In the Gospel readings of the last two Sundays, Peter represents the Church in two distinct ways. First, he proclaims the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and Jesus calls him “rock.” In the second, he becomes a stumbling block (rock) to the building of that very Church.
Peter was a man of contradictions, and so is the Church. Isn’t it amazing that Jesus entrusts his Risen Body, his continued presence on earth, to such weak and inconsistent people as us? We must be careful not to put unrealistic expectations on the Church. It is a sign of the Kingdom and an instrument of salvation, sharing in the very ministry of Christ himself; yet it often gets in the way of that very progress that we call the building of the Kingdom.
Throughout the Church’s history, there have been great lights: the martyrs, the doctors, the mystics, and millions of ordinary saints who lived holy lives within the circumstances in which they found themselves. But there has been darkness as well: weak leaders, heresies, religious wars and persecutions, and many ordinary people who failed to live up to their potential and caused scandal for others.
Disappointing? Frustrating? Yes, but reality consists of both light and dark. Pure light is blinding, and one cannot see anything. Vision happens when the shadows give shape to the light. The Paschal Mystery is holding both the death and resurrection together. The path of descent is the path of ascent. Christians must own the darkness of the Church as a reality not to be denied but to be redeemed. The sexism, persecution of outsiders, pedophilia, and other sins of the Church are actually signs of God’s amazing love for a humanity that God has embraced in the Son. God took those sins on Jesus’ shoulders and carried them to the cross.
If this is true of the Church, Peter, then it is also true of us as individuals. God accepts our darkness and bathes it in light, gently and gradually. We must not deny our darkness or expect to be totally rid of it; rather, we must trust in the mercy of God who heals us and brings us gradually into the full light of the Kingdom.
~ Fr. Frank Coady