A few weeks ago, a headline kept popping up that, “NJ should expect a colder and snowier winter this year.” That prediction came from the annual publication of The Farmers Almanac.  This was one of those moments when my A.D.D. reared its ugly head as I asked myself, “Didn’t they say this last year, and we had zero snow?” And thanks to Google, I wasted more time than I wanted to learn about The Farmers Almanac, their predictions, and their accuracy rate (the publishers say they’re 85% accurate, but Wikipedia says 50% ).

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 27, 2023.  I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

In my ongoing research, I came upon a list of other claims that were historically dead wrong.  From bankers advising Henry Ford to abandon his pursuits in production of cars, not to waste his money because, “The horse is here to stay… the automobile is a fad – a novelty.” Investors passed on backing this invention called a television for the same reason: “Televisions won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months; people will get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” Even when Alexander Graham Bell went to sell someone the patent to the telephone, he was dismissed.  The guy who passed on it said, “The idea is idiotic on the face of it…why would any person want to use this ungainly and impractical device when he can send a messenger to the telegraph office and have a clear written message sent to any large city in the United States?” Ironically, people haven’t learned from history.  Back in 2007, the CEO of Microsoft said, “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.  No chance.”

I couldn’t help but wonder what motivated these individuals to take the stand that they did.  Maybe they were too narrow-minded to see the potential.  Some might have been too arrogant and confident in the way things were, the things they were comfortable with that they couldn’t conceive of something new or different.  You have to imagine some were trying to protect what they were invested in, hoping to deflate expectations on a rival.  What stands out to me is how certain they are in their statements.  Whatever the reason, they missed out on being a part of something big.  I wonder if they ever regretted it.

When was the last time you were sure about something?  And what was the reason for your confidence?

Praying with this Gospel this week, there’s a part about it that has been bothering me.  As Catholics, we see this passage as how Jesus clearly established the office of the Papacy, making Simon (now Peter) the first Pope.   This was one of those Gospels that made me feel very proud to be Catholic and secure in my faith as we heard the words:  “You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” Visiting Rome for the first time only about a dozen years ago and walking into the Vatican, into St. Peter’s Square, the enormity of the basilica itself was overwhelming.  Remembering this was built centuries ago after taking over a century to complete – replacing previous churches over the very place where St. Peter gave his life in martyrdom for Christ and His Church 2 millennia ago and where he is buried.  Seeing the giant dome with those words over his tomb, “Tu es Petrus,” ‘You are Peter,’ the letters over 9 feet tall so that you can read them from the floor below.  It’s amazingly overwhelming to come in contact with these sites and feel the history.

But it’s far more than that, as you go outside and see the 265th successor to Peter, Pope Francis, addressing thousands from around the world who’ve come to Rome.  Being there on pilgrimage with a group that included the most devout of Catholics to some who weren’t practicing any faith, it was moving to see how affected every single one of them was.  Even as we couldn’t escape the stories of incredible threats and challenges that Catholic Christians faced throughout the centuries, things that seemed at the time destined to wipe out the Church – yet the Church is still here.  The tour guide just had to point around at the tombs of martyrs and places like the Coliseum where thousands of Christians were executed as a sick form of entertainment for refusing to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ.  There was a sense of triumphalism when we even recounted some of the significant failures, tremendous sins, and scandalous behaviors of members and Church leaders throughout the centuries up to the present day that has brought incredible pain, hurt, and shame but were unable to ultimately up end the Church.  The fact that the Church is still here is miraculous and seems to confirm the truth of Christ’s words.

But that triumphalism can be disastrous when the reason for our confidence in the Gospel becomes arrogance and lukewarm faith.  We can believe that because even though we see and experience all of these difficult things, we’re on the right team, and that’s all that matters.  Where we end up treating our faith like some insurance policy.

This is why these words from St. Paul in the second reading stood out to me.  For the last 10 Sundays, the second reading have all been coming from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans.  Paul, who had been a devout Jew – was zealous in his faith, being a Pharisee, so someone who had given his life to the study of scripture.  After Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, Ascension into Heaven, and commissioning His disciples to go into the world and proclaim His Gospel and baptize them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – Paul saw this as a threat to Judaism and was one of Christianity’s fiercest of persecutors.  The scales from his eyes are removed, both literally and figuratively, after Paul encounters the Risen Christ,.  He can see how his arrogance and fear blinded him from seeing what God had been doing and was doing right before him.

Fast forward to this letter to the Romans.  Now, in the greatest of ironies, the devout Jew was sent to go and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the last people he would have ever crossed paths with.  The Gentiles, who he would’ve labeled us unclean.  In this letter to the Romans last week, we read him writing about how God, in His great love, has poured out His mercy upon all – all – Jew and Gentile- that God was using the Jewish people to bring salvation to the entire world.  And in today’s reading, he almost sounds lost in awe, in reverence at what God has done – not just on a theological level, where he’s recounting scripture and telling people what they need to do, but personally, intimately in his own life

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God

How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!

That’s exactly what makes Simon – Peter.  Simon Peter couldn’t have been more different than Paul.  As a fisherman, he was nowhere near as well versed in the scriptures.  Yet on this particular day, when Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” – it comes from his gut; it comes from his heart and soul; it comes from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  There’s a boldness, a conviction there.  It wasn’t just a spontaneous utterance – but a revelation of how Simon had grown into this faith that he now professes.   What started out as responding to this call of Jesus to Simon to let go of his plans and his self-interests, where Jesus radically shifted Simon from being a fisherman who would be focused on his business and his family to now following the man who called him on the shore to“fish for men.”  In the time since, Simon had indeed witnessed some incredibly special things.   So this was divine revelation, but it was also Simon’s own logic and reasoning bringing him to this conclusion.  There had been and will never be another like Jesus Christ. … you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Jesus rejoices in Peter’s moment of clarity, of vision.  It’s a continuation of what we heard a few weeks ago in the Gospel where Peter learned that when he is focused on Jesus, when he is listening to His voice, following His footsteps, Peter will do amazing things, that he can even walk on water.

That is the takeaway truth for all of us.  The Church will only be able to withstand the gates of the netherworld only when we keep our focus on Jesus.  When the reason for our confidence is not hubris born of arrogance in our history – but in that we truly believe, we profess, we’re willing to lay down our lives confessing that Jesus “is the Christ, the Son of the living God,” when our faith is in Christ, then nothing can shake our sureness, our confidence in Him.