“A Courageous Christian” – Fr. Bob’s Homily For Sunday, April 14, 2024

The following words were spoken by Pope Francis at his weekly general audience in Rome last Wednesday: “A Christian without courage, who does not turn his own strength to good, who does not bother anyone, is a useless Christian”.  It is clear, from our first reading, that this is a lesson that St Peter has learned well. In his speech to the Jewish people at the temple gate, Peter displays none of the fear and weakness that led him to deny knowing Jesus three times a mere few weeks before. Now he is so bold as to accuse his own people of rejecting and killing Jesus. Note the emphatic way in which he expresses himself: “Your God has glorified Jesus, whom YOU handed over and rejected …YOU asked for a murderer to be released, and YOU killed the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead.” What Peter is doing is driving home to the Jews their complicity in having Jesus executed by Pontius Pilate. They thought they were doing the will of God, obeying their leaders and having Jesus crucified. But this same God, that they thought they were serving, has raised Jesus from the dead.” How does that make you feel?”, Peter is asking them. “What does that say about your relationship; to your God, when you did the exact opposite of what God wanted?”

It is never easy to let go of your own dogmatism. To change your settled opinion in the face of the evidence is a mark of maturity and humility that many of us hate to do, myself included. We would rather maintain our stance, and refuse to listen to, or accept, a different opinion to ours. We think that shows strength; in fact, it displays weakness.  It is a mark of true leadership, to be willing to allow others to change our opinions, if we have prayerfully and with fairness, listened to their arguments and come to the considered realization that they are right, and we are wrong. To be willing to apologize to others if we realize that we were wrong, is, once again, not a sign of weakness, but of strength, maturity and leadership. Day by day, I read the blogs and bylines of people, who display an incredible amount of intolerance and fury when someone advances a point of view which clashes with their own. It is sad to see this intolerance and violence of speech and action displayed at all levels of society, especially at university level, which should be the one place, above all, where fair and honest debate should be able to be conducted in a reasonable and listening atmosphere. It is even more sad to see this vicious and intolerant attitude displayed among Christians, within the very Church of Christ itself. But it is going on every day.

St Peter, in our first reading, displays another sign of grace, maturity and leadership. Having driven home to his people the magnitude of their folly and sinfulness in handing Jesus over to be crucified, in other words, having made the case for a true judgement to be made on their actions, he now allows mercy to come into play. “And now, brothers and sisters, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.”  In other words, he says, you didn’t really know what you were doing. You acted in ignorance of who you were really condemning, namely, the Son of God Himself. You allowed the malice and intolerance and anger and hatred of your leaders to Jesus, to blind you into calling for his execution. Having pierced their hearts with remorse, now Peter is ready to offer a way out of self-condemnation and despair for them, and for us.

 Peter is remembering the words that Jesus uttered from the cross towards those who were baying for his destruction: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they were doing” (Luke 23: 34). Peter is also remembering that he himself, was not without fault. He denied knowing Jesus three times, out of cowardice and fear. And yet he found mercy coming from the very one he betrayed. Jesus gives him the chance to overcome his three-fold denial with a three-fold declaration of his love for Jesus (cf John 21: 15-17). When we tend to judge and condemn others for their offences against us, we forget that each of us have offended God many times over and received mercy instead of condemnation when we have brought those sins to confession. Who are we to condemn others for their offences? It is sad to hear stories of priests who have condemned and accused those coming to confession to them, forgetting that we are also guilty of great sins against God. As I have said on many occasions. mercy is forgiveness of sins that we do not deserve, but which come to us anyway because of God’s great love for us, and Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross, and the Spirit’s pouring of the grace of forgiveness into our hearts at the priest’s absolution. 

‘Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in the name of Jesus to all nations”. So says Jesus to his apostles as he outlines their mission, and the mission of the Church for all time. That is our mission also, brothers and sisters. We display true courage when we face up to the reality of our own sinfulness in all humility, and understand how much it cost Jesus to offer himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sins and those of the whole world , as our second reading reminds us. To stop throwing blame around at others, and instead face the shattering realization, that my sins helped nail Jesus to the cross, I share responsibility for Christ’s death, not the Jews, not the Romans, not my family, or my neighbor, or my boss or my work colleague.  Who of us is brave enough to face that realization without seeking to make any excuses? (Remorse instead of repentance – Saul vs David). Only the person who is courageous and honest and humble enough to face up to that reality can then go beyond to experience the mercy and compassion of God, and then be courageous and humble and mature enough to extend that mercy to those who have offended us.