Peter professed his faith by how he lived and died, we do likewise

Homily for Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

“Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:29) Peter made a profession of faith in Jesus, just as we make a profession of faith every Sunday in the creed. Even though Peter has professed faith in Jesus as the Messiah it was a shock for him to learn that the Messiah would suffer, be rejected and be put to death. The first reading today from Isaiah (Isa 50:4-9) is one of four beautiful prophecies about a mysterious figure who would bring salvation through his sufferings. Today we heard the third in the serious of four prophecies about this mystery figure who would save through his sufferings. At the time of Jesus no one would have made the connection between the Suffering Servant in the prophecy and the Messiah. It was unthinkable for them that the Messiah would suffer. So as we heard in the Gospel, Peter objected to Jesus having to suffer, be rejected and be put to death. Jesus told him he was thinking not as God but as humans (Mark 8:33). It would take the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, after the first novena of prayer, for Peter to understand that the first reading today was about Jesus the Messiah. Then the connection between the mystery figure of Isaiah’s prophecies - who would bring salvation through his sufferings - and Christ could be seen. So Peter’s profession of faith that we heard in the Gospel, “You are the Messiah” would grow and develop, becoming what we now call the Apostles' Creed.

The Apostles' Creed can be divided into twelve articles of our faith, which by a tradition recorded by St. Ambrose, correspond to the twelve apostles. (Catechism of the Catholic Church §191) This was the Creed used by the early Church in Rome asking a candidate for baptism if he/she believed the articles of our faith. Do you believe in the Father? Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit? After responding yes to each question the candidate was immersed in water. During baptism since then we follow that practice of the early church in Rome asking three questions of the candidate to be baptized. For most of us it was our parents and godparents who expressed the faith on our behalf when we were baptized and we make that expression of our faith our own each year during the Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday. The Apostles' Creed was expanded during the Council of Nicaea and so we call it the Nicene Creed and it is that expanded creed that we profess every Sunday which also is the creed used by all the main Christian communities. The faith we profess, a gift from God, has come to us from the apostles, professed during baptisms in the early Church in Rome and during baptisms worldwide since then, and in expanded form every Sunday. Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” We respond with the creed every Sunday.

We profess our faith not just by words but also by how we live. Our second reading today from other Letter of James made that point very clearly; if our faith does not have works it is dead, our faith is demonstrated through our works (James 2:14-18). After Pentecost Peter professed his faith in Jesus as Messiah in a new way, he was willing even to suffer for Jesus (Acts 3-5). In the Gospel Peter fled suffering but after Pentecost he considered it an honor to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41). After Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles we see Peter living the words of Jesus today,

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)

Peter lost his life, crucified upside in Rome to left of where St. Peter’s Basilica now stands. He lost his life for Christ but saved it. Peter lived and died professing his faith in Jesus, “You are the Messiah.” Like Peter we also profess our faith not just with words but by how we live, as the Letter of James reminded us today. If we support abortion or anything contrary to nature we do not yet know our faith because God is a God of life and gave us our nature and acting contrary to life and nature is acting against God. The way we live also professes our faith, not just our words. Peter died professing his faith.

In the lives of holy people we can see them losing their lives for the sake of Jesus and in so doing saving their lives. There are two dramatic examples from the life of Mother Teresa. As a teenager she felt her vocational call praying before a statue of Our Lady and was attracted by the missionary work of the Sisters of Our Lady of Loreto in India so she decided to join them. Her brother Lazar, a lieutenant in the Albanian army, told her she was throwing her life away. She responded, “You think you are important because you are an officer serving a king of two million subjects…But I am serving the King of the whole world! Which of us do you think has the better place?” (A Revolution of Love: The Meaning of Mother Teresa p43) Later Mother Teresa felt the call from God, confirmed by her religious superiors, to found a new community of Sisters, the Missionaries of Charity. Early in 1949 a girl came to Mother Teresa dressed in a fine dress and jewels offering to give her life to the poor. Mother Teresa said, “You must first forget yourself so that you can dedicate yourself to God and neighbor.” Weeks later the girl returned to Mother Teresa dressed in a simple white robe and became the first one of Mother Teresa’s sisters (A Revolution of Love: The Meaning of Mother Teresa p60). For most of us denying ourselves and taking up our cross and losing our life for the sake of Jesus is not so dramatic. Instead it is in the small things of every day that we deny ourselves, take our cross, and lose our life for the sake of Jesus. Blessed John Henry Newman said the test of whether we are really on the path to heaven, whether we are Christ’s disciples or only living in a dream and think we are obedient to Christ is self-denial. He said this test occurs doing our daily duties which are distasteful to us and when we overcome temptations (Parochial and Plain Sermons (Volume I) pp32-34). Every day, often perhaps privately and unknown to others, we get to lose our life for Jesus but in so doing we save our life.

Peter professed his faith in Jesus as Messiah with words and by how he lived and died. We profess our faith at baptism, renew it each year at Easter, and profess it in expanded form every Sunday. We profess our faith not just by words but by how we live.

“Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:29)

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday Year B

Taking up our Cross after Jesus

Do we live the Faith we Profess or run from the Cross? 2006

Related Homilies: The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering according to Pope John Paul II 2008

Carrying Our Cross after Jesus

Growing through Trials like Peter

Jesus on the Cross Teaching us how to respond to Unjust Suffering 2015

stories about our cross

Second Reading: on faith and works see Saved by Jesus and Doing the will of the Father 2008