I will build my church

I will build my church.
A key, then, was not something that could be easily concealed; it was a piece of timber perhaps 20cm (9 inches) long, with pins in the end, to insert in the slot of the lock to displace the pins keeping it locked. It was laid on the shoulder of Shebna (Isaiah 22:19-23). Have we some keys to the discussion at Caesarea Philippi?
The ruins of Caesarea Philippi can be visited at Banias in the far north of the Holy Land, at the foot of Mt Hermon (Jabal al-Shaykh). The place already had religious associations with the Greek god Pan. In 20 BC the area was given to Herod the Great by Caesar Augustus, and Herod built a temple of white marble to Augustus there.
Augustus was born Gaius Octavius. Following the assassination of his maternal great-uncle Julius Caesar in 44 BC, Caesar’s will named Octavius as his adopted son and heir, so Octavius became Gaius Julius Caesar Octavius. In 42 BC, Julius Caesar was declared Divus Iulius, the Divine Julius. Following the deification of Caesar, Octavian added Divi Filius (Son of the Divine) to his name, becoming Gaius Julius Caesar Divi Filius: Gaius Julius Caesar the son of god. So we already have a son of god with a recently built temple at the time of Jesus.
On Herod’s death the area passed to Herod’s son Philip, and Philip built the capital of his territory there in 2 BC, and called it Caesarea Philippi to distinguish it from the other Caesarea on the coast. Now, as well as the recent Temple to Augustus the son of god, we have the even more recently built city.
The location of the discussion in Matthew 16:13-20 gives us Augustus the son of the (dead) god Julius Caesar, for whom the newly built city was named. Here at this place, Peter the rock says : “You are the Christ, the son of the living God!”
And Jesus says: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church!” Not a city of rock, not a temple of marble, but his church: not a building, but an ekklesia, a qahal Jahwe, a “calling out” of God’s people. This seems an unusual use of the word “build”, unlike what the disciples saw around them at Caesarea Philippi.
Think of “church” as a verb, an activity, rather than a noun, a thing. Jesus is building a dynamic action of living stones, founded on Peter. We are defined as the people of that action. The passage of time has prevailed against the temple to Augustus and over the city in his name built at the rock where the Jordan rises. The gates of hell have not prevailed against the “church” called together today, and called out from this gathering to be the dynamic of the kingdom to every person and place we go.
However long I take my place in a garage, I will never be a car. However long I take my place in a church building, or in a gathering of disciples, I will be a disciple only when that dynamic, that Spirit, guides my life. Jesus is the Christ, son of the living God. We are the christened, those in whose being the life of that same God is coursing.
How rich are the depths of God! To him be the glory for ever. Amen! (Romans 11:33-36)
Padraig McCarthy

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  1. Nuala O'Driscoll says:

    I’m wondering what it must be like to have the authority to retrospectively read back into the Scriptures and discover there new insights in light of one’s experience and the context of new times. Padraig McCarthy can do this without being challenged because he is male, a cleric, and part of the institutional Church. I remember a comment from Soline some months ago. Soline quoted an inspirational insight from a woman’s retrospective reading of the Scriptures in light of her experiences of life and imminent death. Soline was dismissed out of hand by male, clerical thought. I still find this quote inspiring.

