Purgatory 101

The doctrine of purgatory is one of the most basic teachings of the Catholic Church. The doctrine of purgatory finds its roots in the Bible and the teaching has been clarified and expounded on by the Church up to the understanding we have today. This once universally accepted teaching of Christianity was challenged by the reformers and is still challenged by some today. Here I intend to explain and defend the doctrine of purgatory by giving a synthesis of the Church’s teaching on purgatory, looking at the doctrine’s historical development, and glancing at three Church Documents explaining the teaching.

Synthesis of the Church’s Teaching

The Church teaches that all who die in a state of grace but are not yet perfectly purified must undergo purification in a place called purgatory so they can obtain the holiness required to enter into eternal life.[1]The souls in purgatory undergo purgation for any venial sins that were not forgiven, and for temporal punishment due to sin for any forgiven mortal or venial sins.[2] Those who are undergoing purgation in purgatory can be greatly aided by the prayers, sacrifices, almsgiving or indulgences of the Church militant on earth.[3]

Historical Development

The tradition of purgatory extends back to before Christ to His Jewish ancestors. In the second book of Maccabees, Judas Machabee, as he was making funeral preparations for his fallen soldiers, realized they died wearing pagan good luck charms. Judas knew his soldiers had been punished for their sin and collected an offering on behalf of the sinful soldiers. “He took a collection from them individually, amounting to nearly two thousand drachmas, and sent it to Jerusalem to have a sacrifice for sin offered, an action altogether fine and noble, prompted by his belief in the resurrection.”[4] The author of Maccabees expresses that this action is in fact a belief that their sins can be purified. “For had he not expected the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead, whereas if he had in view the splendid recompense reserved for those who make a pious end, the thought was holy and devout. Hence, he had this expiatory sacrifice offered for the dead, so that they might be released from their sin”[5] (2Mac12:44-45).

In the New Testament Christ himself makes reference to the existence of purgatory without ever explicitly teaching the doctrine. “Anyone who says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but no one who speaks against the Holy Spirit will be forgiven either in this world or in the next.”[6] While Christ does not explicitly state there is a place where one can undergo purification after death, He does say that sins can be forgiven in the next world.

While the doctrine of purgatory certainly has its roots in the Bible, it cannot be said to be an explicit doctrine taught by the Bible. The early Church, following the teachings of Christ, did not believe all souls destined for heaven would enter the beatific vision immediately after death.[7] It was not until the teaching of the Church Fathers that a formal doctrine of purgatory began to take shape. St. Augustine says, “but temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then.”[8]

The scholastics, using the teachings of the Fathers, composed concrete statements about purgatory. St. Thomas Aquinas definitively states “it is sufficiently clear that there is a Purgatory after this life.”[9] He arrives at this conclusion because “the universal Church holds by praying for the dead that they may be loosed from sins. This cannot be understood except as referring to Purgatory.”[10] St. Thomas reasoned that purgatory must exist because the Church teaches that people can pray for those who have died and this can free them from sin. This can only be the case if purgatory exists because if purgatory does not exist the only options after death are heaven and hell. To enter heaven one needs to be in a perfect state of grace and those souls would not need prayers, and if one is in hell he cannot achieve salvation. It was the teachings of the Church Fathers that were incorporated into the Councils of Lyons, Florence, and Trent that formally defined the doctrine of Purgatory.[11]

Church Documents

The doctrine of Purgatory was not solemnly declared until the First Council of Lyons in 1254. The council, while it did define the doctrine of Purgatory, was more focused on secular matters, such as a crusade to the Holy Land, the Heretical emperor Frederick II and the reunification of the eastern and western churches.[12] Even after the declaration of the dogma of Purgatory discussion continued about Purgatory. 300 years later the doctrine of Purgatory was most clearly defined at the council of Trent.

Both the First Council of Lyons and the Council of Trent were ecumenical councils. An ecumenical council is a gathering of bishops from all over the world in which the proclamations are approved by the successor of St. Peter, the pope.[13] Ecumenical councils carry a very high level of authority. In fact, because of the relationship established by Christ between Peter and the other apostles, the authority of an ecumenical council “is the highest and most solemn that exists in the Church.”[14]

The Council of Trent was opened in 1545 primarily in response to the reformation. The council ran for 25 sessions discussing many reforms and restating many doctrines. On January 30, 1564 Pope Paul V signed the papal bull Benedictus Deus approving all of the decrees of the council.[15]

The 25th and final session met on December 3 – 4, 1563 to discuss purgatory and other matters. The council decreed that the doctrine of purgatory has been taught from sacred scripture, from ancient tradition and the current council. It decreed “purgatory exists, and that the souls detained there are helped by the prayers of the faithful and most of all by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar.”[16] The council not only upheld the truth expressed previously at the First Council of Lyons that purgatory exists but also reiterated the truth that the prayers and sacrifices of the Church militant can obtain the release of those in purgatory.

