrew is a Greek name. Why would a Jew have a Greek name? The area around the Sea of Galilee was then multi-cultural, and Andrew’s family were originally from Bethsaida, a trading town in the upper part of the Sea of Galilee with a substantial Greek population. Would that explain why they may have spoken some Greek?  Afterwards they located in Capernaum, another trading town close by.

Could that explain why later in John’s gospel, Andrew and Philip bring some Greek pilgrims to Jesus before his death in Jerusalem. Jesus rejoices, seeing them as signs that his passion and glorification will draw all nations to him. One sees why the Greek church has Andrew as its chief patron: he introduced them to Jesus.

Bethsaida has been recently excavated.

Bethsaida 393
Bethsaida: Winegrowers house
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Bethsaida: Ruins
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Bethsaida: Ruins

 Andrew seems to have an interest  in religious questions. He’s described as a disciple of John the Baptist, who points Jesus out to him. Jesus then invites Andrew and another disciple to stay for a day with him. “Come and see.” Afterwards, Andrew “found his brother Simon and said to him ‘We have found the Messiah.’” (John 1,35-41)

I notice too that Andrew bring the little boy with the bread and fish to the attention of Jesus.

The Greek Church sees  Andrew as the first of the apostles because he’s the first to follow Jesus; then he calls his brother. Western and eastern Christian churches together celebrate his feast on November 30th.

The letter to the Romans, the first reading for his feast in the Roman Catholic liturgy, stresses there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, and praises messengers who bring God’s word to others. Tradition says Andrews brought the gospel to the Greeks, and also claims that Andrew was crucified on the beach at Patras in Greece. Besides Greece, Andrew’s also the patron of Russia and Scotland.

We ask you, O Lord,
that, just as the blessed Apostle Andrew
was for your Church a preacher and pastor,
so he may be for us a constant intercessor before you.

Troparion (Tone 4) (Greek Orthodox)

Andrew, first-called of the Apostles
and brother of the foremost disciple,
entreat the Master of all
to grant peace to the world
and to our souls great mercy.
Kontakion (Tone 2)

Let us praise Andrew, the herald of God,
the namesake of courage,
the first-called of the Savior’s disciples
and the brother of Peter.
As he once called to his brother, he now cries out to us:

“Come, for we have found the One whom the world desires!”

The Feast of Peter and Paul

The church of Rome considers Peter and Paul, who came to the city and preached and died  there during the persecution by Nero in the early 60s, her founders. Their burial places are marked by great churches, St. Peter at the Vatican and St. Paul Outside the Walls.

They could not be more unlike: Paul, the educated Pharisee from Tarsus was a latecomer  to Christianity but like a runner raced from place to place in the Roman world to plant the faith. In the end, he believed God would give him “a crown of righteousness”  for his efforts.

Peter,  the fisherman from Galilee, was named by Jesus  the Rock on whom he would build his church. Denying Jesus three times, he was called by Jesus  three times  to shepherd the flock. Warily, he went to baptize a Roman soldier, Cornelius, in Caesaria; then he went to the gentile cities of Antioch and Rome to tell of the One he had seen with his own eyes.

The church today prays for Paul’s zealous faith to bring the gospel to the world and for Peter’s deep love for Jesus Christ which he proved by his preaching and death.

Commenting on Jesus’  threefold call to Peter. St. Augustine says it conquered the apostle’s “self-assurance.”

“Quite rightly, too, did the Lord after his resurrection entrust his sheep to Peter to be fed. Not that he alone  was fit to feed the Lord’s sheep, but when Christ speaks to one, he calls us to be one. And he first speaks to Peter, because Peter is the first among the apostles.

“Do not be sad, Peter. Answer once, answer again, answer a third time. Let confession conquer three times with love, because your self-assurance was conquered three times by fear. What you had bound three times must be loosed three times. Loose through love what you had bound through fear. And for all that, the Lord once, and again, and a third time, entrusted his sheep to Peter.”

“Today we celebrate the  the passion of two apostles. These two  were as one; although they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, Paul followed. We are celebrating a feast day consecrated for us by the blood of the apostles. Let us love their faith, their lives, their labors, their sufferings, their confession of faith, their preaching.”

“May your church in all things

follow the teaching of those

through whom she has received

the beginning of right religion.”

The Feast of St. Barnabas

St. Barnabas, 18th century anonymous

Saints share their gifts; they also recognize the gifts of others. That’s what St. Barnabas did. He was a gifted teacher of the Gospel; he also recognized the gift of Paul of Tarsus. His feast is June 11.

After his dramatic conversion on the way to Damascus, Paul preached the gospel in Damascus and then in Jerusalem, but his past caused some in Jerusalem to be suspicious of him. “They were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.”

“Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles, and he reported to them how on the way he had seen the Lord and that he had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9, 25-27) Barnabas recognized the grace of God in Saul.

