“I believe,” are the words we use each Sunday when following the homily we make a “profession of faith.” The two formulas we use are called the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and the Apostles Creed. The former is the norm for Mass though the Apostles Creed is permitted especially during the Lent-Easter Seasons as it is the formula used during baptism.
The title of the profession comes from its first word in Latin, “Credo,” which translates, “I believe.” The profession articulates some of the most fundamental beliefs of our faith in the one God (Father, Son and Spirit) and the life he gives us in and through his Son and his church.
The recitation of the creed gives us the opportunity each week to reaffirm these basic beliefs by which our path through life is guided. The profession helps us to keep grounded while at the same time giving us another avenue for worshiping the God who loves us, makes himself known to us and invites us to himself.
The Gospel passage for this Sunday’s liturgy contains the familiar account of St. Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus. It is an important moment in mission and in preparation for its continuance in the life of the church. The question “who is Jesus?” may seem like a simple question but its importance in the life of the world and in our own lives cannot be underestimated. Each of the four Gospel accounts actually presents an answer to this question by the way the Gospel is presented. In the passage today Jesus himself poses the question.
First, he asks the disciples about the “people’s” understanding of Jesus’ identity. Their response indicates that a common understanding is that the people identified him as a prophet. Then Jesus asks the disciples the question “Who do you say that I am?” This is one of those moments where a decision has to be made. He is offering them the opportunity to say what they believe.
Though all are asked the question, only one responds. Peter is the one who speaks and he says: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus is a prophet but something more. He is the Messiah. Jesus then recognizes that Peter has been given a gift from the father in being able to make this profession of faith. While the others remained silent, Peter acclaims.
So Jesus says to him: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 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.”
Peter’s role and the establishment of the church are important aspects of, not just this passage, but the entire mission and ministry of Jesus. Peter acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah. This does not mean that he fully comprehends the impact and meaning of what he is saying, as we will see from the passage that follows when Jesus speaks about his passion, death and resurrection. Peter’s understanding of, relationship with and response to Jesus will continue to grow and develop throughout his life.
So Peter’s discipleship is not “perfect” or “complete,” rather it is growing. Important to remember is that Jesus chooses him, as directed by the Father, to be the leader of his church. Jesus gives Peter tremendous responsibility as indicated by the binding and loosing authority.
The connection between Jesus’ identity and the ability to bind and loose is important because the authority comes through Jesus and is not taken up on his own but is given to him.
Peter’s tomb in Rome is well known to many since St. Peter’s Basilica is built over it. If you look at photographs of the altar and baldicchino and look up, you will see the words Jesus spoke to Peter both in Latin and Greek at the base of Michelangelo’s done.
If you look down, you will see a series of steps that go down to the lower level. This is the level below the altar, and below this is Peter’s tomb. This area is referred to as “the confessio” — not in the sense of the confession of sins but in profession of faith. Pilgrims visiting Peter’s tomb use the opportunity to recite the creed here in remembrance of his profession of faith — a profession that has been handed down to us from generation to generation.
We have the opportunity today to reflect on the question of Jesus’ identity. What is my understanding of who Jesus is? If he asked me the question “Who do you say that I am?” how would I reply? Jesus invites us to know him, to love him and to grow in our friendship with him so that we too, like Peter, may be able to say from our hearts: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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