The Council of Trent did not lead all people to accept the doctrine of purgatory. Even today debate continues amongst nominal Catholics and non-Catholics over the existence of purgatory. Just four years ago Pope Benedict taught the doctrine of purgatory authoritatively through his encyclical letter Spes Salve. Near the end of his encyclical the pontiff taught on purgatory and the role the Church militant plays for those in purgatory.

Much like an ecumenical council an encyclical carries a very high level of authority. Matters resolved in encyclicals are definitive answers and debate over them should cease. “When a pope has seen fit in an encyclical to render an opinion of a matter freely disputed among theologians up to that point, the matter is no longer open to theological discussion.”[17]

The pope, in his encyclical, simply takes for granted the existence of purgatory based on previous teachings. “The early Church took up these concepts and in the Western Church they gradual developed into the doctrine of Purgatory. We do not need to examine here the complex historical paths of this development; it is enough to ask what it actually means.”[18] The fact that the current Holy Father sees no need to demonstrate the truth that purgatory exists is significant because it shows that the Church sees the existence of purgatory a long resolved matter.

The Holy Father teaches the truth that the Church militant can assist those souls in purgatory. “Our lives are involved with one another; through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better or for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In that interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other – my prayer for him- can play a small part in his purification.”[19] The Holy Father clearly teaches very clearly that our prayers can play a role in the purification of a soul in purgatory.

The question of purgatory has also been addressed by lower levels of authority. The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a papal congregation charged with overseeing doctrine of the Catholic Church, carries much less authority than an ecumenical council or a papal encyclical letter but these teachings should not be ignored.

In May of 1979 the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in its Letter On Certain Questions Concerning Eschatology, addressed the question of purgatory. The document says that the Church “She believes in the possibility of purification for the elect before they see God, purification altogether different from the punishment of the damned.”[20] This letter of the congregation reemphasized what has already been taught by the Church through higher levels of authority. This letter from the congregation serves as a clarification and not a teaching tool.

Conclusion

The Church’s teaching on purgatory traces its roots back to before Christ. The New Testament, while not explicitly defining the doctrine, teaches of it. The Church Fathers, using the Scriptures, also teach about purgatory and by the time of the scholastics a concise formula of the doctrine starts to emerge. Over time the Church solemnly proclaimed the doctrine and through the ages has continued to reaffirm and expound the doctrine that purgatory exists and that members of the Church militant can pray and offer sacrifices for those in purgatory.

 

 

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 130 -131.

[2] Ryan, J. “Purgatory.” New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol 11, Jack Heraty et al., 1034. New York: McGraw Hill, 1967.

[3] CCC, 1032.

[4] 2Mac12:43

[5] 2Mac12:44-45

[6] Mt 12:32

[7] Ryan, “Purgatory,” 1035.

[8] Augustine of Hippo, City of God, in Great Books of the Western World: Augustine, trans. Marcus Dods (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952), 572.

[9] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologia, Supp, Appendix II , a.1, in Summa theologica: Complete English Edition in Five Volumes, vol. 5, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Notre Dame, IN: Christian Classics, 1981), 3010.

[10] ST, app. II, a.1. a.1., , trans. English Dominican Province, 3010.

[11] Ryan, “Purgatory,” 1036.

[12] McKenna, O. “Lyons Council of.” New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol 8, Jack Heraty et al., 1116-1118. New York: McGraw Hill, 1967.

[13] Thoralf T. Thielen, What is an Ecumenical Council (Westminster: The Newman Press, 1960), 16.

[14] Thielen, What is an Ecumenical Council, 48.

 

[15] Jedin, H. “Trent Council of.” New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol 14, Jack Heraty et al., 271 – 278. New York: McGraw Hill, 1967.

[16] The General Council of Trent, Twenty Fifth Session Decree on Purgatory (4 December 1563), §2310, in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils Vol 2, ed. Norman P Tanner, S.J. (London: Sheed & Ward, 1990), 774 – 776.

[17] John P. Boyle, Church teaching Authority: Historical and Theological Studies (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995), 85.

