Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflections
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
August 24, 2008

Readings: Isaiah 22: 19-23 / Romans 11:33-36 / Mt 16:13-20

We all love a firm leader… one with clear directions, steadfast in resolve, willing to go the extra mile to meet common goals, unflinching in his commitment, unwavering in his resolve, yet solidly grounded in the human reality of failure and weakness. And precisely because such leader is in touch with the human possibility of failure, he also has compassion, patience and gentleness with the erring, the wayward, the lost, and perhaps, the least promising.

Unfortunately, such leaders are few and far between, if not downright unavailable, in most places all over the world. Societies think they can raise them. Schools of leadership abound everywhere. The Kennedy Institute for political leaders is a much-coveted place to be for any aspiring and ambitious politician, for example.

But alas, leaders are born, not made!

I would like to add to this. Leaders are not only born, like as if they had it in their genes. From the Christian and Biblical perspective, as is clear in the readings of today, leaders are raised by no less than God himself. God chooses and anoints them and gives them authority over others. In the Christian tradition, God himself sends his people judges, prophets, kings, and shepherds after his own heart.

Both Eliakim and Peter are this type of leader molded in the heart of God. The former was appointed to replace Shebna to hold the power of admission and refusal to ingress within the palace of the king. Symbolic of this was the handing on the keys of the house of David. As every beginner of Bible studies knows, the account of Eliakim is a foreshadowing of the handing on of the keys to Peter, declared by Jesus as rock on which he was to build his church. Peter, the rock, was given the power of the keys, no longer in an earthly kingdom, but in the kingdom of heaven.

It is definitely reassuring to note that the promise of the Lord attached to his handing on of the keys to Peter, speaks about solid certainty, stability, and indestructibility. “Not even the gates of hell will prevail against it (the Church).”

It is time for a little reality check. Our recent experience may be a little less certain, a little more shaky. For one, there are few vocations in traditional Christian societies. The voice of the Shepherd, the Pope, as Bishop of Rome and pastor of the universal Church, has been dulled and stifled somewhat by a culture that prizes materialism and production, more than it does thinking about the after life, and things to come, along with the values both entail. The recent scandals from among Church leaders, which the Mass Media have been very quick to point out and make seemingly endless reports about, have tarnished in no small measure the image of church leadership. It has caused the wearing away of a great deal of trust and esteem for the figure of the shepherd as leader.

Add to this the slipping away of trust, too, in our political leaders, the cynicism attached to politics in general, and to political leaders, in particular, especially in the Philippines where we have not really had a government that approximates an acceptable level of stability and trustworthiness. As I said in last week’s reflection, we live in a stormy world – in all aspects – be it in the political, economic, and spiritual planes. The rock that the Lord speaks of, in the case of Peter, may even, at various times in the history of the Church, have become a scandal (a stumbling stone) for many.

Let us not mince words. Owing to the mystery of human freedom and the mystery of iniquity, and, most specifically, the principle of human cooperation, there have been real, solid rocks of faith in the persons of so many Popes in the history of the Church. Unfortunately, there have also been, not solid rocks, but stones that tripped many, stumbling blocks to not a few, over the centuries. I guess, if we were to be the ones to do the appointing and the anointing, I doubt if we would have put certain notorious personages in power at all. If we were to go by the yardstick of our expectations, our desires and wants about the leaders who would rule over us, we would not have allowed the likes of Alexander VI, for a while Pope, whose personal and public life was not exemplary and worth emulating at all.

Or would we? Are we sure about this? Just consider for a while… How many leaders that deserve not to be in position have we placed? How many people in authority now really have no human right at all to be where they are right now? And yet they continue to lord it over us. They continue to wield immense influence over the future of so many young people and those yet to be born. For all our desires to have a leader that fits our ideal mold, who possesses all the good traits, some of which we have enumerated above, we really end up with leaders who are less than ideal, who may even be disappointing – if not, downright – revolting! And to think that as citizens of a democratic country, we have the power to seat and unseat – and therefore – to choose those who should lead us! Just look at the so many disasters we as voters have heaped upon ourselves, by putting into office people who were not leaders after the heart of God.

But let us clarify terms. What does it mean to be a leader after God’s own heart? I would like to take a clue from the remark of St. Paul in today’s second reading: “How deep are the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” Indeed, how very strange to the human mind that he should have raised some real pains in the neck to be leaders – not only in civil society, but also in the Church! And to think that Alexander VI was not the only one! “Who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor?”

The call of and the promise given to Peter gives us a clue to the “inscrutable ways of God.” Yes. He does appoint and anoint leaders – even those who, to our short minds, are not the best to be such. As the story of Peter shows us, for God, the priority is on his call, his grace, his anointing… not on the worthiness, aptitude and innate gifts attached to the person of the leader. God’s call is not to be held hostage by worldly considerations and qualities. “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” This is to say no mere human authority was behind all this. Human considerations do not take center stage in this, but God’s choice, God’s will, God’s predilection. And this God does, no matter our lack of understanding and hard-headed protestations.

We do have the right to our opinions about those who lead us, including our church leaders. We do have the innate right to also feel disappointed about some of them. We can even be sad that some of them are not those we would have wanted to have as pastors. Nay more, we can even be angry that some of us, your shepherds (perhaps, including us), have done nothing but betray your trust repeatedly, down through the centuries, - and, most of all, in these recent years when report upon saddening report only shows how human and frail and prone to sin we all are.

I join the Holy Father, and many bishops and priests all over the world in begging forgiveness from you whom the Lord has given us to shepherd – please God, in the way He wants us to. Some of us have disappointed you, saddened you, angered you (as yours truly has done so, too). But I also join the same Holy Father, the Bishops and the priests all over the world in asking the good Lord, that you may find it in your heart to forgive our failings and sins, and to hold fast to that which today’s promise and call to Peter really should make us all understand, in faith… When God calls, the primary considerations are not the earthly criteria as we know them. When he calls, he also calls the shots. He is in charge. His grace is the most important element. Some Popes in the past, as some of us, even now may have, and may still disappoint you in the human way of looking at things. Today, we are invited to look beyond, transcend the utter humanity of those God calls to shepherding roles. We are asked to transcend the ineptitude of the fisherman named Peter who was called to discipleship and servant-leadership. “You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

We would like to ride on and hold on to Peter’s confession of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” We would like to stay on with Peter. We would like to keep our focus on Christ. He it is who raises leaders after his Father’s heart – no matter the unworthiness and frailty and utter sinfulness. He, it is who placed that solid rock of stability in the Church. We are rock solid in faith with Peter.


Anonymous said…
Just to let you know; i have duplicated your post on my journal. My journal is rather clouded at times and i will of course remove the article at your request.

I did obviously enjoy your interpretation, the focus i took today was one of truth in a world of deception. That protection providing unity within our hearts and the church from the 'netherworld'.

Anonymous said…
that journal being