Three Unavoidable Questions

(Homily for Twenty-First Sunday - Year A)

Bottom line: Today's readings confront us with the question of God's existence, the divinity of Jesus and the divine authority of the Church.

There are three questions that no thinking person can avoid.* Everything depends on how one answers them. The three unavoidable questions are:

1) Does God exist?
2) Is Jesus God?
3) Did Jesus found the Church?

Today's Scripture readings address these questions. Regarding God's existence, St. Paul exclaims: "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his way!"

St. Paul knows that God is far beyond human reason. Still, in that same letter to the Romans, he explains that it is reasonable to believe in God. In fact, argues Paul, what is unreasonable is to deny God's existence: those who deny his existence have clouded their own thinking process. You can read Paul's argument for yourself. (You will find it in the first chapter of Romans.) What I want to underscore is that the gift of faith - while it transcends reason - does not ultimately go against reason. Faith completes reason, gives a new power to human understanding.

Now, if a person recognizes that God exists, then the second question follows: Is Jesus God? Today Jesus asks the disciples who people say that he is. There are a lot of opinions. Some say that Jesus is a sage, a kind of guru who leads his followers to a new level of consciousness. Others say he is a good man, maybe the best of men, but still only a human being. Others say he was a great moral teacher like Socrates or Confucius.

But Jesus will have none of that. He looks each disciple in the eye and asks: "But, you, who do you say that I am?" You have to answer that question for yourself, directly to Jesus. No one can force you. What you say to Jesus depends on your own heart. I can, however, tell you my answer: Jesus is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father. In a few minutes I will invite you to make that profession of faith with me.

Before doing that, I would like to consider the third question: Did Jesus found the Church? In some way this is the most difficult question, because it demands so much. It is one thing to believe in God and in Jesus, but something else to believe in the divine authority of the Church. People can keep God and Jesus at arm's length - or at least try. It is not so easy with the Church. For better or worse, the Church has had a significant role in human history - and a considerable presence in the modern world.

I say "for better or worse" because the Church is composed of human beings with negative (as well as positive) tendencies. We readily admit the weakness and fallibility not only of little people like you and me, but also the top leaders in the Church. But the question is not whether the Church is composed on sinful human beings. Rather, we have to ask what Jesus meant he when told Simon Peter that he was the rock upon which he would build his Church.

And what happened to the keys that Jesus gave to Peter? Are they buried in his tomb under St. Peter's Basilica in Rome? I don't think so. We have an early list of popes. It says that - after Peter - a man named Linus received the keys with their power to open and close, loose and bind. After him, Cletus, then Clement and so on. Today Pope Benedict XVI holds those keys. It is not just an earthly power, but a divine authority. Jesus said, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.

Now, I know that there are many congregations more attractive and more dynamic than Catholic parishes. And I may as well admit it - the most attractive would be a new congregation composed of me and those think like me. It would be called the "church of Phil Bloom." Its doctrines would be the Bible verses that I - and those who agree with me - like the best.

The "church of me and mine" is tempting (sort of) but that is clearly not what Jesus had in mind. He did not say to look for a community where you feel most comfortable. He founded a Church with divine authority - the power of the keys. The keys do not lock us in. What they do is unlock our hearts. They open us to people who may not - at first - attract us. And, above all, the keys open vistas that the "church of Phil Bloom" could never imagine.

To sum up: There are three unavoidable questions: Does God exist? Is Jesus God? Did Jesus found the Church? Today's readings confront us with those question abouts God's existence, the divinity of Jesus and the divine authority of the Church. St. Paul expresses awe at the depths and riches of God. Jesus asks each of us the question: And you, who do you say that I am? And we see him founding a Church with his own divine authority. Take time today to think about those questions - and tell Jesus how you will respond.


*Emphasis on the word thinking. It is abundantly clear that one can avoid the questions by focusing on work, advancement, politics, money - everything that people call the "real world." "Spirituality" also does the job quite well. Of course, there are less noble diversions such as pornography, alcohol and gourmet cooking. The one advantage of ignoble diversions is that they eventually make a person so miserable that he may ask a genuine question. An author who writes brilliantly about the ways we resist grace is Flannery O'Connor. I recommend her short stories, particularly "The Displaced Person" and "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

General Intercessions for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A (from Priests for Life)

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Twenty-First Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2017: Spiritual Warfare Week 10: The Burden of Community
2014: Finding Your Place Week 3
2011: Why We Need Two Keys for Salvation
2008: Three Unavoidable Questions
2005: The Two Keys
2002: Jesus Establishes a Sacred Order
1999: I Will Build My Church

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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