[18] Benedict XVI, Encyclical letter on Christian Hope Spe Salve (30 November  2007), §45 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 94.

[19] Spe Salve§48

[20] Congregation for the Doctrine of  the Faith, Letter on Certain Questions Concerning Eschatology (17 May 1979), § 7, at the Holy See, http://www.vatican.va.

The Love Promised by Pop Stars is Already Ours

    Anyone who knows me knows that I cannot stand pop music. Unfortunately pop music is so ingrained in our culture however; it is simply impossible to avoid it. My great dislike of pop music gives me a strong abhorrence to pop concerts.

     Over the past few years I have had the unfortunate privilege of being invited by friends to attend a few concerts as a VIP. A couple of years ago I attended the Taylor Swift Fearless tour in St. Louis as a favor to a friend who is friends with Taylor. I could not help but stand back stage and wonder what it is about artists like Taylor Swift that brings young people to tears and to the point of hysteria.  As I listened to the words of her songs I realized all of her lyrics revolved around being in love. As I continued to listen to the words I was transformed back to a year prior when I was standing in the wings of a Justin Bieber concert and I remembered the audience going crazy over his song “One Less Lonely Girl.”

     The experiences of these two pop concerts made me realize the youth in our world want to love and be loved. The good news is there are no lonely girls and every human person has his or her own love story. We need to open our eyes to the truth that all of us are beloved sons or daughters or daughters of God the Father. Those desires for love promised by pop stars, yet seem so far away, are realities in our lives if only we open ourselves up to receiving the infinite love of the Father.

     Imagine the how vast the crowds of youth flocking to Church would be if only they understood that they were already loved in the way far greater than these pop songs could ever imagine to promise. If we want to evangelize the youth we need to work to spread the message that their love story is already written and there are in fact no lonely girls.  The desire for love exists in our culture we simply need to harness that power and lead the youth to the truth that the only satisfying love, the love of the Father is already offered to them.

Homily for College Seminarians at Cardinal Glennon College

PRV 21: 1-6, 10-13 / PS 119: 1, 27, 30, 34, 35, 44 / LK 8: 19-21

     Today’s Gospel, while short, presents us with a very powerful and challenging meditation about our families. In today’s Gospel St. Luke recounts an incident from Jesus’ life when the Blessed Virgin and some of Jesus’ relatives came to visit him and upon seeing the crowd gathered around Jesus, they send someone to get Him. Rather than stop what He is doing to see His family Jesus recognizes He is with His new family, those who listen to the Word of God and put it into practice, the new Christian community, and continues with His work.

     My brothers and sisters, those of us who aspire to follow after Christ, and most especially those of us who desire to be alter Christuses must take this example of Christ to heart. When we put our faces down on that cold marble at the Cathedral we surrender our entire life and while as diocesan priests we are blessed to have many freedoms, this means we need to be willing to give up everything, including our family, for the sake of the people of God. In my short time as a deacon I have come to realize that it is not just I who is affected by that total surrender, in many ways my family is asked to give me up. While I do my best to be with my family, my primary obligation is to my parish. I will not be with my family on Christmas Eve because the parish has Masses, I will meet with my family on Christmas night, but I will be exhausted from being up late on Christmas Eve and up early for Christmas day Masses.

     While this may seem depressing there is something very beautiful about living our lives as priests in this new family. In my short time as a deacon I have been humbled by how people welcome us into their lives and in their generosity provide for us. While I have to sacrifice time with my natural family, hundreds of families at the parish have adopted me into their own family. Regardless of where you find yourself in your relationship with your family, when you lay prostrate on the floor of the Cathedral you will be offering your total life to Christ and His Church and in so doing you will take on a new family, the family of the Church. As you prepare I can think of no better way than to begin developing a devotion to our Blessed Mother, the saints and your brother seminarians, who will be our companions in the journey of the priesthood.

     All of us are called to the Christian family, to be united with the Church, both here on earth, in heaven and in purgatory. Our natural families certainly play important roles in our lives but we must be willing to follow the example of Christ who calls us into the Christian family which at times will require us to make sacrifices with our natural families. As we approach this Holy Eucharist, which unites us to our Christian family, let us ask the Lord to enlighten our hearts to show us the great gift of our natural families and ask Him to prepare us to serve Him totally, making us willing to totally give up lives, even time with our natural families to serve His family.

