Tag Archives: Peter

It is good for us to be here

I wrote this reflection and gave it at my church. I used the lectionary readings, which slightly differed from the ones used in the service, but it worked OK. I feel very supported and inspired by my faith community, thank God for them!

Without taking more time than usual I want to do two readings of today’s gospel. The first way of reading it, is not one that I like but it is one that seems to be invited by the context of these first and second readings, and by the way we know our church is structured. I will as usual read through a feminist lens, although it may seem like safety goggles in this case.

Women do not appear in the gospel reading. Jesus, takes three men with him only and they go up a high mountain to have a secret “inner circle” experience that others are not yet allowed to know about. This earmarks them as leaders of the future community after his death. While there he gets the seal of approval from two dead men from the patriarchal tradition. Even the voice of God stresses masculinity, uniqueness and power “this is my beloved son”.

Peter behaves quite logically. Upon seeing Jesus with Moses and Elijah, he humbly puts himself at the service of the more powerful alpha-male and offers to build some sort of semi-permanent structure to preserve the power and glory of this moment. Why should there be struggle and weakness and dissent when we can have certainty? Why not establish a religion based on rules and answers and infallibility? “It is good for us to be here”, it is good to be the powerful and the privileged and the inner circle, rather than being rebels against the system- rather than risking social ostracism and hardship and crucifixion. Given that their ministry has already meant blistered feet and hungry stomachs as well as being dogged by crowds and not allowed to rest, I don’t completely blame Peter for wanting to consolidate the shining, certain moment.

A voice from the cloud interrupts Peter, the vision fades and Jesus tells them to tell no one just yet.

Rereading, I want to insert my own “what ifs” into the story. What if this story is somehow relevant to me, who am not male and am not a leader within the church? I need to put aside my childhood baggage of Peter the stern first Pope and forbidding gatekeeper of Heaven, and shake the hand of the Peter I actually encounter in the gospel stories, to see if he lets me into the story a little more readily. Peter in gospel stories is actually a lot like me. He frequently gets things wrong. He is well-meaning, passionate, impulsive, at times his courage fails him and his vision is always at least one step behind Jesus. But he is persistent, reflexive, ready to be wrong and to bounce back and throw his enthusiasm in again. He follows Jesus with all the eagerness of a teenage girl with a crush (I hope that doesn’t offend anyone). He wants to impress Jesus with his commitment, his readiness to bounce into action, his willingness to see and know new things. Like anyone who really wants to impress their hero this makes him at times quite inept.

I feel this Peter can bring me up the mountain, part of a larger group of believers- men? women? As Judith outlined last week in her reflection the point is not to pick a gender but we are all children of God.

Peter’s motivation for offering to make tents may still be suspect- he may crave an easy road without the cross at the end of it, but don’t we all? He may want to have certainty and to feel that connection to tradition and to God that we all only feel in fleeting moments. A softer reading of Peter may allow him to be worrying not for himself only but for Jesus. He has spent time on the road, watching a beloved person who is utterly committed to his vision of better ways of being. He has watched people demand miracle after miracle from Jesus, and Jesus wear himself out and make enemies of the religious and secular powers of the day.

If he can make tents for his heroes- Jesus, Moses, Elijah- he can keep them near to nurture them and keep them safe. Peter can probably see the cross beginning to loom over Jesus’ fiery words. I imagine he could feel about Jesus, the way I feel letting my adult children out into the world (not that I can stop them). They bite off more than I think they can chew and face hurts and disappointments I wish I could cocoon them from.

Sadly for Peter, whether he wants the power of being an insider of an exclusive club or whether he wants to keep himself or his friend safe the moment fades. As the second reading reminds us, this isn’t some cleverly devised myth of “happily ever after”.

We also have this experience of life. There are bright, shining moments when we feel uniquely connected in with deeper realities and with the meaning of life itself. These moments may come in church, or through prayer, they may come in relationships or through experiencing the beauty of nature or art. Sometimes they come through our talents, when we feel really good about something we are doing or expressing or through having our work recognised by someone, especially someone we admire.

Those moments are fading and elusive, while every-day routines of paying bills and washing dishes take over. Nevertheless, the fading is not total. The memory of these moments infuses life to allow faith. We carry in our lives traces of meaning, the passion of knowing “it is good for us to be here”. We are reminded of that momentary joy in little things, in a beloved-one’s smile or words, in the flick of a dolphin’s tail, in the evocative soar of a piece of music, in the scent of the earth on our hands when weeding, in the taste of food shared, in the knowledge that today we have given something to God, achieved something for God, chosen the path of love and justice for God, noticed beauty that is God. Even in the greyest and most ordinary of moments there is always something of this, some echo of transfiguration.

I have spoken as if we are Peter, but through the sacraments we are invited also into being Jesus. Through our Eucharist, and through more mundane meals made from the miracle of earth and shared in love we take in mystery. The glory of Christ-Sophia cannot be preserved in a tent or a museum, as a reassurance to “us” or a sign to “them” that we are right. Instead it spills over in our opportunities to love our neighbour, and to walk gently and lovingly upon the earth itself.

We too are the beloved children of God. Let us know that God is well-pleased with our capacity to fulfil that identity. Let us sit with that a short while and then listen to each other.

 

Agreeing with apostles and bishops (for once)

Let me start by agreeing with a bunch of bishops on something (for a change). The US Catholic bishops quote themselves as saying:

Catholic social teaching is built on a commitment to the poor. This commitment arises from our experiences of Christ in the Eucharist.

