Part of living our faith is being mindful that our acts and our omissions have an impact on those who come after us.
You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Churchand the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
A few years ago, I read the novel The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham. It’s the story of two brothers coping with the death of their mother and their family’s histrionics. One of the brothers, Barrett, is always trying to find a way to escape his own life, and over the course of the novel he comes to realize how shallow he has become. At one point in the story, he remarks, “The moment matters more than the future. The present—today, tonight; the sensation of walking into a room, and creating a real if fleeting hush—is what I care about, it’s all right with me if I leave nothing behind.”
Barrett isn’t worried about future generations or what contributions he can make to bring light or joy or peace or anything else into the world. As he said, “It’s all right if I leave nothing behind.”
Now there’s something to be said for the focus on now. The saints are often reminding us how the present moment is all we can offer to God, even as anxieties about the past and the future press in on us. The Gospels encapsulate that truth when Jesus asks us to trust in God’s providence and care.
Barrett, however, is not embracing a focus on the present, on mindfulness, in this light. Instead, his focus is me-centered. He’s given himself permission to ignore what is going on around him.
But the Gospel is asking us to embrace a totally different view of the world. As Christians, we are called to live for the future in the present.
We are being asked to be very aware of what it is we leave behind.
This coming Sunday, our Gospel reading will recount St. Peter’s great profession of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And we also hear Jesus’ reply to Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you … And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”
For us Catholics, this passage from Matthew’s Gospel forms the foundation for our belief in the primacy—the authority—of the pope, the bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter. But on a more basic level, this Gospel passage marks a pivotal moment in the lives of Peter, the other Apostles, and all Jesus’ followers.
We know from the gospel stories how Peter’s personality gets in the way. We know that when it seems to matter most, he denies that he even knows Jesus. Peter doesn’t always get it right. But at the end of the day, it isn’t Peter’s character or achievements that make him a “rock.” Peter’s strength comes from his faith in Jesus, and his faith is more than intellectual knowledge; it is his relationship with Jesus. When he confesses that Jesus is the Christ, Peter is speaking out of his own deep, loving, and personal knowledge of who Jesus is.
Despite his faults, we do eventually see Peter—and all the Apostles—fulfill their mission in the ministry after Pentecost. They shepherded the Early Church through persecutions, internal divisions, scandals, growing pains, and theological exploration. They left us a legacy of faith. They lived their lives looking toward the future. They were aware of what it was they were leaving behind. Their mission of building the Church continues today, and we are a part of that mission. The way we live this present moment and engage the challenges and possibilities and promises of the future will shape the lives of those who come after us.
Part of our offering of faith, part of living this faith is being mindful that our acts and our omissions have an impact on those who come after us.
Living only for our own present isn’t an option.
Just as we have been the beneficiaries of the prayer and work of great saints and generations of nameless, holy Christians, we have been entrusted with a responsibility to live for the future.
How this takes shape in our lives reveals itself in our prayer and discernment and especially in how we actively engage our faith communities and the world around us. The point of all of this is that we recognize how much we have received by those who were concerned about what they left behind. And we are called to do more and be more than the generations who came before us because we have inherited so much from them.
Living for the future is hard, and so is living our lives for the sake of others. But engaging in this hard work we find our salvation.
Where do you see the effects of living for the self or the moment in the world around you? Who are some saints or people in your life who have been a source of blessing for you? What can you do in your own life to live for the future in the present?
Words of Wisdom: “Every baptized person is called to offer to Jesus his or her own faith, poor but sincere, so that Jesus can continue to build His Church, today, in every part of the world”—Pope Francis (Angelus for August 24, 2014).
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