  2. Thank you Nuala @1,especially since today is the anniversary of my baptism.
    I am guessing you may be referring to this powerfully moving testimony of Sr Irene Mc Cormack who presided at Eucharistic celebrations in Peru when the priests had left the village and this before she was murdered by the Shining Path terrorists in 1991. She was the one left behind, the one who had chosen to stay with the people whom God had entrusted to her. She was baptizing and celebrating with them but there was no Eucharist. The people came to her and begged her: “Give us the Eucharist”. She did not want to, she was not ordained, she was a woman, and God did not call women (as she thought) but then she realised and she wrote:”They freed me to exercise Eucharistic ministry among them”….
    “It seems to me, therefore, that the preoccupation of our Church leaders with power and control over who can celebrate the Eucharist, who can and who can’t receive the Eucharist, is right up the creek. It’s a contradiction to be talking about a ‘sacred meal’, and have to sit and watch, not participate. Quite apart from the lack of the atmosphere of a fellowship meal, or lack of basic symbolism when only one person drinks from the cup and we use a tasteless wafer in place of bread. Of course too our preoccupation with the only reality being the scientific, the empirical, makes it hard for us to accept the validity of symbolism. Not only is it a contradiction to the proclamation of Jesus that there is no distinction between male and female, but a lack of appreciation of the plight of villagers like ours all over the world, that our Church continues denying in its official ministry that it is by natural ‘communion’. As we in our little Christian communities, high up in the Andes, gather in memory of Jesus, there is no power or authority on earth that can convince me that Jesus is not personally present. I feel grateful that these months on end without the ‘official mass’ and in a culture where I’m experiencing new symbols, has gifted me with a new appreciation of the Eucharist.”
    Irene Mc Cormack was murdered after a public mock trial which reminded the villagers who witnessed it of the trial and execution of Jesus. Her own blood was shed after giving the blood of Christ to these people whom she loved and who loved her. Many now revere her as a martyr.http://columban.org.au/Archives/features/2011/sister-irene-mccormack-australias-next-saint/?searched=irene+mccormack&advsearch=exactphrase&highlight=ajaxSearch_highlight+ajaxSearch_highlight1

  3. Cornelius Martin says:

    In the challenging times we live in I find the phrase “My Church” reassuring.

  4. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    @1 Nuala: I can relate to what you and Soline write.
    However, I wrote the reflection in the hope that perhaps it would be a help in having some background to the reading on the story at Caesarea Philippi. I don’t claim any authority for what I write, except that it helps me in understanding Scripture. I did not write it for acceptance from a male cleric of the institutional church structure. I have been helped over the years by reflections from female and male Christians.
    You, Nuala, are a female baptised member of the Body of Christ, and part of the imperfect institutional structure. This should never impede you from offering your reflections, and it would be quite wrong if you were “dismissed out of hand by male, clerical thought.”
    In the same way, I should not be impeded because I am a male cleric, even if it is for some a distraction from what is written.
    Your remarks do not in any way address what I wrote. The guidelines at “Leave a Reply” on this page say: “Take on the idea, not the messenger.” Only if this is observed can we have a coherent discussion on the topic. Digressions do not aid the discussion. They do not encourage possible contributors to the valuable resource offered by the ACP website. All the other contributors at present on the home page of the website are from male writers, except the ACI invitation to Rome. Does what I wrote present some difficulty that the others do not?
    Perhaps you have some comments on what I actually wrote, whether you found it confused or objectionable or helpful, and you may have some reflections of your own on the story from Matthew 16.
    It would be good, when you have some reflections to make which are a fresh topic not directly related to a previous item, to send it to the website (see “Contact Us” at the top of the page). Your reflections could then be the start of a coherent discussion of your topic. This would be a positive use of the opportunities offered by the ACP website.

  5. Soline Humbert says:

    Could it be that some of the original meaning may be lost in the English translation of this passage originally in Greek? Where two different words,petros and petra,are used in Greek, they are translated
    by only one English one, rock.
    Peter is PETROS,masculine in Greek,meaning small stone,
    while the church is founded on PETRA,feminine in Greek,meaning a large stone.
    Is the church founded on the one true foundation stone,(Petra), Christ the Son of the living God,as professed by Peter(petros) ? We are all “petros”,small rocks, built on Christ,”petra”,the stone the builders rejected….

