Fr. Rick’s Homily – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Fr. Rick Sherman

Is 22:19-23; Ps 138; Rom. 11:33-36; Mt 16:13-20

August 23, 2020

The great project of religion is to know who God is and to learn how to follow His will, otherwise humans just tend to make up our own reality and our own laws.  Perhaps especially in the United States, we have lots and lots of different opinions that usually are attached to strong wills.  Knowing the REAL TRUTH is often not easy in a noisy world.

St. Paul’s declares today in his letter to the Romans:

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!   How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? …
For from him and through him and for him are all things. “

Paul implies here that knowing God requires a special grace, but that it is essential that we learn how to discern His mind and will.

Likewise in Matthew today:

When Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?”, Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus said to him in reply “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.

 “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.”

This is a declaration of the teaching authority of the Church.  I’m curious, does everyone actually believe that the Church has the authority to teach correctly on issues of morals and doctrine?    Hmmmmm? (You don’t need to raise your hand).   Does the grace poured out on Peter actually flow down through his successor popes…and bishops…and priests?  You know, the Church can even teach infallibly.  It has done so very sparingly in its history but it does have claim to have that authority.

The issue of authority, especially as it comes from God, is particularly important in our times as we are experiencing so much confusion, so many unknowns and outright divisions.  The only way to really reconcile divisions and even hostile disagreement is for everyone to agree on the common source of authority to declare what is right and wrong and the appropriate way to act.

A common understanding of authority and Truth is essential to living in any degree of peace and morality.  As we get more and more polarized, that is, my side against their side, the objective inevitably becomes to reform THEM.  The more submerged we become in reforming the other, the less inclined will we be to thoroughly examine our own conscience.  And when no one is thoroughly examining their own conscience in light of God’s revelation, then the less likely anyone will be completely honest and open to true reconciliation and resolution and ultimately justice.

I was recently listening to a presentation by a priest at a Catholic Conference which reacquainted me with a proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln during the heat of the Civil War.  Two proclamations….. 1861 and 1863.  The divisions were such at the time, largely over whether black lives matter, the north and the south could no longer trust each other’s good faith and good will.  They had already fought such bloody, non-consequential battles that Present Lincoln, at the behest of the Congress issues this proclamation.  In such division Lincoln appeals to the authority of God Himself.

Bear with me as I read this profound proclamation to you.  It will take about 2 ½ minutes….

August 11, 1861

Whereas, A Joint Committee of both Houses of Congress has waited on the President of the United States, and requested him to recommend a day of public humiliation, prayer and fasting, to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnities, and the offering of fervent supplications to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, his blessings on their arms, and, a speedy restoration to peace; and, whereas, it is fit and becoming in all people, at all times, to acknowledge and revere the supreme government of God, to bow in humble submission to His chastisements, to confess and deplore their sins and transgressions, in the full conviction that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and to pray with all fervency and contrition for the pardon of their past offences, and for a blessing upon their present and prospective actions; and, whereas, when our beloved country, once, by the blessing of God, united, prosperous and happy, is now afflicted with factious and civil war, it is peculiarly fit for us to recognize the hand of God in this visitation; and, in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes, as a nation and as individuals, to humble ourselves before Him, and to pray for His mercy — to pray that we may be spared further punishment, though most justly deserved; that our arms may be blessed and made effectual for the reestablishment of law, order and peace throughout our country, and that the inestimable boon of civil and religious liberty, earned under His guidance and blessing by the labors and sufferings of our fathers, may be restored in all its original excellency; Therefore, I, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States, do appoint the last Thursday in September next as a day of humiliation, prayer and fasting for all the people of the nation; and I do earnestly recommend to the people, and especially to all ministers and teachers of religion, of all denominations, to all heads of families, to observe and keep that day, according to their several creeds and modes of worship, in all humility, and with all religious solemnity, to the end that the united prayers of the nation may ascend to the Throne of Grace, and bring down plentiful blessings upon our own country.

By the President


WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Most people on the north and south considered themselves Christian.  Most were some flavor of Protestant, but there were also Catholics on both sides shedding their own blood and spilling that of others.

It’s a little daunting to consider how Christians could come to such division as to inflict over 800,000 deaths, according to recent revised estimates, while everyone is calling on the same God.  That is just deaths from combatants, not including civilians, not including the wounded…

We now know that the Civil War did not solve all our race problems and that is the subject of endless dialogue and debate that probably needs to happen.

The point here is, to consider what degree are we really appealing to God from a point of genuine humility where we all accept some responsibility for our problems in society as well as internationally?  (The text for Lincoln’s proclamation is printed on the back of our bulletin and is also on our Website.  It’s worth a second read).  I’m also proposing this day of prayer and fasting on the fourth Thursday of the month of September. I will speak more on that in the near future.

You also might consider watching some of the presentations from Georgetown University on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. You can also find that on our website. It’s part of our responsibility as Catholics to prepare for complex and sustained dialogue which lead us to truth and peace.

Our Church has been endowed with the grace to know and proclaim Truth, but we all need to pray daily for the grace to recognize and then proclaim that same Truth in our daily lives.