Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul


One of the harsh graces of monastic life is that a memory can come back in a flash and pierce your heart wide open and lead you to beg for God’s mercy. So it is that I remember with embarrassment yelling at my Dad many years ago over some triviality. I was not proud of myself. And a day or so later, I had the sense to apologize. His response was simple, “Jimmy, you never have to apologize to me.” This touched me deeply. His words were my forgiveness. He knew me and understood me, he loved me. And I understood that the love, the relationship we had, meant more and could tolerate the breach. In the end, I think I really learned how to forgive and what it feels like to be forgiven - from my father. He simply was not a grudge-holder. And when I was trying to muster the courage to take steps toward entering this monastery, it was somehow imagining his words as the Father’s words deep in my heart that gave me the courage I needed, “Give it a try. What have you got to lose?”

I begin here because ultimately, Peter and Paul whom we feast today came to understand themselves as sinners, forgiven and understood and fully known by Christ Jesus – known in the fullest, richest sense of the biblical expression - a knowing that is highly personal, most intimate, and relational. It is the intimate knowledge we read about in Genesis - when Adam "knew Eve his wife." - and in the psalm, “O God, you search me, and you know me, you know my resting and my rising. You mark when I walk or lie down. All my ways lie open before you.” This is not about God spying on us, watching for our every misstep, it is rather all about God noticing, his constant, compassionate knowledge of who we are.

Peter and Paul come before us this morning, pointing quietly to the wounded Christ Jesus, whose mercy alone is their boast; they know for sure that on their own they have nothing to be proud of except their weaknesses.

Peter says he’s ready to die with Jesus; then betrays him in a heartbeat to save his skin. “Wait a minute; you’re one of that Galilean’s followers,” says the maid in the high priest’s courtyard. “I’d know that accent anywhere.” “Get out of here,” Peter mutters. “I don’t who you’re talking about.” Meanwhile, Jesus is next door being slapped and roughed up by soldiers, sentenced, and spat upon.

And Paul, so certain he is following the dictates of Law and prophets in every jot and tittle, has been self-righteously dragging the followers of Jesus to prison and persecution, utterly clueless that this Jesus is himself the fulfillment of all the Law and the prophets promised.

Each will be transformed by their graced encounter with the risen Lord. At a beachside breakfast, Peter will have the opportunity to reaffirm his love for Christ, “Lord you know well that I love you. You know all things.” Paul, suddenly blinded by the light of the risen Lord, will insist that he doesn’t even know who Jesus is. Jesus assures him, “You know me alright. I am the One you have been persecuting.” His conversion is underway.

Finally, there is Jesus’ question to Peter, tinged with self-doubt, magnificent in its quiet simplicity – “Who do you say that I am?” It is an achingly beautiful question that each of us must answer, “Who do you say that I am? Who am I for you? What is your experience of me in your life, in your history? How do you experience me now? Do you know that I know you, and love you well?” How shall each of us answer Our Lord? Perhaps when we come to understand who we are, how wounded we are, and who Jesus wants to be for us, we can say with Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. You search me and you know me. All my ways lie open to you. You alone are my love, my fortress, my stronghold. All I want is to know is you Christ Jesus my Lord and the power flowing from your resurrection. Everything else is a pile of rubbish to me.”

Jesus did not give up on Peter or Paul and he will never, ever give up on us. He is a relentless rescuer, the God who saves us, even chases after us because he knows us. Our life of incessant prayer requires incessant awareness of how much he understands us, knows us in all our wavering and inconsistency and nothingness, and yet cannot bear to leave us alone. And so he comes once again to feed us with his very Self.

Saints Peter and Paul, 15th century, Fondamenta Cavour, Murano, Italy. Today's homily by one of the monks.