Deacon Steven Johnson’s Reflection – 8-4-22

Reflection for the 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Thursday, 8-4-22, Year C
Readings: Jer 31:31-34; Ps 51:12-15, 18-19; Gospel Mt 16:13-23
Memorial: St. John Vianney – Priest Born May 8th, 1786, in Dardilly, France. Died 1859 in Ars, France. Patron St. of Priests & Parish Clergy

Theme: Failure Can Lead to Success

As humans, we learn by our mistakes, probably more so than we do from our successes. Similarly, we remember painful events, maybe more so than pleasurable ones, at least in the short term. The challenge is what we do with our painful mistakes moving forward. Do we become better because of them or worse?

Sometimes we never learn at all and end up repeating the mistakes again and again. For whatever reason, we keep doing the same thing expecting different results. That is the definition of insanity. The good thing is that all we have to do is look to Jesus for how we should move forward in the right direction and avoid repeating mistakes over and over.

There are similarities in today’s readings to this idea. Jeremiah, who was a prophet in the last days of Judea and Jerusalem before and during Babylon’s invasion and exile of its leaders, proclaimed the “New Covenant,” which we read today. This reading is sometimes known as “The Gospel before the Gospel.” Jeremiah exclaims that the people of Israel in the past, through their disregard for God’s law, broke His covenant and thus brought God’s punishment of exile to Babylon upon them. But now God will provide a New Covenant, not a written one on paper to be broken and destroyed, but one of love and desire for God written on their hearts.

Through the Israelite’s lessons of the past, they will come to understand the goodness of the Lord and it will remain, not written on paper, but in their hearts. They will eventually learn from their mistakes and, being forgiven by God, will be allowed to return from exile back to the land given to their fathers to once more worship and prosper. Jeremiah’s “New Covenant” will ultimately be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

In the same way, the disciples in today’s Gospel are learning from their mistakes through Christ’s teachings, especially Peter. When Peter thinks as humans do and wants to spare Jesus from the hands of the elders, Jesus rebukes Peter for his lack of trust in what He has to do. Jesus tells Peter that he cannot be an obstacle in the way of ultimate forgiveness for all mankind because that forgiveness can only be manifested through His suffering, death, and resurrection. Peter will learn this lesson of trust in Jesus again when he denies Jesus three times at His trial. Ultimately, Peter learns from his mistakes and trusts completely in Jesus after His resurrection and finally becomes the great leader of the Church he was meant to be.

St. John Vianney, whose memorial we celebrate today, was a priest in France in the early 19th century. He lived through the French Revolution, which decimated the Catholic Church. Many people forgot what the Church stood for and required in the way of a prayerful life with God. They took to working and dancing on Sundays instead of contemplating God and His Word and stayed away from community prayer and did not attend Mass as they used to.  St. John worked tirelessly for the reform of the Church and to bring reverence for God through the people in Holy Mass and community prayer. He would spend up to 16 hours a day in the confessional, helping people understand their mistakes, receive forgiveness, and start new with God. He successfully brought people back to Mass through his preaching, teaching, and life. 

St. John Vianney would often say: “Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire, it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that.”

Through St. John’s work, the people reformed their ways and the Church found solemn reverence for God again, all due to his commitment to learning from the past, just like Jeremiah and Jesus did with the Israelites and the disciples. St. John died August 4th, 1859 in Ars, France, and is known as the patron saint of priests and the parish clergy.

If you get knocked down, get back up, but remember why you got knocked down so that you learn not to get knocked down again. Jesus is there to rebuke us when we need it, but know that it is with love that He does so. As long as we learn from our mistakes, take responsibility, and change our ways, we will grow in our Holiness and be pleasing to God.

Published by St. James, Belvidere

Saint James Catholic Church, Belvidere, IL