Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This week we celebrate the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major (Aug. 5). It’s the oldest church in the West dedicated to the Blessed Mother. It was dedicated in 431 when the Council of Ephesus declared that, since Jesus was truly God in the flesh, Mary could rightly be called the Mother of God.
God’s love and power are like a mighty river hovering over human history. Mary shows us what happens when we say the “yes” of faith to God. That river flows into us and through us. Our “yes” doesn’t change God. But it changes history. So Mary is not only a person from the past, she’s also an enduring pattern of faith.
This week’s readings show us that same pattern in the life of Peter. Jesus appears to the disciples, walking on water. Peter asks to join Him, and Jesus gives permission. When Peter utters the “yes” of faith, he can walk on water, sharing the Lord’s own power. When Peter utters the “no” of doubt — a lack of faith — he’s left to his own power and begins to sink. Jesus is the river of God’s love and power in the flesh. Our “yes” doesn’t change Him. But it allows the river to flow into our own flesh and, through us, to others.
Likewise, when Jesus asks the apostles “Who do you say that I am?” Peter’s answer — “You are the Christ” — is rooted in the “yes” of faith. Jesus says, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” In other words, “I can build on that — I can build something enduring that will carry the promise of salvation to others.” Just a few verses later, when Peter tells Jesus that He can’t suffer and die, Jesus says, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” In other words, “I can’t build on that.” When we echo the “yes” of faith, Jesus can build something enduring on us! When we utter the “no” of a lack of faith, we become unfit for the building.
We read about the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 this week. She’s seeking the healing of her daughter. When she insists that “even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table,” Jesus tells her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Her daughter is healed.
We also read Numbers 13 and 14 this week. Israel refuses to enter the Holy Land. Lacking faith in God’s ability to lead them and fulfill His promises, they say, “It would be better for us to die in the desert.” God’s response is, basically, “Let it be done for you as you wish.” All of them die in the desert.
The pattern is clear. God’s love and power are like a mighty river, waiting to enter into our lives, and into human history through us. But He won’t force us. Mary, Peter, Israel and the Canaanite woman all hear the same thing from God: “Let it be done for you according to your faith.” Will we let the power of God flow through us into the world, or not?