Jesus said to his disciples, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
If you know or love a child under the age of 10, chances are you have seen the movie Encanto. (Possibly, if your house is like my house, you have seen it a couple of dozen times.) There’s one catchy song from this very catchy soundtrack that I keep returning to.
This song belongs to Luisa, the older sister, whose magical gift is superhuman strength. “I’m the strong one / I’m not nervous / I’m as tough as the crust of the earth is,” sings Luisa as she literally holds up a church and heaves it across the road. But being the strong one comes with tremendous pressure.
I bet there is a “strong one” in your family: the rock on whom the rest of your family can depend. My extended family has a few people who fit this description. The sister who logs hours on the phone to care for her kids, grandkids, and ailing siblings. The single dad who dropped everything so his kids could have stability.
As a parent, I feel tremendous responsibility to be the rock. The one who stays calm in the face of toddler tantrums. The one who remembers bus schedules and dinner plans. The one who holds up the family.
But that pressure to show “no cracks, no breaks, no mistakes” can be crushing. What would happen if I couldn’t hold everyone up the whole time, if I started to crumble instead? As Luisa sings, “Who am I if I can’t carry it all?”
Today’s gospel, and the example of St Peter, can give me comfort. Peter’s name might mean “the Rock,” but he’s hardly a paragon of perfection or stability. Today we commemorate his confession of faith—where he looked at Jesus and named him as the Christ. But the gospels are full of less flattering stories of Peter and his mistakes.
Peter takes his eyes off Jesus while walking on the water, and sinks into the waves. Peter sees Jesus shining on the mountaintop and immediately moves into Get Stuff Done mode, tries to build a house for Jesus, almost misses the miracle. Peter—in a tragic echo of today’s Gospel story—insists three separate times that he doesn’t know Jesus at all.
And yet Jesus doesn’t say, “On this Rock I will build my church—so you better not screw up and let it fall.” No, he says “the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Because ultimately it’s not Peter’s job to hold up the church. He just needs to live into the name Christ gave him, and keep his eyes on the Son of the living God. It is Christ who builds the church and Christ who will make sure it stays standing.
And that is good news for me, and any other parents/caregivers trying hard to be the rock. Not just because Christ is helping us hold the weight of our lives. Because the Church, at its best, is helping us hold it together too.
I’m so grateful for the ways my church has helped me hold up my family. With songs and prayers and sacraments, of course, but also with meal trains and babysitting support. I also remember moments when I reached out for help and didn’t find it in the church—because my community, like Peter, can still screw it up more than we like to admit.
But when we are keeping our eyes on Jesus—when we look like the Church that Christ is building us into—we can stand together to lift each other up. The burden doesn’t fall on any one of us to be the strong one, but to us all as one Body.
Luisa’s story ends (spoilers ahead if you actually have avoided seeing this movie) with a scene of rebuilding. Her family’s magical house, which has been breaking apart throughout the film, is made whole again. But not because of Luisa’s strength. Instead, her whole village, her whole community, joins in to fix it together.
So here is my prayer for today: May we, as parents and caregivers, find the strength to remember we don’t have to do it alone. May we, as the Church still standing, work together to support families. May we keep our eyes on Jesus, and trust him to keep us standing strong.
Lori Gilbertson says
Lovely. Thank you.