Friday, February 18, 2011

What America can learn from Caesarea Philippi III

In regards to religious truth, the open-mindedness and the non-committal attitude of actor Liam Neeson and President Barak Obama is reminiscent of the pre-Christian world. Yet, it is believed to be a mark of politesse and civility. Despite the fine trappings, it is a step backwards. Deference to and tolerance of all religions has value up to a point. If such a gesture is taken to mean that all religions have equal value then it is pushed too far. Apathy towards the differences between religions, in the end, leads to the rejection of all religions. As such, principles pertaining to God and his laws lose credibility and hence fail to bind the consciences of people. What is left are man-made moral codes which are invented to serve the interests of the powerful.

This brings us to Caesarea Philippi where St. Peter stepped forward to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of Living God. As stated earlier, his profession of Faith was inspired by God the Father. And it is through the office of St. Peter and his profession that God would guarantee religious certainty. St. Peter, the first of among a long list of popes, would err and falter as a man. But as the Shepherd of the Universal Church his profession of Faith and his teachings would be preserved from error. Indeed, he would be the voice of Christ for the Church and for the world. This charism that was given to him at Caesarea Philippi was a charism that would be communicated to every one of his successors. In every era, through the successors of St. Peter, God provided a standard bearer of spiritual and moral truth.

To express the permanence and reliability of God's instrument of communicating truth, Jesus used the biblical image of a Rock to name Peter. In fact, the name “Peter” itself means Rock in Aramaic. In the Old Testament, the term “rock” was originally applied to God. But it also was used by the prophet Isaiah in reference to Abraham: “Listen to me, you who pursue justice, who seek the LORD; Look to the rock from which you were hewn, to the pit from which you were quarried; Look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth...” (51:1-2) Therefore, in the Old Testament, the name, “Rock” was not exclusively applied to God; it was also bequeathed to Abraham as well. It had a two-fold meaning of fatherhood and security from evil and error. As the Psalmist prayed, “LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold!” Similarly, in the New Testament, St. Paul said that Christ was referred to as the spiritual rock that followed Moses in the desert. And yet, Jesus himself changed the name of Simon to Peter, meaning Rock. His ministry as the Rock of the New Testament was, like Abraham, a father of God's people and a source of religious certainty. To be sure, as the First Vatican Council taught, religious truth can be known with certainty.

In the meantime, there was the huge rock in the background at Caesarea Philippi; the hollowed cave, which was impressed into the rock, is where the multitudes from many nations worshipped false gods. But upon a new rock, a rock that would be made into a mountain, our Lord would build his Church. This rock or stone would strike down the Roman Empire with a spiritual sword as the prophet Daniel prophesied: “But the stone that struck the statue [the iron statue represented the last of the great pagan empires...the Roman Empire] became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” About this mountain Isaiah said, “The LORD'S house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it...” (Isaiah 2:2-3)

Conclusion: What America can learn from Caesarea Philippi IV