Faith is a gift, an immense privilege of belief

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 22:19-23

Thus says the LORD to Shebna, master of the palace: "I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station. On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim's shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut when he shuts, no one shall open. I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family."

Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given the Lord anything that he may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Matthew 16:13-20

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 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. 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." Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Last year, I have reflected on a similar passage from Luke; focusing on our understanding of who Jesus is (Lk 9:18-24). This year, I would like to give some thoughts on our faith in relation to the keys of Peter.

Peter’s confession of faith reveals a reality that most of us have overlooked; that faith is a divine gift (rf CCC 153). What Jesus says is perfectly true: Peter’s conviction of our Lord’s divinity is not acquired in any human manner, but is a revelation from the heavenly Father. Our capacity to believe the hypostatic union of Jesus Christ (union of both the divine and human nature in Him as a single person) would not have come from any natural effort of learning. In fact, quite contrary to our intellect, this is totally absurd if not ridiculous. To be able to believe such apparent foolishness, we need a supernatural grace from God and a right human disposition (rf CCC 154, cf Lk 8:15). Once we respond to this sacred gift of God, we are able to realize God’s loving plan to save humanity through the incarnate Son.

But faith is not just some superficial joyful hearings of God’s word. Jesus in His Parable of the Sower has clearly stated that in order to be truly saved, one’s faith has to take root and bear fruit (Lk 8:4-8; cf Mt 7:17-20, Mk 4:20). “Faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone . . . Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers” which is: the community, the Church (CCC 166). “It is the Church that believes first, and so bears, nourishes, and sustains our faith” (CCC 168).

Peter is entrusted by Jesus with a specific task. He is the “rock” of His Church. The “keys” given to Peter signify his authority to govern the House of God, the Church (cf Is 22:19-23, CCC 553). Bonded in unity with Peter, the rest of the apostles are also given the pastoral office to look after the flock (cf Jn 21:15-17, CCC 880). In a similar manner, each pope, in succession to Peter, receives the same divine command to maintain fidelity to the tradition of the revealed faith. And Jesus’ words to Peter are in effect to every pope who sits in the chair of Peter. This does not imply that the popes can make any arbitrary decisions regarding doctrinal and moral matters (rf CCC 891).Together with the college of bishops, under the primacy of the Pope, they carry the entrusted task of shepherding and guarding the doctrinal truth from error (rf CCC 881).

Let us be reminded that though truly our faith is a gift – an immense privilege of belief – it is also our faith in a divinely instituted Church that continues to assure us of remaining in the truth. For “I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith” (CCC 166).

Posted: August 27, 2017

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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