Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
The practice of our Christian faith demands a peculiar mixing of faith in God and faith in people.
We know of Jesus only because the Church has faithfully announced the Gospel through these many centuries. The pure, unpolluted fountain of God's word still gushes into the air like the geyser Old Faithful; its water falls upon thirsty believers gathered in congregations as well as curious passers-by.
But it doesn't take much investigation to discover the impurity of the church's members and leaders. Sooner or later, every believer must come to terms with that.
I see Jesus speaking to that challenge when he blesses Saint Peter. The apostle has been deeply impressed with the presence and teaching of Jesus. He devoutly -- mistakenly -- believes he would follow this great man even into martyrdom. On that quiet country road in "the region of Caesarea Philippi" he takes his stand before the Lord and the other disciples. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." he says without hesitation.
But Jesus assures him, "...flesh and blood has not revealed this to you." Despite whatever he may be thinking about his relationship with the Galilean, his faith is not founded on his personal experience. It is a gift from "my heavenly Father."
Many people are distressed about the Church today. I hear complaints many times a week, if not every day, in the VA hospital. Some can complain about what they've heard on television; a few have read it in the newspapers; occasionally an individual Veteran has tragic, personal experience.
But I also meet many Veterans and their families who wholeheartedly support the Church and its priests, deacons and lay ministers. They've read the same newspapers; some have had bitter personal experience. They stand apart because they have been inspired by the Heavenly Father who lavishes the Holy Spirit upon them.
They manage that peculiar mixing of faith in God and faith in human beings.
Perhaps it begins with forgiving one's parents. Everyone of us deserved perfect parents, and they deserved perfect children. But we've learned to love the actual parents and children we were given. Even the those who are criminally flawed and do unspeakable damage often win forgiveness from their families. This too is God's work. Forgiveness cannot happen without an outpouring of grace.
The Father and the Holy Spirit continually direct our attention back to Jesus, the head of the Church. Love without naivete, sentiment or illusion is all more beautiful. The gates of the netherworld cannot prevail against it.