 

Homily for the Exaltation of the Cross, 2014

Nm 21:4b – 9 / PS 78: 1BC-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38 / Phil 2:6-11 / Jn 3:13-17

     The cross of Christ understandably became a place and an object of veneration for early Christians. In response to the Jewish revolt of 70 AD the Roman emperor Hadrian leveled the top of Calvary, erected a temple to the pagan goddess Venus on the site where the true God’s blood was spilled, and destroyed the hillside where Christ was buried, building a temple to the pagan god Jupiter on that site. Ironically, the emperor, in trying to destroy these sacred sites only preserved them. In the year 313 the Roman emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman empire and in the year 326 work began to destroy the temples made to Venus and Jupiter and the emperor himself ordered that the cross be found. In a short time three crosses and a wood plague inscribed with the words Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews was found on Calvary hill. In 327 Constantine’s mother Helena made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with the intention of finding out which of the three crosses was the cross of Christ. Why did the emperor order this excavation and why did Helena make the difficult pilgrimage to Jerusalem herself?

     Obviously the first answer lies in the truth that the cross of Christ held the body and soaked in the blood of our Lord, the same body and blood we will receive today when we receive Holy Communion. I think Fulton Sheen summarized best the importance of this discovery and of today’s feast when he reportedly said “keep your eyes on the crucifix, for Jesus without the cross is a man without a mission, and the cross without Jesus is a burden without a reliever.” Jesus transformed the cross, a symbol of death, into a symbol of life. It was by His cross that He redeemed the world.

     Today we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Whether you have realized it or not we have been preparing for this feast for the past three weeks. Three weeks ago, in the Gospel reading we were asked to profess with St. Peter our faith that Jesus is the Messiah. Two weeks ago we, having accepted Jesus as our Lord were challenged to follow Him to the cross, and last week we were asked to bring others with us to Calvary so that they may obtain eternal life. So here we stand today at the cross. But why do we celebrate this feast, after all we celebrate great moments in salvation history, not objects, we honor the lives of great saints, not a piece of wood, so why do we have today’s feast?

     As Christians we should exalt in the cross of Christ because it is the instrument of our salvation. In adoring the cross we adore Christ, the God-man who suffered and died on this Roman instrument of torture and in so doing won for us redemption from our sin. The cross is the symbolic summary of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Savior.

     The cross, because of what it represents, is a powerful symbol of the Christian faithful. It should inspire both our liturgical and private prayer and devotions. Placing a crucifix in our homes, or wearing it on our persons should be a constant reminder and witness of Christ’s ultimate triumph over sin and death through His suffering and death on the cross.

     Sadly today the cross is often reduced by some people in our society to some kind of good luck charm. Some athletes make a sign of the cross when getting a base hit or scoring a touchdown, other people wear the cross around their neck simply as a good luck charm without any devotion to the cross. The irony of this is the cross does not promise us worldly success: no it promises us something far greater, it promises us that Jesus will be with us through the most difficult of times. The whole meaning of the cross can be summarized with the truth that Jesus is with us.

     While many people look to the crucifix with the hope that they will not have to suffer, the crucifix shows us that God choose to suffer with us, and if our savior must suffer shouldn’t we as well? While this suffering is not always easy there is a beauty in suffering. Christ did the hard work, He opened up the gates of heaven for us and showed us the path to Calvary which will lead to eternal life, but we too must follow after him and must suffer. You see God loves us and true love does not force itself on anyone thus Christ invites us into that love on the Cross so that we may share that eternal love of heaven with him.

     Many people looked at Christ on the cross and saw failure, but we who know of the resurrection look to Christ hanging on the cross and see victory over death. Some Christian’s today look at the crucifix with distain, preferring only to use a cross because they see defeat in Christ hanging on the cross. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christ hanging on the cross is a moment of great rejoicing; it is through the complete emptying of Himself on the cross that we are able to gain eternal life. Let us look at the crucifix with a spirit of reverence, respect, adoration and thanksgiving and work to join ourselves to Christ on the cross so that we too may enter into eternal life.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Ezekiel 33:7-9 / PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 / Rom 13:8-10 / Mt 18:15-20

     This Sunday as we continue through Ordinary Time we continue to hear from the Gospel of Matthew, who has been teaching us how to be true disciples of Christ. Two weeks ago we were challenged to profess our faith in Christ as the Son of God, last week we were challenged to make that profession of faith a reality in our life by taking up our cross and following Jesus on the way to Calvary. This week, as we continue to follow after the Son of Man on our way to Calvary we are challenged to bring others with us to the cross so that they too might rise to eternal life.

