Saint Peter Canisius – Readings

Commentary on 2 Timothy 4:1-5; Psalm 40; Matthew 5:13-19

Peter Canisius was very much an exemplar of the teaching in today’s Gospel. The reading is taken from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. The Sermon begins with the Beatitudes, which are a set of values which should characterise the true disciple of Jesus. In fact, they can be called a portrait of Jesus himself.

They are immediately followed by Jesus telling his disciples that these values are not just for themselves, but are to be communicated to the whole world. And Jesus uses a number of dramatic images to emphasise the impact that his disciples are to make on the world. They are to be the salt of the earth. Salt is a very valuable commodity and is both necessary to give taste to food, but also as a need for the functioning of our bodies. One of the characteristics of salt is that it is totally absorbed into the food so that it cannot be seen, and yet its presence or absence is immediately noticeable.

That is how Christians are to be present in our society. We are to be fully immersed in it, fully part of it but, at the same time, make a difference by the values of the Gospel. If we make no impact, if we live our Christian vocation in a way that is purely for ourselves and is unnoticed by others, then we are like tasteless salt and only good to be thrown out.

Other images are that the followers of Jesus are to be the light of the world. We do that by living our lives in the way that Jesus lived his. No one could say that Jesus was invisible – neither should we be. Or we are to be like a city built in a hilltop (as Jerusalem was) and visible for miles around. Or we are to be like a lamp in a house which, after it has been lit, is not hidden away under something…this would be nonsense. At the same time, our lives are to shine out before the world, not so that people will admire us, but so that they will be led to search for the source of that light and find their way to God, the Father, Source and Goal of all being.

Undoubtedly, Peter Canisius lived out this Gospel. He was a light for the Catholic faith and did not spare himself in spreading its message all over Central Europe. The words of the First Reading from the Second Letter to Timothy can so well be applied to him. Paul is instructing his missionary companion Timothy:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching.

He is warned that people will not want to listen to the truth and will “wander away to myths”.

Timothy, on the other hand, is to:

…be sober in everything, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

Peter lived in the highly contentious world of the Reformation when there were deep divisions among Christians, between Catholics and Protestants, and between Protestants themselves who, after separating from Rome, became ever more fragmented.

Everything indicates that Peter was a person who spoke with convincing power of argument, but also with courtesy and respect for those who disagreed with him. Our Church today remains deeply divided, but in more recent times there has been a strong desire for the divisions to be overcome and for the restoration of unity, which is not the same as uniformity.

We need to remember the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper, where he prayed for unity among his followers as a sign of the truth of his and their message:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

Let that be the guide for our lives too.

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