Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, 2007
[Scripture Readings: Acts 12: 1-11; 2Tim. 4: 6-8, 17-18; Mt. 16: 13-19 ]
A commonplace experience is to listen to two friends describe a third person and realize that they have quite different perceptions of the person; which in turn differ from our own perceptions. More often than not our descriptions overlap enough that it is clear that we are talking about the same person, although there are times when our descriptions differ widely. I don’t think that necessarily means that only one description would be true and others false. Nevertheless, depending on how well each of us knew the person in question, one or another of the descriptions might be truer to who the person really is.
What would be our responses if Christ were to ask us: Who do you say that I am? I expect that there would be some similarity in our responses, but given our different backgrounds and experiences I would also expect a high degree of variation. Again, I don’t think it necessarily follows that some answers would be true to who Christ is and others false. Even two very different answers could be true, if they were both based on a growing relationship with Christ. What would make a difference in a description of Christ being true or false, or being more or less true to the person of Christ is the depth of our personal experience of Christ. I could give an answer to Christ’s question that I read in a catechism or a theology textbook that would be technically correct, but it would lack depth, if it was not supported by personal experience. And beyond personal experience are Christ’s words to Peter: “Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Revelation comes to us through the church, which is the body of Christ, and this brings out a fact that can too easily be overlooked: our experience of Christ is not only personal; it is also communal. My experience of Christ is not isolated from your experience of Christ, and if it is a true experience of Christ it cannot be. And this is true even if our answers to Christ’s question to the disciples in this morning’s gospel are quite different.
Since we live in a time of widely different understandings of the church and different interpretations of revelation, I find it important to reflect on this from time to time. This does not eliminate the difference between true and false. There are limits to what can be considered true. However, Christ and his body the church are bigger than any one of us, and bigger than any particular group we might identify with within the church. Even from what little we can gather from the New Testament, it is evident that Ss. Peter and Paul were persons of very different temperaments and we know of a major disagreement they had at Antioch about what it meant to be a follower of Christ. What united them was their deep love for Christ and his church, their faith in Christ as the Son of the living God and Savior of the world, and their hope to share in his resurrection.
We, too, have our disagreements. We need not be apologetic about them so long as we disagree in charity and with mutual respect; and remember that greater than our differences are the faith and the hope that we share.