Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Reality of the Church

Homily for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul:

In my early adolescence I had great difficulty in believing in God and consequently in the value of the Catholic Church. As I began to move a bit from the mindset of an atheist and non-believer to that of a Christian and Catholic, I often experienced great struggles of faith when times got hard. I believed in Christ, the Church, and everything she taught, but still the questions would pop into my head “How do I know this is all real? How do I know that this isn’t just a big story someone made up?” These struggles lasted up even into my time in seminary. But during the winter of 2004, I had an experience that would permanently alter my response to such thoughts.

A group of guys had organized a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi over the Christmas break and I was blessed enough to have been able to go with them. We saw Assisi and the burial place of St. Francis, the catacombs where many saints were buried, and a great many churches and historic sites. One of the more interesting things we saw was the area under Saint Peter’s Basilica, in which we could see the family burial plots of Christians in the early Church. We walked around viewing all of these things and came to a point where our guide gathered us and brought us in small groups to this one small section that they were working in. There he pointed to a hole in the wall and said “In that hole lie the remains of Saint Peter.”

Saint Peter. The Apostle. As in the “you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” Saint Peter. As it began to sink in that I was standing at the tomb of the Rock, Saint Peter, I couldn’t help but simply stare at the hole. And as I stood there totally focused on this hole in the wall I knew in my heart that there was no way that God and the Church couldn’t be real. It was not a story someone had made up long ago. It was the reality of a God Who loved us so much that He sent His only Son to dwell among us and to die for us so that we might live with Him and in doing so this Son, Jesus Christ, left us the Church as the means to attaining our salvation.

Jesus’ word has been proven true. The Church has not fallen away but remains even today, after two thousand years of persecution from the outside and sometimes a lack of good leadership from the inside. In the face of all of that, she stands still a beacon of hope in the world and as the means of salvation for all the world. Thanks be to God for His faithfulness. And thanks be to the two blessed Apostles who boldly led that infant Church, forming the foundation on which the Catholic Church is built.

Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.