21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A.- August 27, 2023

 

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A.- August 27, 2023

Isaiah 22: 19-23; Romans 11: 33-36; Matthew 16: 13-20

 

Theme: Christology, Ecclesiology, and the Sacrament of Confession

As we approach the month of September, it is important to remember that the Catholic Church has dedicated the month of September to the Word of God. So, in September, we celebrate the month of the Bible. The Church encourages all faithful Christians to venerate the Word of God in the Church as well as in our families. First, in the liturgy of the Mass, we are called to celebrate the Word of God with reverence and participate in it actively. This means we should listen attentively when God speaks to us in the scripture readings and pay attention to the priest or deacon when they interpret the Word of God to us in homilies. Second, our Mother Church encourages all parishes to organize Bible Studies to give opportunities to the faithful to meditate, read, and study the Word of God. Since July 1st of this year when I was officially appointed your pastor, I have promised you and prepared us to start a Weekly Bible Study Group in our parish. So, this Friday, September 1st is the official start. Make sure that you do not miss it and other meetings as well. Note that our Weekly Bible Study group is not only for the month of September but for all the months. We will meet every Friday at 6: 00 p.m. in the office conference room to meditate, study, and share the Sunday Gospel of that weekend. Third, the Church also urges all families to venerate the Word of God at home, read it, and share it with family members. I suggest that all our families have the “family Bible Corner” in our homes. This is a suitable place that you prepare in one corner of your living room and display an open Bible. It could be a small table, for example, covered with a white tablecloth (or any liturgical colors: red, purple, green, or white), well decorated with flowers, candles, and maybe with a crucifix or rosary). The family Bible Corner should be visible to anyone who enters the house. Its purpose is to remind the household members and the guest visitors that the Word of God is the center of your family. This Family Bible Corner can also be used as the place where the family meets together for family prayer, Bible sharing, or any gathering.

In the Gospel today, Jesus did a kind of survey to find out what the people and his own disciples say that he is. The disciples reported to him that the people thought he was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. For Simon “Peter” who spoke on behalf of his fellow disciples, Jesus is not whom other people think but rather the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Because of Peter’s confession, Jesus promised to build his Church upon him whose new name “Peter” means “Rock”. Jesus reassured them that the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against this Church. He also promised to give Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever Peter binds shall be bound in heaven, and whatever he looses on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Through this Gospel, the Church, our mother, calls us to meditate on three points. The first point is Christology (when we focus on Peter’s confession regarding Jesus’ divine identity). The second point is Ecclesiology (when we reflect on the Church that Jesus promised to build upon Peter.) The third point is the Sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation (when we meditate on the authority that Jesus gave to the Church through Peter and his successors to forgive sins or return them).

In the first point, Christology, we meditate on the divine identity of Jesus. In his question: “Who do you say that I am?”, Jesus does not expect us to tell him how much we have learned about him. Rather, he expects you and me to tell him how we relate to him and how we consider him. Our answers should not be based on our knowledge of him but rather on our one-on-one relationship with him. The people of his time confused him with John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets (see v. 14). We probably condemn them for not knowing who Jesus was. However, when we look closely at how we relate to him, we realize that many of us do the same. When we do not have a one-on-one relationship with Jesus, we too confuse his divine identity. The way we live and take care of our personal relationship with him determines who he really is for us. In this part of the Gospel, the Church, our Mother, invites us to relate to Jesus as our Messiah, the Son of God who came to save us.

The second point is Ecclesiology. Jesus promises to build his Church upon Peter. “And so, I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (V. 18, NABRE). Jesus entrusts his Church to Peter (and his successors) who rules over the people of God together with his fellow apostles (and their successors). Two thousand years later, our mother Church recognizes the authority of Peter through the Pope who is the bishop of Rome. Pope Francis is the current successor of Peter. Just as Peter was the leader and sign of unity for the disciples, Pope Francis serves as the leader and sign of unity for the bishops and all the faithful. As a leader, Pope Francis has ultimate authority over the Church as both pastor and teacher. For example, when the Pope makes an official declaration of doctrine addressing faith and morals, God ensures the truth of the doctrine. This is called “infallibility”.