Then, as gentiles in Antioch became increasingly interested in the gospel, the leaders of the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to see what to do. “When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people was added to the Lord. Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.” (Acts 11,23-26)

Barnabas recognized Paul’s gifts once again and sought him out to bring the gospel to the gentiles. Previously, the Apostle Peter encountered the gentile Cornelius in Ceasaria Maritima and baptized him and his friends. Now, Barnabas chooses Paul to come to Antioch, and the two embark on a mission to the gentiles. The Acts of the Apostles refer first to “Barnabas and Saul”, then gradually it becomes “Paul and Barnabas.”

Paul emerged as a gifted apostle. The Acts of the Apostles follows him all the way to Rome. Barnabas is hardly mentioned at all.

But Barnabas first recognized Paul and his gifts.

The Council of Jerusalem

Our reading at Mass  from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 15, 7-21) brings us to a critical moment in the life of the early church– the Council of Jerusalem, which decided whether and on what terms gentiles would be accepted into the new Christian movement. Its decision to admit the gentiles led to a rapid expansion of the church as non-Jews from all parts of the Roman world embraced the faith.

Luke Timothy Johnson has a fine commentary on this crucial event. (Acts of the Apostles: Sacra Pagina, Liturgical Press 1992)

Did a meeting really take place? Johnson writes “we can state with considerable confidence that in the first decades of the Christian movement an important meeting was held concerning the legitimacy and basis of the Gentile mission; that participants included Paul and Peter and James and Barnabas; that certain agreements were reached which, in one way or another, secured the basic freedom of the Gentile initiative. The most striking agreement between the sources comes, in fact, at the religious level. With only very slight variation, both Luke and Paul agree that the basis of the mission to the Gentiles was a matter of God’s gift, (Acts15,11. Gal 2,9) and that God was equally at work in the Apostle Paul as he was in the Apostle Peter. (Acts 15,7-8.12; Gal 2,8)”

Notice the hesitancy of  the original Jewish followers of Jesus to accept gentiles into their ranks. That’s evident in Peter’s strong reluctance to meet the Roman centurion Cornelius as he visits believers of his own kind around Joppa. Not only are the disciples slow to recognize their Risen Lord, they’re slow to accept his plans for expanding their ranks. Peter must see signs of God at work in Cornelius before baptizing him and his household. Paul, James and Barnabas also must see God’s gifts in the outsiders they meet before they recognize that God is calling them to believe.

God sows seeds of faith, but we’re as slow to recognize the action of God in others as the first disciples were. We have trouble seeing God’s action in the stranger and in the unexpected. We need  enlightenment.

Johnson notes that the Church’s journey through time is marked by conflict and debate. We must accept those conditions today too. Those who follow Jesus will not always agree with each other; there are strong opinions and differences among believers.

One thing I would add. Besides conflict and debate, our reading today speaks of the “silence” that comes as they debate. We’re in the presence of our transcendent God, whose ways and thoughts are above ours. We need silence to discern God’s will. Too much talk can get in the way.

Easter Saturday: We’re Slow, like the Apostles



Like the apostles we’re slow to understand the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus are not the only ones slow to understand– we’re slow too.

Peter, who preaches to the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost, certainly was slow to understand. He speaks forcefully at Pentecost, forty days after the Passover when Jesus died and rose from the dead, but the days before he’s speechless. It took awhile for him and for the others who came up with Jesus from Galilee to learn and be enlightened about this great mystery..

Mark’s accounts of Jesus resurrection appearances, read on the  Saturday of Easter week, stresses the unbelief of his disciples. They were not easily persuaded.

For this reason, each year the Lord refreshes our faith in the resurrection, but it’s not done in a day. We need time to take it in, like the first followers of. Jesus, and for that we have an easter season of forty days. Just for starters.

The disciples are slow to understand the mission they’re to carry out because it’s God plan not theirs, a plan that outruns human understanding. A new age had come, the age of the Holy Spirit, and they didn’t understand it. The fiery winds of Pentecost had to move them to go beyond what they see, beyond Jerusalem and Galilee to the ends of the earth.

The Holy Spirit also moves us to a mission beyond our understanding. Luke says that in the Acts of the Apostles. “The mission is willed, initiated, impelled and guided by God through the Holy Spirit. God moves ahead of the other characters. At a human level, Luke shows how difficult it is for the church to keep up with God’s action, follow God’s initiative, understand the precedents being established.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles)

“You judge things as human beings do, not as God does,” Jesus says to Peter elsewhere in the gospel. We see things that way too.

Peter’s slowness to follow God’s plan remained even after Jesus is raised from the dead. He doesn’t see why he must go to Caesaria Maritima to baptize the gentile Cornelius and his household. (Acts 10,1-49) It’s completely unexpected. Only gradually does he embrace a mission to the gentiles and its implications. The other disciples are like him; God’s plan unfolds but they are hardly aware of it.

One thing they all learned quickly, though, as is evident in the Acts of the Apostles. Like Jesus, they experience the mystery of his cross, and in that experience they find wisdom.

Acts of the Apostle: The Crippled Man


By the old temple gate
lay a poor crippled man,
forced to beg
for the daily needs of life.
He was lame from his birth
with no hope to be healed
until Peter and John came to pray.

