My brothers and sisters in Christ,1
I meant to say also that today we especially should keep in mind our brothers and sisters in Texas who are suffering the consequences of Hurricane Harvey — that they have the company of God during these challenging days and our prayers to assist them in whatever they need.
Today, as I also said before, in this Mass, we are honored to welcome our men and women who work in law enforcement and the fire department personnel.
Let us all prayer for these men and women who serve and protect us. We want to pray for them today and for their families.
And my dear brothers and sisters in law enforcement and fire department, I also want to express my gratitude, along with my prayers for you. What you do it essential to our democracy and to the health of our communities and neighborhoods.
You serve our communities at great sacrifice and personal risk every day. We all know that in your daily work, you face many challenges. We know you have great responsibilities. To defend justice and the common good. To seek the truth and protect peace.
So, on behalf of all the people you serve — especially the poor and vulnerable — let me say, “thank you,” for all and everything you do every day to keep our communities safe and strong.
So turning to the readings that we just heard. In our Gospel today, we come to, in a sense, to a point-of-no-return for the disciples.
As we know from hearing the Gospels every day, in the last few weeks, Jesus has been traveling all around with his disciples — he has been teaching the crowds and healing and working miracles.
And today, what we hear is that Jesus wants to know what they think about him.
And it’s interesting that first he asks them — he asks the apostles — what the people in the crowds have been saying. And so they tell him. People think that he is Elijah or one of the other prophets who has returned, or they think that maybe he is St. John the Baptist who has come back from the dead.
So then Jesus asks them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Now, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the most important question. It is the only question, really, that matters.
And he is asking that same question to each one of us personally today, once again.
And the crowds in the time of Jesus, many of our friends and neighbors today would agree that Jesus was an important historical figure. They would say that he was a great prophet, a moral teacher who had great wisdom. Those things are all true. But for us — we’re Christians, followers of Jesus Christ — he is more than that.
Because the encounter with Jesus must be a personal encounter — for each one of us, for every person.
At some level it really does not matter what anybody else thinks about Jesus. What matters for us — as I said and we know, followers of Jesus Christ — what matters is if we believe personally that he is the Christ. The Son of God. Perfect God and perfect man.
And that question is asked personally to each one of us today — “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus is asking us and no one else can answer that question for you and for me.
Of course, as we heard, St. Peter had the right answer. He says to Jesus: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
So this is the answer! He is the Christ! He is the Savior of every man and woman. He is the answer to every question. He is the desire of every heart.
And my brothers and sisters, if we know Jesus, we know everything. We know who we are, where we are going, and why we are here. This is the whole purpose of our lives — to find Jesus, to know him and to love him and to serve him. And to try to imitate him and help others to discover — through our way of life — that he is really God.
And he’s asking us to share with the people around us his love for every one of us — the love of God for humanity.
But then, because St. Peter recognized him — he got the right answer, he got an A+ on his answer — Jesus made him “the rock.” He built his Church upon St. Peter’s witness of faith.
So as we know, in this Gospel we have the beginning of the Church. In a sense, St. Peter is appointed the first “Pope,” the head of Christ’s Church on earth.
What is amazing also — and I think we should reflect on this too — is that Jesus gives Peter the keys that the prophet Isaiah foretold in the first reading that we just heard.
The prophet says:
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.
And Jesus gives him, gives St. Peter the same authority — and by extension this authority of service is handed on to the bishops and the priests.
So under the Pope’s authority, the Church has power — through her Sacraments — to sanctify people and to set people free. To forgive our sins and to make us holy.
We heard those beautiful words that Jesus spoke to Peter: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
These are some of the greatest words in the Gospel. Because by these words, we are set free from our weakness, from our sins. These are amazing words of freedom.
Jesus sets us free to live for him, to love our neighbor and to build God’s kingdom on earth. So he’s taking away from us those negative things that can be in our personalities, in our way of doing things, and allowing us to go out and dedicate ourselves to serve our brothers and sisters.
To create the common good. To love each other. To love our brothers and sisters. To go over the differences that sometimes we can have in our society and to bring that love and unity that comes from God.
So, Jesus is challenging us today — challenging us to make a decision about him. To make a decision to take him as the path for our lives. Jesus is calling us, as he called those first disciples — to follow him, to be with him, to serve him, and again, to show people who he is through our daily life.
So this week then, in our work, in our homes: let us try to follow Jesus more closely. Let us ask for that grace, to have more faith, to trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us, especially when we see the challenges that we have in our society these days. Let us especially trust in God.
For men, Jesus said in the Gospel, it’s impossible. For God, everything is possible.
So let us pray and let us ask for that grace to really be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ and like St. Peter to say — You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Let us pray especially, as I said before, for our men and women working for the public safety of our country and our society. May God bless your families for their sacrifices, for their devotion to our community and to the people. And may God keep all of you safe from all harm and help you all to always act with justice and compassion.
And may Our Blessed Mother Mary help us today to renew our faith in Jesus Christ and our faith and love for his Church.
1. Reading: Isa. 22:19-23; Rom. 11:33-36; Matt. 16:13-20.