Sunday Sermon for August 24, 2014, the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Is 22:19-23; Rom 11:33-36; Mt 16:3-20
Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! These words begin the second reading today as St. Paul marvels at the way God works. As we know, God’s ways are not our ways. Those who seek only a worldly way of understanding will never come to grasp the wisdom of God.

In fact, St. Paul told the Corinthians that the wisdom of God is foolishness from the human perspective. However, he also said the from God’s perspective, human wisdom is foolishness. This being the case, if we desire true wisdom we have to be able to see things from God’s perspective. This is possible for us since we are members of Jesus, partakers of the divine nature, and children of God. Each of us will be filled with the wisdom of God to the degree that we are conformed to the Lord in the spiritual life.

This conformity is the key because Jesus Himself is the Wisdom of God. Therefore, the more perfectly conformed we are to Him, the more we can see and understand things from God’s point of view because conformity to Christ means that there is less of ourselves and more of Him. The Saints tells us that if we can go beyond being conformed to Christ and get to the point of being transformed into Christ at which point we are united with the mind and the will of God. When this happens, we can see things as God sees them and we, too, can marvel at the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God.

In the meantime we have to take things on faith and know that somehow, in a way that might seem foolish in our human way of thinking, what God has done and what He is doing is truly the best. We might question the wisdom of God becoming one of us. We might wonder about the wisdom of the crucifixion. We might struggle to understand the wisdom of the Lord being present in the Holy Eucharist. Every point of faith may seem foolish on the natural level, but being an expression of God’s wisdom we have to accept them on faith rather than on knowledge and understanding.

One element of God’s wisdom that has clearly been a problem for many people over the centuries regards the Church herself. There are so many people today who have either rejected the Church outright or try to say that they are Catholic but they do not believe this or that teaching of the Church. In the Gospel reading today our Lord speaks to Peter and says that he is the rock on which the Church will be built. Peter? Isn’t this the man who proclaims his faith that Jesus is the Son of God and in the next breath says that Jesus cannot suffer and die? Isn’t this the man who would deny that he even knows Jesus when it comes time for the Lord to suffer and die?

Yes, it is the same Peter. How can this be wise? Jesus told Peter that he would fall, but that afterward he would repent and he would be the one to strengthen the others. It seems so foolish to start a Church and then entrust it to sinful men. We would like our leaders to be perfect; instead they are like us. We have all sinned, but God in His wisdom brings good out of evil and makes our weaknesses into our strengths. Of course, this can only happen if we cooperate with His grace, but this is God’s wisdom for us, for Peter, and for our leaders today.

In the first reading we hear about a man who was the Prime Minister in Israel. His refusal to repent and his pride in relying on his own strength led to his being removed from his office and being replaced by another. This office of the Prime Minister is essentially what the Papacy is in the Church. Jesus is the King; Peter and his successors fill the office of the Prime Minister. In other words, their task is to oversee the day to day functioning of the Kingdom. They are given the authority of the King to open and close as it says in the first reading, or to bind and loose as it says in the Gospel.

Divine wisdom decrees that the Pope, in his weakness, must rely solely on the strength of God so that the People of God will be served properly. If this seems foolish to you, remember that this is the same requirement given to every bishop, priest, parent, boss, etc. That God would choose weak, sinful, human beings to be conformed to Christ is, perhaps, the clearest demonstration of His strength and His wisdom.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit