The Weakest Link

(Homily for Easter Sunday)

Recently I had a discussion with a young man who left the Catholic Church. He told me he studied European history and was shocked by the horrible things popes had done. I said to him, “Yes, 265 men have sat on the Chair of Peter. Some of them committed terrible sins, but not one did anything worse than the first pope.”

“What do you mean?” he asked me.

I pointed out that Jesus gave the apostle Peter enormous privileges: for three years he heard Jesus preach and then explain the parables in private. He witnessed many miracles, including raising a little girl from the dead and the Transfiguration. Alone of the Twelve he was given a new name and the power of the keys. In spite of all this, when the crucial moment came, he broke his promise, sworn on an oath. "I do not know the man." (Mt. 26:74) Is a more total rupture possible? No subsequent pope showed such cowardice and ingratitude.

Bishop Sheen speculated that Jesus choose Peter as the chief apostle precisely because of his weakness. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Jesus wanted us to be linked visibly to him by an unbreakable apostolic chain. So he picked someone full of false bravado, the kind whose failure all, but one, could predict. When the test came, Peter, the rock, looked more like quivering Jell-O.

The amazing thing is that Jesus did not replace him with someone more reliable. On the contrary he gave him a second chance, “Simon Peter, do you love me?”

Peter is by far the weakest link in a chain of authority connecting us with Jesus himself. Jesus wants us to recognize that Peter’s office – and that of his successors – is not based on human strength, but upon the power of God. For sure Peter has within himself a great nobility, but after that first Holy Week, he did not focus on it. This morning we hear a few lines from his great Easter sermon. It concludes with these words:

Everyone who believes in him
will receive forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10:43)

Jesus’ forgiveness transformed Peter. Acknowledging his utter weakness, he became a true rock. More than any other man, Peter knew the joy of forgiveness. That mystery – that good news – is not something one can grasp in an instant. C.S. Lewis speculates that for Peter heaven might mean standing before his Lord, acknowledging his fault and experiencing Jesus’ undeserved acceptance. To those who object that this violates the principle of "self-esteem," I can only say they have not reflected much on what it means to be a human in relation to God. Today’s psalm encourages us to give thank to the Lord because “his mercy endures forever.”

Today we get a first glimpse of the Divine Mercy as we join Peter, hurrying to the tomb. He was a man full of shame on account of his failure. But he did not allow shame to paralyze him – or drive him to despair. Rather, he overcame his fear and looked into the dark sepulcher. A strange awe must have stirred inside him when he saw that, except for the burial cloths, it was empty. This Easter morning it is enough to stand with Peter – a man so weak in his humanity – and like him to wonder what the empty tomb means. The answer will not come at once. That is why the Church gives fifty days of Easter, between now and Pentecost Sunday, to explore the question.


Versión Castellana

From Archives (Easter homilies):

2011: Seek What Is Above
2010: Forgiven
2009: Eternal Life Begins Now
2008: His Will Is Our Peace
2007: I Have Been Baptized
2006: Peering into the Tomb
2005: Transformation
2004: Ready for Combat
2003: Something To Live For
2002: The Weakest Link
2001: A New Identity
2000: Born Again!
1999: Why I Believe

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One of our neighboring pastors, Rev. Gary Jensen of Shorewood Lutheran has written a nice pamphlet on the Evidence for Jesus' Historical Resurrection

St. Mary of the Valley Album

my bulletin column

Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith - Presentation for Monroe Christian Pastor. (For pdf format click here)

Background for presentation on "Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith": High School Course – World Civilization - Section on origins of Christianity. (For pdf format click here)

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