Those two friends of the Lord
saw the man lying there
and were filled with compassion and love.
They had no money to share,
so Peter reached out his hand
and gave him the best that they had.

“I have no silver, no gold,
but I give you what I have –
in the Name of Jesus, stand up and walk!
Take this gift of new life
and proclaim to all the world
that the Name of the Lord has set you free!”

By the old temple gate
stands a man strong and free,
singing praise to the Name of the Lord!

Gloria Ziemienski
April 1997

The man crippled from birth who is cured by Peter and John as they enter the temple precincts after Pentecost is an important figure in our readings for the last four days of Easter Week. Crippled from birth, over 40 years old, he’s carried to the gate of the temple each day to beg for alms.  Everyone knows him, he’s a regular. 

After he’s cured he goes into the temple to hear Peter’s message to the crowd about Jesus of Nazareth. As he stands there, relishing his cure, he’s a sign God’s power is a work. Can we see him becoming a believer? The temple leaders, on the other hand, find him an annoying presence whom they try to silence. 

How can he be explained away?

The man was surely at Peter’s side when he spoke to the people in the temple area. Just as miracles accompanied the teaching of Jesus, so now they will accompany the teaching church. We have to expect signs like this, that raise up the poor, to be part of the church’s witness, especially in an unbelieving age.

What other signs can we see in Peter’s words to the crowd as he witnesses to the Resurrection? He points to the tomb of Jesus, in contrast to David’s tomb. It’s empty. We have to keep the holy places associated with Jesus as part of our witness.  He points to the scriptures. We have to keep reflecting on them to enrich our witness. His message is overwhelming a message of forgiveness. Mercy and forgiveness should be our witness too. 

Words are not the only way we witness the Resurrection of Jesus.

Readings here.

Morning and Evening Prayer.  Sunday, Week 1 http://www.praydaybyday.org

Children’s prayers here.

Tuesday, 3rd Week of Lent

Lent 1

Readings

In our lenten reading for today Peter’s question about forgiveness (“How many times must I forgive my brother?”) isn’t just his question. It’s a question all of us ask.

Jesus answers that we should forgive as God forgives–beyond measure, and he offers a parable about two servants who owe money (a big reason people fight among themselves). The first of the servants owes his master five thousand talents, a huge sum. In an unexpected display of mercy, his master forgives the entire debt.

After being forgiven so much, however, that servant sends off to debtors prison another servant who owes him a few denarii, a mere pittance compared to his debt of ten thousand talents. He won’t forgive this small thing.

Now, isn’t the reason we don’t forgive others just as small? So many grievances and grudges people have against one another are based on small slights they receive, real or imagined. And the small slights never stop. They’re constant and they need constant forgiveness.

In this holy season, we look at God’s immeasurable forgiveness found in the passion and death of Jesus and learn from him. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Seeing God’s forgiveness, the saints say, helps us to forgive. He’s forgiven us so much. Shouldn’t we forgive too?

We need to keep the example of Jesus always in mind, especially the example he gave from the Cross. The founder of my community always  recommended that:
“Always bring to prayer some mystery of the life and passion of Jesus Christ. If then, the Holy Spirit draws you into deeper recollection, follow the breath of the Spirit, but always by means of the Passion. You will thus avoid all illusion.” ( St.Paul of the Cross, Letter 791)

How many times must I forgive today, Lord,
how many times must I be patient, kind, understanding,
willing to carry on even if no one sees or cares?
How many times did you?
Bless me with the graces of your passion and death.

The Chair of Peter

Holy Spirit

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The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter has been celebrated on February 22nd  in the Roman Catholic Church since the 4th century. The ancient Romans remembered their dead in an 8 day celebration ending on February 22 when they honored the living head of their family at a family banquet. Historians say this inspired a Christian feast, the Chair of St. Peter, for honoring the Apostle Peter and his successor, appropriately called “Il Papa.”

Peter presided over the family of the church from its beginning in Jerusalem. He was its leader in Antioch in Syria. We can hear his message about Jesus in the Gospel of Mark that we’re reading at Mass these days.

His chair’s a father’s chair, a teacher’s chair, not a royal throne. A chair once part of the original 4th century celebration rests now behind the main altar of Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica in a setting designed by Bernini.  A window bearing the symbol of the Holy Spirit casts its light on the chair and those it represents – Peter the Apostle and those who succeed him.

Historians say the chair now behind the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica once stood near the baptistery of the church where people were welcomed into the Christian family. Perhaps we can hear St. Jerome, who was baptized in Rome in the 4th century, referring to his welcome into the family of the church there in this writing:

“I decided to consult the Chair of Peter, where faith was proclaimed by lips of an Apostle; I now come to ask for nourishment for my soul there, where once I received the garment of Christ. I follow no leader save Christ, so I enter into communion with you, that is, with the Chair of Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built”.

Today’s a good day to look at our present “chairman”, “Il Papa”. Pope Francis , who became pope on March 13, 2013 and to ask God to keep him strong and faithful as a father and teacher of the church.

Today is a good time to visit that great church built over the tomb of Peter.

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