  6. But Padraig as a priest and as part of the Hierarchy in the Church, you do have authority. How you interpret Scripture is received in a far different way than how my interpretation of Scripture would be received. Because I no longer believe in a male God, using metaphors like Kingdom, Son of God, male line of succession, reinforces the patristic notion that God is male. The Church is modelled on the pattern of an earthly monarchy. I do not know what system could be put in place to rectify two millenia of the exclusion of women from decision making in the Church, but including female speech about God would be a start.
    Soline’s quotation was dismissed out of hand some months ago. My thoughts and misplaced beliefs in church teaching have been dismissed out of hand on various other threads.
    I am aware that the valuable resource of the ACP website is for an all male clergy and that I am an invasive species.
    I am also aware I have further digressed from your article for which I apologise.

  7. Good to see you back with a contribution, Soline…and a very interesting one….Petros and Petra

  8. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Nice question, Soline. In fact in classical Greek, back to Homer,’pétra’ was not just a big stone or even a foundation stone, or even the stone rejected by the builders which ended up as the chief corner stone, but basic live rock on which you could build something really big. ‘Pétrai’ in the plural were the sort of humungous chunks of live rock and mountain Typhaon and the Gigantes hurled against Zeus.
    ‘Petros’ was indeed a small stone – ‘pétroi’ were handy for ordinary Homeric warriors to hurl at one another.
    The interesting question would be whether Aramaic ‘kepha’ had similar dual forms to allow Jesus the sort of meaningful pun he was looking for. But Kepha doesn’t seem to have been a proper name before Jesus coined it for Simon Bar-Jonah.
    Soline, your adumbrated play on “petroi, small (masculine) rocks built on Christ,’pétra’, main living (feminine) rock, yet the stone the builders rejected, is tempting! Fortunately the Grammarians warn me off confusing masculine and feminine genders with male and female. 🙂

  9. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    The Aramaic word Kephas is behind the Greek Petros & Petra. It occurs once in John, four times in 1 Corinthians, and four times in Galatians. Kieran O’Mahony OSA (Scripture, Dublin diocese) says that as the play on words works best in Aramaic (being identical, unlike in Greek or Latin), the nickname is surely historical.
    The gospel reading next Sunday follows on last Sunday from Matthew 16. In the Jerusalem Bible translation we use, Jesus says to the Rock, Peter: “You are an obstacle in my path.” The Greek word is skandalon; this is sometimes translated as “stumbling block.” So the foundation stone can become a rock on which we could fall!
    It’s good to remember that the foundation stone, however admirable, is of little use without the rest of the building: the living stones – all of whom have a vital role to play.
    On the keys: Peter receiving the keys is often seen as Peter being given the ultimate authority. However, keys work on two distinct levels. When the property is mine, then I have the control. But the kingdom (sorry, Nuala; queendom? reign? the Greek word is basileias) is not Peter’s; it is the kingdom (sorry again) of God. Here the person with the keys is not the “boss”, but the key-holder, who serves both those to whom access is sought, and those who seek that access. This facilitates good relationships and operation, ensuring that those who seek to enter are facilitated in good order, and ensuring equally that those who require access are not excluded.
    What I write here has no authority from whether I am male or female, ordained or no; rather from the gift of the mission I received in Baptism, and it is dependent on the truth or otherwise of what I write.
    And I recognise no invasive species!

  10. Soline Humbert says:

    Eddie, now you have me confused!
    What confusion exactly are you accusing me of?
    While I make no claim to being learned, as one whose first language is French ,with nouns being grammatically masculine and feminine, I have been aware of that fact since being at my mother’s knees. I only mentioned the Greek grammatical genders of petros and petra to highlight that there were indeed two different words in Greek, while our English (and French) translations have one only. As far as I am aware,and having re-read my contribution,I did not draw any inferences from that grammatical fact. In fact you can leave it out completely and I am asking the very same question:
    “Could it be that some of the original meaning may be lost in the English translation of this passage originally in Greek? Where two different words,petros and petra,are used in Greek, they are translated
    by only one English one, rock.
    Peter is PETROS,in Greek,meaning small stone,
    while the church is founded on PETRA in Greek,meaning a large stone.
    Is the church founded on the one true foundation stone,(Petra), Christ the Son of the living God,as professed by Peter(petros) ? We are all “petros”,small rocks, built on Christ,”petra”,the stone the builders rejected…”
    At the risk of straying (again! Mea culpa!) from Padraig’s original posting perhaps I could ask another question: What about Martha’s profession of faith in John’s Gospel? Was it flesh and blood which revealed that to her? Is she also a “petros” ,a living stone who professes Christ as the “petra” the foundation stone ?