     In last week’s Gospel we heard Jesus warn us “what profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”[1] In that warning Jesus reminds us that the greatest good is not from this world, it is the gift of eternal life. As we follow Christ on our way to Calvary we are reminded the Jesus has done the hard work, He has opened the gates to heaven and has invited us in and only sin can keep us out.

     Our greatest and only obstacle to eternal life is sin thus we must be ready to resist sin in our life and to assist our brothers and sisters in resisting sin in their lives. St. Paul reminds us in our second reading that the whole Christian life can be summarized by the command to love our neighbor as yourself. To love our neighbor means nothing more than to wish the good for him, for his own sake. What is ultimately best for us and our neighbor is to enter into eternal life so the entire Christian moral life can be summarized by desiring salvation for our neighbor and ourselves.

     Today Jesus teaches us that if we want to help our brothers and sisters carry their cross to Calvary we must warn them if they have gone astray due to sin. We must do our best to leave no man behind on the journey to Calvary. The prophet Ezekiel reminds us “if you do not speak to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.”[2] The warning of the prophet is clear: we will be responsible if we fail to call to task a brother or sister who has strayed to task. There are times in life where we must admonish the sinner because his salvation is in jeopardy and to not admonish him would be to not love him since to love him means to desire eternal life for him. If you saw your baby brother running around a busy street would you not do what you could to warn him of the dangers? Why then wouldn’t we warn our bother or sister when they are risking their eternal life by living in sin?

     In this call to love our neighbor as ourselves we must have a deep compassion and a great concern for the salvation of others. Yet even when done in the proper spirit, calling out a brother or sister is not easy because no one likes to have our sins or faults pointed out.

     Sadly in our society today the reality of sin is not as obvious as it used to be. We live in a culture that cries for the necessity of tolerance. The only sin our world seems to recognize is the failure of someone to be tolerant of someone’s lifestyle choice. Our world tells us that to truly love someone we must be loving and accepting of everything they do. Our culture, while trying to tell us to love everyone has a completely wrong understanding of love for love does not equal tolerance, it equals willing the best for another.

     This false understanding of love in our culture leads to the belief that we should not judge. Certainly as Christians we are called not to judge another, but we judge things all the time. When you drove to Mass today did you not have to make a judgment about whether it was safe or not to make a turn? In fact the decision not to judge is a judgment in itself. Regardless of our beliefs we must make judgments about actions all the time. We do not judge the person, but rather we judge their actions in an attempt to assist them on the path to Calvary. As the old adage goes we love the sinner but hate the sin. With this adage in mind we must always be careful that when we warn someone about sin in their life we do it in a spirit of charity with the recognition that we are all sinners. The warning must come from a place that recognizes we warn them because we love them and want them to enjoy eternal life, and not from a place of vengeance or attempt to judge them.

     The path to Calvary and ultimately to eternal life is not easy, but that is why Jesus left us His Church. Jesus left us the Church to watch over us but He also left us each other. We must leave no man behind, doing all in our power to bring our brothers and sisters to eternal life.

[1] Mt 16:26

[2] EZ 33:8

The Essential Link Between Adoration and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: A Brief Reflection.

A Brief Reflection on Mt 26:36-46 for Eucharistic Adoration

Presented to the Young Adults of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

     Immediately before our Lord was handed over to endure His passion, He asked His closest apostles to keep watch with Him. Having already received Jesus’ body and blood, at the Last Supper our Lord invited Peter, James and John to spend one hour with Him, to make the first Holy Hour. While the devotion of Eucharistic adoration did not develop to the way we know it today until the Middle Ages,[1] Jesus Himself teaches us the importance of Adoration. Tragically at times a tension has arisen between Eucharistic Adoration and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. At times some people have tried to pit Eucharistic Adoration against the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,[2] while while at other times Adoration has been proposed as a substitute for the Mass.[3]

     Cardinal Ratzinger, in his 1980 homily for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, warned against these two extremes and drew a middle ground by remarking “only within the breathing space of adoration can the Eucharistic Celebration, indeed be alive.”[4] Cardinal Ratzinger explains that Communion and Adoration are intimately connected. Without the fruitful reception of Holy Communion, Adoration makes no sense and with Adoration the reception of Holy Communion is a impersonal act. He says, “adoration is simply the personal aspect of Communion.”[5] Adoration is essential if we want to fall in love with Christ because “love carries within it an impulse of reverence, of adoration.”[6] Thus those of us who want to have a personal relationship with our Lord must follow the example of the apostles, we must participate in His sacrifice on Calvary by participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and we must “gaze on Him, allow Him to gaze on us, listen to Him and get to know Him”[7] in Eucharistic adoration.

