Good morning. If you weren’t here last week, I’d like to introduce myself once more: I’m the new guy, Father Gerber. And thank you for your amazing welcoming during my first two weeks here!
If you’ve been so blessed to go to Rome, you have probably seen St. Peter’s basilica and perhaps St. Paul Outside the walls. These basilicas are so beautiful in every way: the sheer size and the gold bespeak something divine. And that they are dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul bespeak something amazing about Peter and Paul: they were ordinary men transformed by extraordinary grace to do things only God could do: walk on water, heal the sick, raise the dead, set the world on fire with the Holy Spirit. They would even give their lives for this. The beauty of the basilicas remind us of their extraordinary lives and their extraordinary calling to be the pillar and foundation of the Catholic Church.
However: If we would have met Peter and Paul before they encountered Jesus, we wouldn’t have chosen them for such an extraordinary task. Peter was just a fisherman—what did he know? what skills did he have to lead the Church? Sure, he is ambitious, but how weak his faith was at first! He would even deny God at the most decisive moment in human history! And Paul? Paul was educated, sure, but he was nuts! When we first meet him, he is killing Christians! Surely, there were better men out there for God to choose from! Men more skilled, men more holy.
But God’s like: “No. I want them. I want these guys.” To which I respond: God, who is in charge of your HR department??!?
It is here that we come to a truth about God: God does not choose the qualified. He chooses those whom He wants.
While this is a comfort—especially to those called to lead the Church—it is also a scandal. I mean, doesn’t God know that choosing oftentimes inadequate men—sinners, really—doesn’t God know that this will lead to a PR nightmare? I think of St. Peter: how many times he stuck his foot in his mouth! If I were a disciple, I would turn to Jesus and say: Ok, Jesus, Peter has done it again… how many times does this have to happen before you realize that you can do better?
But I want Him. And he is going to be the Pope.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather choose the perfect. The skilled. The good looking. The already-holy. The last one I would choose would be the inadequate, the sinner. But that is often whom God chooses.
I take this to prayer. God, why? And as I prayed on this, I realized something: Our God is a God of hopefulness. Hopefulness? Yes. After all, is there anything more hopeful than the belief that a great sinner can become a great saint? In today’s Solemnity, we celebrate precisely that: that God has transformed these two sinners into great saints; that God has chosen two men who, in the eyes of the world, had no business being the foundation of the Church to be precisely that: the foundation of the Church! Great sinners chosen to be great saints!
This alerted me to the fact that within the very bedrock of our Church is a foundation of profound hopefulness. That the Stone which the builders rejected can indeed become the cornerstone. Yes, our God is a God of hopefulness!
There is one problem with this. And that is that God’s hopefulness can seem too hopeful—foolish, really. Unrealistic, and ultimately unbelievable. And not just in regards to whom He chooses to lead the Church, but also in regards to whom He chooses to become saints.
As a priest, I go to many wedding receptions and backyard bbqs. And when I’m there, more often than not, there is table tucked away in the corner—the table of “the sinners”: the relatives that have fallen away or the self-proclaimed “Bad Catholics.” I make it over to that table and they are usually being assisted by a few “beverages”… they start to vocalize the problems of the Church or, more they start telling me about their sinfulness—or the sinfulness of the person next to them!
“Father” they say, “you don’t want to sit at this table. We’re a bunch of sinners.” Or, “Father, you might want to close your ears…”
They bare their guilt to me, but they have also turned it into a mask: that, deep down, what they are saying is, “Father, there’s no hope for us. We’re sinners. We can’t change.”
But it is precisely these that the Lord wants!
I want to say to them: Do you realize that you are the ones God wants? Do you realize the hope that god still has for you? After all, if Paul could kill Christians and if Peter could deny Jesus—and yet both of them be redeemed and still chosen for great holiness—then isn’t there still hope for us too?
Perhaps the hopefulness of God isn’t so unrealistic after all.
When I realize the hope that God has in me, I react as Peter did. He said, “Depart from me, Lord; for I am a sinful man.” Lord, depart from me; I am a sinner, I can’t lead your church. Lord, depart from me; isn’t there someone better whom you can choose? Or, Lord, I am too old; I’m an old dog and I can’t learn new tricks. Lord, don’t you know the depths of me and my capacity to sin?
But God, in His hopefulness and love, want us to know the heights of His ability to save and transform you. Yes, he knows our sins; yet he says nevertheless: I choose you anyway.
I want to do great things through you. Let me turn your cross into resurrection.
My life has changed because of this. I will save you the details of my past for now, but I will say that when I realize that God wants me, not only am I filled with hope, but I am also quicker to see others as people whom God wants. As a result, I am quicker to be patient, quicker to forgive, quicker to focus on the light of grace and potential. Ultimately, I am quicker to smile to the people at the bbq table and say “You know, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. So maybe God wants you. Maybe he hasn’t given up on you. So don’t lose hope. God wants to transform you!”