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Pilgrimage Mass: St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
Monday, March 5, 2018

I have to tell you that 51 years plus a couple of months ago when I was ordained to the priesthood at this very altar, I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined a moment like this!

 But I think it’s also safe to say that Simon Peter, the Galilean fisherman, would never have imagined a place like this!  Can you think of any greater contrast between Peter the fisherman - salty in smell and probably salty in language - and this magnificent renaissance masterpiece of a basilica.  I can’t!

 Of course, St. Peter’s basilica wasn’t always this way.  For its first 1200 years or so, St. Peter’s was considerably more modest: a rather simple building in the Roman basilica style built by the Emperor Constantine over the tomb of the Apostle.  Think fourth century.  It lasted, as I said, for about 1200 years.

 When we were renovating our own Cathedral in Seattle in the middle 1990’s, I remember getting brickbats thrown at me from here and there – various kinds of outrage expressed that we would think to do anything to alter what many thought was a perfectly beautiful Cathedral.  (I always thought of it as more impressive than beautiful!).  The best response I had for those folks was to talk about this place and how, in the 16th century they tore it down, stone by stone, and built this!  All we were doing was renovating! I also remember telling people who thought our plan to move the altar of St. James from the east apse to the center of the building, that it was really no more radical than St. Peter’s Basilica which has its main altar in the middle, under a dome, with people on all four sides. The argument seemed to work. But enough reminiscing!

 The only problem with the magnificence of this basilica is that it could cause us to forget about why it’s here and who it’s named for.  It is here because, in the first century of the Christian era, St. Peter the apostle was put to death on this Vatican hill and buried in a nearby cemetery, a cemetery that still exists in the bowels of the earth beneath this great church.  That’s why it’s here.  This hill was made holy by the blood of St. Peter.  And then, of course, we must  remember who St. Peter was.  He’s the same Peter whose great confession of faith was captured in that passage from Matthew’s gospel we just heard; the same Peter who made his bold confession not because flesh and blood revealed it to him, but the heavenly Father.  And, yes, the fisherman named Simon whose name Jesus changed to Peter, Rock.  The Rock who was sometimes a rock but not always a rock.

 St. Peter is someone we can all relate to, I think.  The gospels portray him as lovable, loyal (except when he wasn’t), impetuous, impulsive, hot-headed, and penitent.
The Acts of the Apostles portray him as courageous, spirit-filled, strong-willed, but capable of changing, learning from his mistakes.  Maybe in that list of adjectives we can find one – or more – that fits us.  I think it’s no wonder at all that we relate to St. Peter so warmly.  He is one of us. Those adjectives are our adjectives.

 And isn’t it wonderful that Jesus would have chosen to entrust great things – even the greatest things - to someone like us!  For me, St. Peter will ever be ‘exhibit A’ for the power of God’s grace working through human weakness – convincing proof that God can work wonders even through the most flawed and imperfect of people.

 My friends, St. Peter is my patron and he’s your patron.  As we gather in this amazing temple that bears his name, I hope we feel a closeness to him.  As we look up and see those gospel words that tell Peter’s story in both Latin and Greek, I hope we find ways to translate those words into our language, our lives.  And I hope that we take away from this place, and this celebration, a renewed love for the Church, for St. Peter, and for Pope Francis who sits in his chair.  And may we also take away a renewed commitment to live our faith courageously as Peter lived his and, if and when we fail to, that we pick ourselves up as Peter did, and keep walking the road, step by step, following the Master!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
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