OUT OF MY DEPTHS (Mark 8:27-35): 13 September 2009 (Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Today’s Gospel story reminds me of what happened to me last May, when I was in Rome for a meeting. Thanks to a Filipino Jesuit friend, Fr. Joe Quilongquilong, I got to join the Scavi Tour, touted as one of the hottest tickets in Rome.
“It’s extraordinary,” promised Father Joe, who, having lived in Rome for years, has become our resident expert in Church history there.
At the time I had no idea what the Scavi Tour was, but soon enough I learned that “scavi” meant “excavations,” and that the tour, with only 120 visitors allowed per day, would take me to the necropolis (or “city of the dead”) beneath the St. Peter’s Basilica and eventually to the tomb of St. Peter–a graffiti wall with the Greek inscription “Peter is here” and a small hole with two boxes containing human bones believed to belong to St. Peter.
I still don’t understand exactly what I experienced at the end of the tour as I prayed before St. Peter’s sepulchral chamber at the basilica crypt. It was some kind of unexpected religious experience, when I felt mysteriously connected to St. Peter. There, on my knees, I was suddenly overwhelmed with memories of St. Peter’s words. Wave after wave, they rushed to me–those unforgettable lines that have been attributed to him in the gospels:
When you saw your other followers leave and you asked them if they too would leave you behind, Peter gave voice to every disciple’s deepest desires: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Only you have the words of eternal life.”
When the miraculous catch made him feel he might have too much in his hands, he fell on his knees and told you: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”
When he thoughtlessly jumped overboard to try to walk on the water towards you and began to sink, he cried out: “Save me, Lord!”
When you scolded him for refusing to let you wash his feet, he changed his mind: “Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!”
When you kept asking him whether or not he loved you, his pained response was: “Lord, you know that I love you!”
And of course, when you asked your disciples who people said you were, his famous confession today was: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”
It was as if St. Peter himself was speaking to me. Each line I remembered I resonated with; each word I heard I recognized as also my own. The circumstances in his life in which those words had been spoken made me realize what I had always felt: Simon Peter is my brother.
Always the first to speak among the disciples, always the quickest to rush in–sometimes without adequate thought, he found himself often having too much in his hands or simply out of his depths. Among your disciples, St. Peter was always first to recognize you, but was also the one who denied you at the time you most needed him.
Lord, you know I am the same. How often I’ve rushed in only to find that I have too much in my hands. How often I’ve jumped into a situation only to find myself out of my depths. Like Peter, I love you passionately and recognize you immediately, but I’ve also often forgotten you, denied you, and turned away!
Lately, I’ve been feeling that I’m out of my depths and out of sorts. Perhaps like Peter, I have rushed in too soon again. Maybe I’ve ended up with too much in my hands again. And maybe I’ve dived in too deep again. Save me, Lord! Save me from every sinking feeling! I should learn from St. Peter, my brother, who, unlike Judas, was saved only because he kept his eyes fixed on you.
Lord, I think there’s a little bit of Peter in each of us. The question really is: “Which Peter?” The Peter who is first to recognize you–as he does in the gospel story today, or the Peter who denies you? Grant us the grace to be the Peter who sees you first even if the best he can do in following you is to fumble after you.
St. Peter, pray for us. Amen.