-U.S. Bishops, Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions

My instinct is to wholeheartedly agree, because they are telling us to put the poor at the centre of our faith-life. I want to consider the quote more in the light of this week’s readings (and will resist the temptation to hold up the quote against the ACTUAL track-record of the clergy’s work and teachings to see if there is any consistency.

In the first reading, Peter is refusing to be silenced because he takes his orders from “God not men”. Go Pete! In the gospels and other writings Peter comes across as very relatable- flawed, passionate, impulsive, stubborn, honest, over-emotional and courageous (but also at times cowardly). He doesn’t come across as a great stuffed shirt of a patriarch, he comes across as a hot-blooded activist that Jesus often has to pull back into line but that is willing to stop and face his flaws and take responsibility for his mistakes. Peter rants and raves, promises and weeps, always comes back and gives it all another crack. Peter requires a lot of calling from Jesus, a lot of refocusing, a lot of forgiveness. I relate to this Peter who listens to Jesus and repents every time but who tells other authorities something along the lines of “#$%^ off”!

Are we really supposed to see in this Peter the grim-faced fun police, first pope who made a centralised and controlling institution out of Jesus’ words of subversive justice? I think the church fathers along the way (aided and abetted by that anti-hero Constantine) have reworked Peter in their sour-faced misogynist image.  I could imagine working-class, awkward Peter coming into a pub and I would drink with him. I would drink with the fisherman-turned agitator who loved the street-preacher, Jesus recklessly but sometimes failed to deliver. “Catholic social teaching is built on a commitment to the poor.” Yes because from the first it was the fishermen not the pharisees that Jesus’ message touched and when pushed they simply refused to shut up. They were imprisoned, tortured, killed for their beliefs. Their adventures to me strike a parallel with the events retold by Emmeline Pankhurst in Suffragette, her autobiography.

The Spirit of God was in fiery Peter, in the suffragettes. She moves people to commit all and risk all for justice. Do we hear her? Perhaps not always but the heroic stories around people who ask for, struggle for and achieve social change, those stories burn within us; echoes of the story of Christ.We experience Christ in the Eucharist then (if the bishops are to be believed) as broken, powerless, committed to justice, poured out for others, unable to stand by and allow injustice to prevail. Christ would not be silenced, Peter would not be silence, throughout history there have been people who will not be silenced. Will we?

But Peter was like us. He denied Jesus and knew his own flawedness and was alone and saw the one he loved die. He returned to the mundane world of surviving and went fishing. His old occupation was empty, there was no success until Jesus spoke to him and his heart fired with love he had to leave it again and reclaim his broken call. Oh how I relate to Peter in this reading. Jesus blesses and gives fruitfulness to their work even as he calls them away from it. Peter is in “sin”, if he was Catholic he would be excommunicated for his radical sin of denying Christ but Jesus feeds him. The bread of life is what brings us back to Christ, not a reward AFTER we purify ourselves. His will to return is enough.

Jesus knows that Peter loves him, but he asks for words and deeds to support the strong feelings. Jesus’ call to Peter is stronger than work, stronger than possessions, stronger than the security of the boat. I often wonder if I cling to the church as a sort of boat, ensuring I don’t drown in the overwhelming world. But when Jesus calls dare I jump over the side of the rules and traditions and all I know and swim only toward the one who knows and loves me? Peter has overcome cowardice, the fear of walking on water, the terror of being persecuted, the lure of the safe and ordinary life. Peter’s whole heart has always leapt with passion into Jesus’ mission and in response to the person, Jesus in his life; but sometimes Peter has turned back at the final leap, has kept back some rational part of himself from wholehearted commitment to the struggle of the reign of God. Jesus must understand that reluctance. Jesus persists.

Likewise with the women called to ministry. The church has forbidden us to talk about this issue or think about it. This call has always fired our hearts with elation and tears and made us feel we would dare big things as we run to the side of the one who loves and calls us. When the chips are down we are afraid of our flawedness, of our powerlessness and again and again we crumble before the church who tells us we are mistaken, we are not called, that it is water we are attempting to walk on, that we will be judged if we don’t learn to deny our call and we suffer in silence and bury all our hopes in the tomb like the obedient wives and daughters we have been raised to be.

But when Jesus rises and comes to us in our mundane work and calls us again and again. what can we say? Do not we wish to leave it all behind and be in that light? Is not the call so strong that we want it even if we don’t know what it is, we want to plunge in and swim and….and then what? How do we unsilence ourselves, for after taking Jesus’ bread we are left with the grumpy humans who do not appreciate our message or our audacity? Can we claim Peter as a male “sister in the struggle”.

We can’t stop teaching. We can’t stop preaching. We can no longer collaborate with the suppression of our vocations. Any pope or bishop who tells us we may not speak our truth is only a man, but like Peter we answer only to God, not to men.2016 might well be high time to renew pressure on church authorities to ORDAIN women. We might need to boycott church events, to go on strike with the unpaid work we do, to write letters and to attend vigils and protests. Can we do any of that? (are there even enough women left in the church to do it?) Instead of putting out $10 in the plate “for the support of priests” what if we each put a card saying “ordain women” EVERY WEEK!! And then give the $10 to St Vinnies, or Oxfam or something so we are not profitting from our protest.