[1] Certainly the Church from her earliest days hand an understanding of Eucharistic adoration, reserving the Eucharist in tabernacles for the sick, but it was not until the Middle Ages that Eucharistic adoration became a popular devotion.

[2] I am thinking here of times when Eucharistic adoration was considered “cookie worship” and a waste of time.

[3] I am thinking here of times in the middle ages when the faithful saw adoration as their participation in the Mass.

[4] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. “The Immediacy of the Presence of the Lord.” In God is Near Us, The Eucharist, the Heart of Life, ed. Stephan Otto Horn and Vinzez Pfnur. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003) 96.

[5] Ratzinger “The Immediacy of the Presence of the Lord” 97.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Jer 20, 7-9 / PS 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9 / Rom 12:1-12 / Mt 16:21-27

     My grandparents deeply believed in the American dream. They believed that if they worked hard they could make a better life for themselves and their family for generations to come. I remember one of my last conversations with my grandmother before she passed away. I was in a car with her, my dad and my brother, and she repeatedly asked us, a symptom of her dementia, what we wanted to be when we grew up and then went on to tell us we could be anything we wanted to be.

     Now my grandmother meant well and my parents did work hard to put us in a position to succeed. By my senior of high school I had worked hard and put myself in a position to attend a great university and do what I wanted with my life. It was just at that moment when I thought I had my life in the place I wanted it to be that I had my Peter moment and realized that while the American dream is alive and well if we take it too far there is a lie beneath it that can lead to destruction.

     For some reason, in His Divine Providence, God decided to use that moment when I thought I had my life planned out to put the thought of priesthood on my heart and like Peter, in today’s Gospel, I said to the Lord “ no that can’t be right, I already have another plan.” As the Lord continued to tug at my heart to be a priest I found myself in a crisis of faith; I laid awake at night asking myself the same question Jesus asked each and every one of us in last Sunday’s Gospel “who do you say that I am?”[1] I wrestled with my belief in Christ and the Catholic faith for a while both in prayer, asking God to give me a greater gift of faith and through study, coming to understand our faith, and by the grace of God I was finally able to say, like St. Peter, with my whole being “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”[2] No sooner had I made that profession of faith then the blinders fell from my eyes and the message of today’s Gospel that I must take up my cross and follow after Christ[3] became clear.

     Today’s Gospel definitively shows us that Christ knew the plan; He knew that He would freely consent to die the horrific death of the crucifixion for you and I. It was this revelation that helped me see who Christ truly was and made it possible for me to make my profession of faith. Coming to realize that Jesus came to freely die and rise from the dead greatly helped me assent to he faith. You see while there have been many religious leaders and thinkers who have promoted different ways of life and like our Lord died, unlike our Lord their bodies stayed dead. I don’t know about you, but I would rather follow Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead. If only it was so easy. Certainly following of Christ sounds easy, but we all know it can be hard. It is hard because following Jesus requires just that following. In today’s Gospel Peter tries to be the to take on the role of Christ the teacher by telling Jesus He will not die, but Jesus puts him in his place as the disciple and reminds Peter and all of us that if we want to rise with Christ we must go to the cross with Him. If we want to enter eternal life perhaps it is time for a little Chinese fire drill allowing God to take the driver seat.

     We live in an exciting but dangers country. We live in a country where it seems possible for us to earn the whole world for ourselves, but in so doing we risk loosing eternal life. Last week’s Gospel challenged us to accept the Lord for who He truly is, the God-man who in a pure act of love suffered His horrific death and rose to bring us to eternal life. If we truly believe Jesus to be who He claims to be how can we not follow after Him. This week we are challenged to take the next logical step in the profession we made last week and follow after Him. How will we go forth today, having received the graces of this Mass, and focus on truly following after Him who is the way the truth and the life.[4] Perhaps this week we may need to fall to our knees asking for greater faith, perhaps this week we need to begin to study our faith by perhaps coming to a bible study or other faith formation program. Maybe we need to do some reordering in our lives so we can allow Jesus to lead and allow ourselves to become the disciples. Wherever we may be our Lord invites us this week to come and follow Him to the cross so that we might rise with Him.

[1] Mt16:15

[2] Mt 16:16

[3] Mt 16:25

[4] Jn 14:6