Sunday, June 29, 2014

June 29, 2014: Saints Peter and Paul, Year A

Click: Audio Homily
Have you seen the 1976 movie “Rocky” featuring Sylvester Stallone? Can you imagine what it’s like to watch it in Korean? As I watched the movie as a child in Korea, that was my first encounter with what’s called the American dream. In the movie, Rocky Balboa was a rough on the edges and an uneducated but kind-hearted debt collector for a loan shark in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Rocky starts out as a small-time boxer, but later gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship. Rocky’s trainer Mickey always considered Rocky’s potential to be better than his effort—telling Rocky that he had heart but also called him by endearing titles such as, “tomato” and “bum.” Through determination and hard training, Rocky was able to fight the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion and persevere for 15 grueling rounds. When the movie was over, as the Rocky theme music was playing in the background, I stepped out of the theater brimming with enthusiasm that I could achieve greatness like Rocky if I would just apply myself with determination.

In some ways, St. Peter had a similar background as Rocky Balboa. Simon was an uneducated fisherman with a kind heart but impetuous spirit. Simon’s major break in life came when he encountered Jesus on his own boat. Jesus instructed reluctant Simon to put out a net over one direction; his reluctance melted as the net was filled to the point of tearing with fish. His fishing partners, James and John, also could not believe their eyes. Simon’s reaction to this miracle was startling. Simon knelt before Jesus and cried out, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Before the divine presence, Simon felt small, petty, unworthy, and fearful. But Jesus reassured Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When Simon, James and John brought their boats and the catch back to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus. In contrast to the character “Rocky,” Simon’s  ‘success’ in the end was not due to luck or personal achievement, but due to his humility before Jesus after making mistakes. A humbled Simon allowed Jesus to lead him.

St. Paul’s break in life came similarly as St. Peter’s although St. Paul’s background was quite different. Saul was a brilliant yet overconfident and boastful scholar of the law with a vengeful personal mission. On the way to persecute Christians, he was blinded by a bright light and knocked to the ground. He then heard a voice, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  Before this thundering voice, Saul felt small, petty, unworthy, and fearful. “Who are you, sir,” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do,” he replied. Three days after suffering blindness in the city of Damascus, Saul received a new mission for his life from Jesus.  

Jesus challenges us, just as he did with Peter, to let go of what is comfortable and predictable--that is, our own will. Heavenly Father has a unique mission for each of us. Do we have the courage to let go and say yes to this mission? Courage is connected with taking risks. Some think that examples of courage are bungee jumping off of a bridge, climbing Mt. Everest, or crossing the ocean in a rowboat--where people risk their lives. None of these daredevil acts come from the centre of our being. Rather, they all come from the desire to test our physical limits and to become famous and popular. Spiritual courage is something completely different. Spiritual courage is following the deepest desires of our hearts at the risk of losing fame and popularity.  It asks of us the willingness to lose our temporal lives in order to gain eternal life.
When Jesus changed Simon’s name to Cephas or “Rock,” some scholars believe that this was Jesus’ way not only establishing His Church on the rock foundation, but also highlighting Peter’s rough edges. All of us begin our spiritual life being rough on the edges, with flaws, and not being perfect. The faith journey of St. Peter and St. Paul remind us that we often come to God not by doing right but by doing wrong. Do you believe that Jesus can use you to accomplish great things for His Kingdom? Then humbly submit your will to the Heavenly Father’s will. St. Paul reminds us what can happen when we do this, “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed.”