As the Pope is the successor of Peter, the bishops are the successors of the apostles. Each bishop is responsible for leading and ministering to the people within their own area called a “diocese’. For instance, our archbishop Gregory Michael Aymond is responsible for leading and ministering to the people within the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Under the authority of the bishops are the priests and deacons who help them in their duties to care for the faithful. The bishops also work together in union with the pope to address issues concerning the wider Church.

In our Catholic Church, in addition to the priests and deacons, we also have people living consecrated life. These people are not ordained but have dedicated their lives to a unique form of service to the Lord. Among them are nuns, and brothers who have taken various vows or promises to live a certain lifestyle dedicated to Christ.

The main body of the Church of Jesus is the laity. The laypeople are those members who are not ordained or living consecrated life. They have their own role to play in the mission of the Church. They are called to seek the Reign of God in their everyday lives wherever they live or work. From their baptism, they are called to bless the world by uniting their everyday lives to the sacrifice Christ made on the cross and by offering their lives to God.

At our local Church, as members of Our Lady Star of the Sea, each of us is also the rock upon whom the Church of Jesus stands. Let us work together to maintain and always be the Church of Jesus. Only when we work together as one then we will bear witness that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of living God.

The third point that our Gospel gives us to reflect on is the Sacrament of Confession (Reconciliation). Jesus does not promise only to build his Church upon Peter, he also gives him the power to forgive or return sins. “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (V. 19, NABRE). We are called to always be part of the Church. However, sin separates us from God and from his Church. Jesus instituted the sacrament of confession to restore us back to his Church whenever we are out through sin. He empowers the Church through Peter and his successors, pope, bishops, and priests to absolve sin and enable faithful back to the Church community. There are three things that we seek in the confession: forgiveness of our sins, reconciliation with God and with our fellow humans whom we offended, and healing of spiritual, emotional, or psychological wounds that sin causes.

First, in the confession, we implore Jesus to forgive our sins. The way we go to our shower rooms and take a shower to clean our body from any stain of dirt is the same way we need to go to the confessional room to take a spiritual shower and clean our souls from any stain of sins. On the day of our baptism, we wore white garments and were given a lit candle. We were told to bring the white garment unstained and keep our lamp lit on the day when Jesus returns.  These two symbolisms call us to always confess our sins and make sure that we are ready, without sins, because nobody knows when our Lord will return. Confession clears all our sins and makes us ready to welcome our Lord Jesus any time he comes to take us with him.

Second, because sin breaks our relationships with God and with our fellow humans whom we hurt, in the sacrament of confession, we seek two reconciliations: vertical reconciliation (reconciliation with God) and horizontal reconciliation (reconciliation with our brothers and sisters). Note that the priest who listens to our confessions plays two roles. First, in vertical reconciliation, the priest represents Jesus who stands on behalf of God whom we offend through our sins. When we confess our sins to a priest, we confess to Jesus himself who is our mediator with God. The priest who acts in persona Christi accepts our confession, absolves our sins, and reconciles us with God. Second, talking about horizontal reconciliation, note that for some reason, most of the time it is difficult and even complicated to meet face to face all the people whom we hurt and ask for forgiveness to seek reconciliation. In this case, in confession, the priest stands for all the people who are offended by our sins. He listens to us, accepts our apologies, forgives us, and reconciles with us on behalf of these people. So, confession restores our relationships with God and with our brothers and sisters.

Third, because sins can cause emotional, psychological, or spiritual wounds, in confession, we also seek healing. We go to the hospital and speak with a doctor to seek physical healing. Likewise, we need to go to the Church and speak with a priest to seek emotional, psychological, or spiritual healing through confession. Sometimes the process of healing takes time. In this case, I advise “us” to continue the process in a spiritual/psychological direction with the same confessor priest or with a professional therapist.

The sacrament of confession is a very important sacrament that Christians need to use regularly whenever sin separates us from God and the Church. We should not feel ashamed or afraid to approach God through confession.

The liturgy of this Mass teaches us that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. He initiated his Church so that we his people gather together and pray to God.  Knowing that we are human beings and many times we sin, he instituted the sacrament of confession to bring us back to God whenever we go astray through our sins. Let us ask ourselves these questions: Do I confess that Jesus is the Messiah? Do I come to Jesus’ Church (our parish, Our Lady Star of the Sea), especially on weekends? Do I use the sacrament of confession regularly? Amen.  

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

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