“The Lord has opened my ear. For my part I made no resistance, neither did I turn away.” (Isaiah 50:5)
Sometime before he died, Fr. Seamus Stapleton commissioned a painting to be hung by the baptismal font. Sadly, he died before it was completed but the artist, Gerry Flaherty carried on the work which is entitled “The Great Commission”. I collected it when I was in Ireland in August and we hung it in its place on September 14th which is Seamus’ birthday and feast of the Triumph of the Cross.
The setting is Rockanore, so it localizes the Gospel, brings it home to us and depicts Jesus on the shore with St. Peter and some saints who were of importance to Seamus and includes St. Vincent Pallotti. The rest of the apostles are on their fishing boats coming in to shore and you will notice on the front on one boat is Fr. Seamus himself dressed in white. The decision to include Seamus was made by the artist after his death and it means for us that Seamus is present with us in a visible way and will remain present through all of time.
It’s worth taking time to ponder the painting. Firstly, I imagine that Jesus and Peter are having the conversation from today’s Gospel. Who do you say I am? You are the Christ. You are Peter, the rock. Get behind me!
Secondly, I think about where I am in this picture in relation to Jesus and I have already found where. Thirdly, I think of which saints I would place in the painting and lastly, I think of what Jesus and I would be saying to each other.
In commissioning this painting Seamus was listening to the inner voice of the Spirit and through it has given us a message, a prayer and a meditation.
This is the ideal – that the interior ear of heart and soul and mind is open to hearing what God is saying, that we listen and offer no resistance to what is being said by God. Last week we witnessed the healing of physical deafness through the commanding prayer of Jesus – “Ephphatha, be opened!” Today we might ask Him to do the same for us in our inner selves.
Listening is not always easy. Sometimes we listen only to what we want to hear because we are often afraid of what is being said, confused by it, cannot take it in. We dismiss the Word of God and by doing so deprive ourselves of the most profound blessings.
Peter is an example of the difficulty we have in truly listening and receiving what Jesus is offering. On the one hand Peter hears the question, “who do you say I am?” and he offers an answer that is divinely revealed, showing how in tune he is with God. In St. Matthew’s version of this Jesus goes on to say to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19) By this response Peter becomes the first Pope.
But it’s one thing to say under the influence of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is the Christ; it’s quite another to accept what that actually means in practise. So, when Jesus explains that to be the Christ will involve terrible suffering and death, Peter won’t hear of it. He stands in front of Jesus and literally blocks his path saying, “this must not happen!” And in saying this he moves from being the divinely inspired instrument of God to becoming an instrument of the devil. He is a complex man who holds serious contradictions within himself and in this he represents all of us in the greatness, the sinfulness, the best and worst, with all our paradox and contradiction.
Jesus rebukes Peter and puts him in his place but He doesn’t dismiss or reject him, doesn’t revoke the calling conferred on him. Jesus knows the plans He has in mind for Peter, He knows exactly what He is going to do with him (Jeremiah 29 & John 6).
Peter’s place is not in front of Jesus but behind Him; it is not for Peter to go ahead of Jesus but to follow Him; it is not for Peter to block the path of Jesus but to make way for Him. Peter represents Pope Francis and he represents you and me – who we are and who we are to become; what our place is in relation to Jesus and His mission. Jesus knows the plans He has in mind for each of us, even when we get it terribly wrong. He knows exactly what He is going to do.
The place that Jesus has chosen for Himself is right in the midst of human suffering and it is there that we best find him. We sometimes use suffering to question God and to run away from Him but if we would only listen and stay, then we would find Him right at the heart of our own personal suffering, at the heart of the suffering of the world – as its Redeemer and Saviour and Lord.
So, let’s take a moment to pray and listen. Ephphatha, Lord, you have opened my ear and I offer you no resistance, I will not turn away. I will follow behind you, walk with you but never ahead of you. I will not be an obstacle in your path even though I may not understand what you are doing. You are Jesus my Saviour. You are my Lord, my Life and my Love. I adore you profoundly. Amen!