Weekly Homily from Father Jim Hogan for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 24, 2014

•Isaiah 22:19-23 • Romans 11:33-36 • Matthew 16:13-20•

Weekly Scripture Readings: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Since resuming our sequential reading of the gospel of Matthew, I find myself
struggling with texts like today’s gospel. I was aided in my struggle with this
homily when I read a brief article about “Hellgate Canyon.” In his journals
Meriwether Lewis recorded that the Nez Perce refused to accompany them into
that canyon for fear of the Blackfeet people. Years later, enough blood had been
shed in the canyon and enough folks claimed by death that the local French
speaking-trappers took to calling the canyon – “The Gates of Hell.” Thus we
have “Hellgate Canyon” today.

“I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” “The Gates of
Hell.” Matthew’s Jesus is not referring to “Hellgate Canyon.” Jesus and his
traveling companions were in a beautiful place known as Caesarea Philippi. This
oasis of green trees and brush is located 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. At
the base of a high rock cliff, the headwaters of the Jordan River erupt from the
bowels of Earth and flow out of a cave. For the Hebrew people “Sheol” was the
abode of the dead. The site was known as “the Gates of Hell,” referring to

In his dialogue with Peter, Jesus refers to “the Gates of Hell.” His companions
would understand this as a reference to the abode of the dead. However since
medieval times the words in this text, found only in Matthew’s gospel, were
employed by the Roman hierarchy as a proof text to validate papal claims of
supremacy and infallibility. That was not Matthew’s intent in composing this text.
Such claims have nothing to do with the message or mission of the historical

In the historical Jesus something new was emerging in the cosmos. He was a
human being among human beings and the first among us to become fully
human. He was raised from the dead and is the beginning of a new creation. In
him we see a new way of being human. It is the way of vulnerable, unconditional
love. With his question to his companions, he was opening a door and inviting
his companions to pass through it. He was trying to awaken them to a mystery
far greater than they were able to comprehend – the Gracious Mystery we name
God. Our task as church is simply to keep that door open as we progress in our
ability to love without condition.

It became evident as early as the 15th century when the Borgia family occupied
the Chair of Peter. Claims of supremacy and infallibility damage the church. In
our own time this text defined the meaning of the papal office for Karol Wojtyła
and Joseph Ratzinger. Both relied on this text to resist and even reverse the
vision of renewal inaugurated by the Second Vatican Council. The
consequences have been negative. How different today, when the current
bishop of Rome defines the meaning of the papal office by the gospel. We
already experience the difference.

The historical Jesus lived with the Gracious Mystery we name God as the center
of his life. I hope that is true for us as well. Living in that mystery enabled Jesus
to sublimate the enormous power of his primal instincts and to become fully
human and able to love unconditionally. I hope that is happening in us as well.
The question he asked continues to echo among us today — “Who do you say
that I am?” With this question the Risen one continues opening a door into a
mystery far greater that we are able to comprehend. He continues inviting us to
pass through that door.

Doing so today will require major revisions in our theology. Both the larger
secular world and we who are church are called to radical change by the great
explosion of information now available to us in quantum physics, psychology,
space telescopes, and the biological sciences. We cannot ignore that
information or climate change or the increasing disparity between the wealthy
and the poor that also demand our attention. “Who do you say I am?”
If “the world is charged with the grandeur of God,” as I believe it is, then I am
convinced the great explosion of knowledge now available to us is “as divinely
inspired as any words written in ancient sacred tomes.” This explosion of
knowledge can lead us deeper into the Christ Mystery. Be open and steadfast in
your commitment to embrace the gospel and follow the way of Christ.

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