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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Building on rock

From Dailygospel.org, today's gospel commentary comes from St. Augustine:

  Saint Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo (North Africa) and Doctor of the Church
Sermon 7 on St John’s Gospel

Is it surprising that the Lord changed Simon’s name, altering it to Peter? (Jn 1,42). “Peter” means “rock”; so Peter’s name is thus symbolic of the Church. Who is safe if not he who builds on rock? And what does the Lord himself say? “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock..."

Of what use is it to anyone to enter the Church who builds on sand? He hears the word of God but fails to practise it; he builds, but on sand. If he had not been listening, he would not have been building; he hears and so he builds. But on what sort of foundation? If he hears the word of God and puts it into practice, then it will be on rock; but if he hears and does not put it into practice, then it is on sand. And so someone can build in two, very different ways… If you are satisfied by listening without practising, you build a ruin… But if, on the other hand, you fail to listen, you will remain without shelter and be carried away by the torrent of tribulations…

Be well assured, my brethren: whoever hears the word without acting accordingly is not building on rock. He has no connection with that great name of Peter to which the Lord attached such importance.

If Protestants were today asked as to who was the greatest among the Apostles in that age, most of them might proclaim St. Paul as the clear favorite. And indeed, St. Paul was our greatest missionary, and certainly our most prolific New Testament epistle writer. St. Peter is almost obscured by the sheer depth and breadth of St. Paul's preaching. But it was not St. Paul to whom God first revealed the identity of the messiah. It was not St. Paul who was moved to proclaim the Christ, the son of the living God. It was not St. Paul whose name was changed to 'Kepha' ('Petros' in Greek), nor was it St. Paul who was given the keys of the kingdom. That all pertains to Simon Peter, simple fisherman, unlearned, slightly uncouth, impetuous and downright simple. How can this man be the rock upon which the Lord decided to build his Church?

Because the glory belongs to the Lord, who is the builder. So down the ages, we had very human popes, as human as Simon Peter was. Some were much worse sinners, others were more saintly. When St. Augustine had a difference with the pope of his time, you can bet that he was understandably upset. But he recognized in the pope the authority that the Lord anointed the Petrine See with. It is not the pope he obeys, but the Lord, who proclaimed for all the Apostles to hear: "you are Rock, and on this rock I will build my Church... I will give you the keys of the kingdom.."

We build on this rock because the eternal Rock built his Church on this rock. We build on sand at our peril.

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