Be brave! Be faithful!

“The boat may be sinking, our doubts may be lurking, but should we not stand firm to save our church?” 

ONE day, as Jesus was walking toward the villages of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ”Who do people say that I am?” They responded, “John the Baptist, others say Elijah, still others say one of the prophets. Then he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Peter’s answer pleased Jesus. He affirmed his faith and called him to lead his church.

The next moment, he started telling his disciples that the Son of Man must suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days. Peter did not like what Jesus was saying so he rebuked him, which means that he was opposed to Jesus’ words.

Jesus’ point was that suffering and persecution are part of discipleship. Like Jesus who underwent persecution to save humanity, the disciples must be be willing to suffer too. Peter didn’t understand this yet.

Jesus became indignant, and so he scolded Peter, “Get behind me Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

This is an interesting interaction between Jesus and Peter:  One moment, Jesus affirmed Peter, and the next moment, he reprimanded him and called him Satan. This is Peter to whom he handed the keys of the Kingdom and would become the leader of his band of disciples – Peter, who at times looked courageous, and at times looked foolish too. Peter, who denied Jesus three times.

Peter’s personality speaks to us of church leaders’ imperfections and sinfulness. They’re not all great. Some are brave, others are weak. Some are wise, others are imprudent. Some are corrupt, others are holy. Just look at the crisis that is happening in the church in this present time regarding the scandals of sexual abuse of minors and youth. It’s hard and painful to understand why some men of the cloth would commit this grave crime and evil act, and why some in authority would cover it up.

But as we hear from other bishops, priests, and lay people, should we leave the Church because of the imperfections and the shortcomings of our leaders? Or should we remain faithful to our faith, struggle with the scandals, and undergo suffering and persecution? It’s not easy to keep the faith, but don’t we want to be counted among the dedicated and committed ones? Should we stay only when the goings are easy, steady, and calm?

The boat may be sinking, our doubts may be lurking, but should we not stand firm to save our church? Should we not begin again and start healing and rebuilding it? It’s our choice.

This Sunday’s Gospel tells us the value of suffering. Jesus reminds us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

As one priest urged his flock, “Don’t leave, lead!” It’s what we need to do. It’s not time to abandon the ship. It’s time to take leadership in bringing it to land and start restoring and restrengthening it. It would take time. It would cost sacrifices and our lives, but it would be worth it.

We, clergy and lay, must not succumb to despair and hopelessness. We need to work together q, men and women, adults and children, to bring back integrity in our church. It can’t be done only by those in power and authority. It must also happen through us – simple priests, religious men and women, and lay people – with our persistent voices to demand honesty, transparency, accountability, and justice from the hierarchy.

So let’s be brave. Let’s be faithful to Jesus and the Church he established.

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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.

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