  11. There are different kinds of authority. There is the kind that derives from official position, eg taoiseach, judge or bishop. (Positional authority) There is also the kind that derives from proven knowledge and experience, eg an authority on a particular period of history, or of antiques or of languages or of theology. There may be other categories. A person may have an official position and the positional authority that goes with it but be deficient in real knowledge and common sense and the credibility that goes with it. There has been too much emphasis and reverence for positional authority in the Catholic church and on Irish society generally. That deficiency seems to be in the process of being addressed in society generally. We can sack our political leaders. Not easy though with bishops and such like.

  12. Thanks Soline for the quote and the link to Sr Irene McCormack. Sr Irene was executed for her witness to her faith and her solidarity with the poor. How could anyone doubt not only the sincerity of her criticism of the Church in the face of death, but also the truth of her criticism? Her call for reform is a call from the far reaches of society and her bravery matches any man’s.
    When Jesus conferred leadership on Peter was that to the exclusion of women? Using an example from the Gospel that emphasizes the superiority of men copper fastens women’s disempowerment. It leads to situations like Sr Irene’s where communities are bereft of the Eucharist, ‘Church leaders have given themselves control over who can celebrate the Eucharist’. Why? Because they can. For as long as women remain passive in their exclusion in the Church they will remain excluded.
    For me, Sr Irene’s testimony high up in the Andes equals Teihard de Chardin’s Mass on the World in richness, faith, spirituality and bravery. Sr Irene was as brave if not braver than Peter when faced with her death.

  13. Soline Humbert says:

    Nuala,ever so mindful of not transgressing by digressing, I can only say that your comment on being part of the “invasive species” reminded me of Mary T Malone ‘s description of the ” intrusions of women on the ecclesiastical scene in the post Are The People of God Powerless”http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2013/06/are-the-people-of-god-powerless-mary-t-malone/
    I hope you ,and many ACP members,can come to the launch of her Women, The Elephant in the Church”http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2014/08/women-the-elephant-in-the-church-a-tract-for-our-times/

  14. Father McCarthy provided the teaching about the background to the significance of the place of the “rock”. We know that the new testament is written from the geographical, historical, political, and cultural time of Jesus of Nazareth. I think, we can also say, with certainty, from the words of scripture, that Peter is and was the recipient of the call to build the Church. True enough, the Church is not only a noun, but a verb. It is an action. However, depending on who is reading those words, “on this rock, I will build my church”, in todays’ polarized Church, there is much room for frantic discussion. While, it is true, that Peter was called, and with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, I think, it can be agreed, did a fine job, there is also, the reality, that the scriptures, the Lord, also says, the weeds will come. It is those weeds, that we now contend with today…and perhaps, regrettably, there is a lot of weed around what Pope Francis, has coined…”clericalism is a problem”. It is heart-breaking, all this weedy mess…and I so hope, before I die, that, there is some kind of peaceful resolution..

  15. I am curious about the phrase “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
    I have always thought of this as meaning that the church would be attacked by the devil, and that hell itself with all of its inmates could not win against the church or destroy it. How often we use the phrase “being attacked by the devil.” and being led away to sin.
    Recently I have begun to think that what this phrase means is that the church itself can and will penetrate the very halls of hell and by its love bring forth the “condemned” to be in the presence of the loving father. I think and hope that others will agree that this idea is infinitely better. I see this as meaning that the defenses which we as human being create by our sin to prevent God from loving us, will be overcome, not by force but by the very love which Jesus calls us all to. No one can be excluded from that powerful love. No hatred or sin can ever prevail against the very love of God.

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