behind the wheel

There are some things that will never change. Parents know this to be true, especially when “that” day arrives. You know of course to what I am speaking, that magical, marvelous, wonderful, stupendous, awesome day (according to your child;) that utterly appalling, frightening, unbelievable, anxious, not ready to admit sixteenth birthday. The angst you experience is not so much from the realization that time has flown so fast your mind has not thought past that day when you became a parent. No, that sudden sinking feeling comes when your wee one, now suddenly grown so tall, asks to borrow the car!

Keys to the Kingdom

Whoa! Where did that come from? You hesitate, wondering if they are ready for such a responsibility, worrying whether they will be able to curb their youthful exuberance and drive safely. Then again, perhaps it is you who isn’t ready to hand over the keys.

Letting go, ceding control, trusting another, these are never easy, especially when you know the other, your child, so well; their faults and failures, their strengths as well as their weaknesses—especially those. And yet, you know you must, whether you are ready or not, for they must learn to face the world on their own terms if they are to become the person they are meant to be.

But, you must be sure. You have to ask, “Are you sure you are ready for this?” You have to show your concern. You cannot avoid lecturing them on the dangers they could face.

Jesus knew the time was coming when he would no longer be the teacher. The time was fast approaching when he would return to the Father and the disciples would have to go out on their own. Were they ready? Did they know enough? Had he adequately prepared them for the hard road that lay before them? Did they understand what he was asking of them? Did they have faith enough to have the courage to spread the good news despite the rejection they would most assuredly experience? Would they be able to endure the pain, the torture, and even death because of him?

These thoughts must have been on his mind when he asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” He must have wondered whether his disciples knew who he was, even if others did not. The disciples responded with what they had heard, not with what they knew or believed: some believed him to be John the Baptist, who had only recently been beheaded; from others, they heard Elijah and Jeremiah or one of the prophets. None made much sense for they were all dead.

Jesus obviously was not satisfied with their responses for they offered no personal thoughts as to who he was, so he asked more directly: “But who do you say that I am?”  Uh oh! Dead silence. Eyes wander; anywhere but looking at Jesus. What is Jesus asking? Why is he asking us who he is? He’s Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph of Nazareth. Everyone knows that. Their faith is still young and they are confused by this sudden questioning.

Simon, bolder than the rest, says what is on his mind: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Whoa! Where did that come from? The disciples are both relieved that they have escaped having to answer and shocked at such a brash declaration from Simon.

But Jesus knew. He knew precisely where it had come from: God.

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Jesus was seeking the one who could be the foundation of his church; he found his “rock” in Simon bar Jonah.

Simon, now Kephas or Petras, seems at first blush to not be the best choice. His faith has been decidedly tested, most noticeably in trying to walk on water, and we know how that went down. Peter, the apostle who was given the keys to the kingdom, the disciple who was supposed to be the rock upon which the church was to be built, would all too soon betray Jesus when he most needed his support. He would deny he ever knew Jesus; a poor testament to his wavering faith.

Judas also betrayed Jesus but there is a difference between him and Peter. Although both would repent of their betrayal, Peter came back to Jesus and begged forgiveness. Judas did not, he killed himself, rather than admit his betrayal and ask for forgiveness.

Peter, through his sorrow and pain, became the rock upon which the church is founded, a church filled with sinners, not the sinless. Peter loved the Lord and though a sinner held onto him anyway.

I am reminded of what another sinner once wrote. He was a philanderer and a pagan, a follower of a heretical sect, an admitted thief (although petty in its deed,) who sired a son out of wedlock by a woman to whom he never married. Yet, he found his way to God, converted to Catholicism, was ordained a Bishop, and became one of the most beloved theologians and a Doctor of the Church. I am speaking, of course of Saint Augustine, whose memorial we celebrate this coming Monday, August 28th.

Shortly after his conversion, Saint Augustine would write one of his most famous and beloved books, his Confessions. In it he penned these immortal words:

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness, I plunged into the lovely things that you created. You were with me, but I was not with you.”

Augustine, sincere, but pathologically restless, had been searching for love and God. Eventually he found them in the most unexpected of all places, inside of himself. God and love had been inside of him all along, but he hadn’t been inside of himself.

There’s a lesson here: We don’t pray to make God present to us. God is already present, always present everywhere. We pray to make ourselves present to God. God, as Sheila Cassidy colorfully puts it, is no more present in church than in a drinking bar, but we generally are more present to God in church than we are in a drinking bar. The problem of presence is not with God, but with us.

Sadly, this is also true for our presence to the richness of our own lives. Too often we are not present to the beauty, love, and grace that brims with the ordinary moments of our lives. Bounty is there, but we aren’t. Because of restlessness, tiredness, distraction, anger, obsession, wound, haste, whatever, too often we are not enough inside of ourselves to appreciate what the moments of our own lives hold. We think of our lives as impoverished, dull, small-time, not worth putting our full hearts into, but we aren’t sufficiently present to what is there.1

There is a secret to prayer, just as there is to finding all that is beautiful, all the lovely things which God has made. Like Augustine, we search for him outside ourselves, plunging into the world and all its pleasures; we cannot find God when we are not present to him, not with him.

The secret lies within ourselves, not to try to make God present to us—God is always present, always—but to make ourselves present to God.

Like the young Augustine, we are away from ourselves, strangers to our own experience, seeking outside of ourselves something that is already inside of us. The trick is to come home. God and the moment don’t have to be searched out and found. They’re already here. We need to be here.2

Somehow the words of St. Paul in the second reading for today rings especially true. They bear repeating:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given the Lord anything that he may be repaid?
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be glory forever.


Homily #137
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Isaiah 22:19-23
Romans 11:33-36
Matthew 16:13-20


1 Ron Rolheiser, In Exile: Being Present to God and Life, The Sunday Website of St. Louis University.
2 Ron Rolheiser, In Exile.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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