In 2009, the BBC produced a television series titled “The Supersizers Eat . . .” As the show was presented by a food critic and a comedian, it was both informative and entertaining. The show intended to demonstrate the link between diet and health by having the two presenters spend two weeks at a time eating a diet based on a particular historical era.
The two presenters delved into British cuisine of the middle ages, the roaring twenties, post-World War II, and the 1980’s; they also enjoyed the cuisine of late eighteenth-century France and ancient Rome. While dining on historical fare, the two were required to dress and behave as if they were living in the historical period featured in the episode; this made for surprised reactions by people on the streets of twenty-first century London.
Before and after each episode, the two presenters were examined by a physician who compared their beginning and ending body weights, cholesterol counts, blood pressure, etc. The weight and general health of the two presenters changed dramatically as a result of the amount of fats and carbohydrates in the typical diets of the various historical periods they investigated. The television series demonstrated the truth of the adage that “you are what you eat.” Today’s Gospel reading provides adequate attestation that this adage is equally true regarding our spiritual health.
The event at Caesarea Philippi is usually referred to as Simon Peter’s confession of faith. Jesus asked his disciples about the various popular opinions of him. The disciples listed some of the common opinions, namely, that he was John the Baptist or one of the ancient prophets returned from the dead. Then, Jesus asked them about their opinion of him. Simon Peter responded, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Mt. 16:16) This event provides an intentional contrast to the story of Simon Peter’s “little faith” that we read two weeks ago.
Simon Peter’s life was, in fact, a series of failures, reversals, and near disasters. Immediately following Simon Peter’s confession of faith, Jesus predicted that he would be crucified in Jerusalem; Simon Peter rejected this new revelation from Jesus. (Mt. 16:22) When the time of Jesus’ crucifixion drew near, Simon Peter rejected Jesus himself. (Mt. 26:74) These, and the other tests of Simon Peter’s faith, are evidence that the adage “you are what you eat” applies equally to the physical and the spiritual aspects of our lives.
While walking on the water, Simon Peter’s spirit was filled with fear. At Caesarea Philippi, Simon Peter’s spirit was filled with magnanimity. At Jesus’ prediction of his Passion, Simon Peter engaged in denial. During Jesus’ trial, Simon Peter was overcome with panic. In each case, Simon Peter’s faith grew or diminished as a result of where he focused his attention.
The same dynamic is at work in our lives. Our faith in God (and neighbor) is necessarily going to vary in response to where we focus our attention. The typical spiritual sustenance of our present historical era is composed of a mixture of influences, but those influences often seem to be skewed in favor of distrust. Perhaps, you want to examine the spiritual influences in your life.
How much time do you spend watching television, reading a newspaper, or surfing the internet? How much time do you spend complaining or gossiping? How often are your thoughts influenced by fear or disapproval? How much of your day do you dedicate to being grateful? How often do you take time to enjoy the love relationships in your life?
If you find that your spiritual diet is dominated by those influences that are obstacles to loving God and neighbor, there is an easy remedy.
Simon Peter was at his best when he disregarded his own opinions and, instead, listened to Jesus. He was able to respond faithfully to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16:15) because he had listened attentively to Jesus. Our faith, too, is at its best when we listen to God’s Word.
Every Catholic should dedicate time each day to reading the Scriptures and praying with the Scriptures; Simon Peter’s inconstant faith illustrates the necessity of doing so. The moment-to-moment influences on Simon Peter’s thoughts were expressed directly in his faith or lack thereof. Maintaining a strong faith, then, depends on being fed daily with God’s Word in the Scriptures; nothing else suffices to maintain a living relationship with God.
Dining on intellectual or spiritual junk food leads to the sort of deterioration in spiritual health one can expect from a diet rich in fats and carbohydrates. Filling one’s mind and heart with the Scriptures leads to the spiritual health that maintains and deepens a relationship with God. What’s on the menu for your spirit today?