CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Next Sunday's gospel passage directs our gaze to Rome, the center of Catholicism.  As Catholics, our identity, meaning and direction only have fulfillment in so far as we are united to the Vicar of Christ, the visible head of the Church.   The challenging times that we live in provides countless opportunities to be heroically faithful to the Magisterium of the Church. 

In order to continue his work on earth and lead all peoples to eternal salvation, Jesus established one visible and hierarchical Church.  It is very clear from the continual preparation of the Jewish people in the Old Testament and then with the precise act of Jesus in Cesarea Philippi, that God willed to found one Church as a visible, hierarchical, living and continuing authority, to teach, govern and sanctify in his name.  It is no less clear that Jesus appointed the Apostle Simon the fisherman as the visible head of his Church. Even as he conferred the authority, Jesus changed Simon's name to Peter; i.e. rock.  The name Peter had never existed prior to this divine event in Cesarea Philippi.

"Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16: 17-19).

Throughout biblical history, when God called someone for a particular mission, he usually changed the name of the person called.  The changed name denoted the mission of the particular individual and a change in that person's destiny.

Abram was given the name Abraham, a name that means the father of many nations (Genesis 17: 5).  John the Baptist was not named Zechariah, but rather John, meaning Yahweh is gracious (Luke 1: 13). The angel Gabriel told Mary that she was to name her son Jesus which means Savior (Luke 1: 32).  Jesus gave Peter a new name.  That name was Peter.  The name Peter had never existed before Jesus gave him this new name.  Peter means rock. When Jesus said, "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church," the words this rock refer to Peter.

Many people argue that the use of the word rock does not refer to Peter at all.  They point out that in the Greek text Petros (Peter) is a masculine noun and that petra (rock) is a feminine noun.  Therefore the two rocks do not match up.

The original Gospel of Matthew was written in Aramaic, a language that does not make a distinction between petros and petra.  In Aramaic, the word for rock is kepha.  In the original Aramaic kepha is used the same way twice.  Your are kepha and on this kepha I will build my Church.   Since the Greek word for rock, petra, is feminine, it would have been inappropriate for the Greek translator of the Aramaic text to give Peter, Petros, a feminine name.  Thus the distinction between Petros and petra.

When studying Scripture it is also important to consider the writings of the Fathers of the early Church.   Not one, including those who spoke Greek, ever had a problem with this understanding of Peter as the head of the Church.

Trials and tribulations will always be a part of the Church because it is not merely a human entity.  The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ and Satan will continue to attack it until the Second Coming.  Perhaps history will judge our age as presenting the most formidable challenges the Catholic Church has had to face, although it is true that there have been other dramatic moments in the history of the Church.

The Catholic Church is the only institution in human history that has continually survived its own problems and failures.  As G.K. Chesterton once said, this is true, "because it has a God who knew his way out of the grave."  Jesus assures us of his continual presence and protection: "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16: 18).

Rather than becoming discouraged, angry, or even rebellious during a difficult time in history, we must stand fast through prayer and fidelity. We must always pray for our Church and always trust that God will deliver us from all evil.  The words that Thomas Paine wrote in 1776 are equally true today as they were then: "These are times that try men's souls."

Unity in the Catholic Church is damaged when Catholics, be they clergy or lay people, deviate from the deposit of faith, either through an unhealthy attachment to the past or a detrimental deviation, in the name of progress, from authentic Church teaching and discipline.  Both postures tear away at the garment of unity.

Every member of the Church is obligated to obey every teaching of the Church.  Matters regarding faith, morals and discipline are not subject to personal interpretation.  Even Canon Law and liturgical norms are not guidelines.  The Church is very clear that no one has the authority to deviate from Church teaching and discipline, nor does anyone have individual authority to introduce novelties for the sake of novelty into the liturgy. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, chapter 1, #'s 24-25).

In reality, there are no conservative Catholics or liberal Catholics.  Conservative and liberal are two ambiguous political adjectives that do not apply to Catholicism.  The Church is a communion. Unity is nurtured by our mature assent of mind and will, as an act of love, to the Church of Jesus Christ.  Unity means that we are in step with the Church, integrating our entire being with the beauty of its rich heritage and its exciting future.

We live in a moment of history when many openly defy the authority of the Pope. We need to persevere, at times under very difficult circumstances, in the exciting adventure of fidelity.  With God's help and the maternal protection of Mary, the Mother of the Church, we can repeat the sounding words of St. Paul at the end of our earthly existence:  "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 3: 7).

Many years ago when I was in high school and college, I too did a lot of discussing and debating.  I too had many religious opinions, many of which were erroneous and unfounded.  I debated other issues than the hot-button issues of today; nevertheless, I too struggled with obedience or disobedience to the Pope.

Thankfully, through the patient and loving guidance of a college professor who became a true life-long friend, I was able to openly search for the truth through deep prayer and sincere study, and I found it.  I know that this truth is Jesus and all that his Catholic Church teaches.  I love this truth very much and I will never leave it behind again, even if I have to stand alone with the Pope, whoever he may be. 

So, I truly do understand all of the debate, all of the discussion and even all of the anger.  I have been there and I have left all of that behind only to find profound joy, peace and freedom in the Church that I have given my entire life to. 

The only solution for the problems that we face as a Church in America is to get back to basics and rediscover the same Jesus that Peter encountered.  "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16: 17).  

We must begin again by truly living as disciples of the Lord and living the gospels with renewed authenticity.   Many of our problems are rooted in a spirit that is not Christian.  A faith lived like the early Church will enliven our parishes and simplify the way we do things as a Church.  In this way, we can become more efficacious in our service to our brothers and sisters, especially to those most in need. 

True Christianity, not programs and fundraising techniques, will liberate us from ambition, worldliness and scandals.