A great Quebecois Thomist used to talk about the “scandal of mediation.” Really, everything offensive about Catholicism comes down to God’s choice to work through human instruments. “Why do I have to confess to a priest?” The scandal of mediation. “Why do I need the Pope to help me read the Bible?” The scandal of mediation. For that matter, why do I need to worry about the natural law, about my human nature, and not just the freedom of my soul? The scandal of mediation.
Ironically, deeper down, these things that scandalize Protestants are the same things that scandalize non-Christians about even Protestant Christianity. “Why can’t I go to God without Christ? Why do I need the Bible?” The scandal of mediation. God works through human instruments – instruments like Peter and Paul.
But the deeper scandal beneath mediation is the scandal of grace.
Our Gospel for today’s feast is Peter’s confession. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
But Christ’s words that follow are really the key – not the ones about the rock and the keys, but the words that precede those: “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”
This is the mystery of grace, which happens first in and through faith. Peter did not deduce the divinity of Christ from his miracles, or from some calculation of “liar, lunatic, or Lord” – at least not if we believe the words of Christ. This was not revealed to him by flesh and blood, nor by human reason, but by the light of faith, the divine gift of the Father in heaven.
Peter knew because God gave him the supernatural light to know.
This is key for the Church. How does the Pope know the truth of faith? By the supernatural light infused into him by the Spirit of Christ. When we trust the Pope, what we really trust is God himself.
Oh, the Pope works with the information he has, just like Peter did. But he can see the truth only because God gives him the light to see. Faith, in orthodox Catholic theology – and certainly in St. Thomas – is a grace.
The key word in what follows, then, is “I.” “On this rock I will build my church.” “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”
And yet, the other key word is “you.” “You are Peter.” “I will give you the keys.” “Whatever you bind.”
That’s the nature of grace: God gives it, but we truly receive it. This is the deeper truth of the scandal of mediation. What Peter does matters, because God works in him. It is truly God who works – and it is truly in and through Peter.
Without getting too technical, this is actually a key point in the Thomist understanding of faith. We don’t believe the Church, we believe God, who speaks through the Church.
The first reading for the feast, from Acts, is humorous in its insistence on God. God sends his angel to Peter in prison – Peter is sleeping. What does Peter contribute? Nothing. God sets him free.
Peter follows the angel out. Peter is truly liberated. And eventually, Peter, Peter himself, truly understands what God has done, and makes another profession of faith. But it is God who does everything for him. The iron gate “opened of its own accord” – or, rather, God opened it.
This is an allegory of grace. It is God who sets us free.
The second reading was about Paul. “I am already being poured out as a libation,” he says. Suffering is an interesting part of this dynamic of grace. What does Paul do? Suffer. Receive.
And yet, what else does Paul do? “I have kept the faith,” he says. He has stayed true, hung on through the suffering. That really happens in Paul. It is he who stands true. Though notice – he stands true to faith, to his trust in God.
And his profession of faith is, “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength.” Paul has the strength to stand firm – but it is God, the Lord who is with him, who gives him the strength. That is the mystery of grace.
It is Christ who builds the Church. It is utterly supernatural.
Why then the Church? Why doesn’t Christ just work in us individually? Two answers.
First, so that we will know, so that we will see that the strength is not our own. How good it is to lean on the Lord, to lean on his work in the Church, and know that I am nothing, but Christ gives me everything.
Second, because he wants to – because Christ wants to build up not just a bunch of individuals, but a body, his body, the Church.
Where are you called to trust more deeply in God’s work in the Church?