A few weeks ago, my cousin invited me to Cape Cod on his twin-engine propjet. I asked the pilot, “Can we fly on just one engine?” He answered, “Sure, we’ll fly directly to the scene of the crash.”
Somehow, his joke reminded me of something that John Paul II wrote: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” The pope argued that we could never learn the full truth about ourselves unless we also learned about God. The one wing of reason is not enough for the human spirit to fly; it also needs the second wing of faith.
Let’s see how this insight plays out in the Gospel passage. In Matthew 16, the disciples learn the full truth about Jesus. He is even more than a noble man and an eloquent teacher; he is also God in the flesh. Jesus tells Peter that his confession did not come from “flesh and blood” – not from reason – but by a revelation from God – from faith. To learn the full truth about Jesus, Peter needed both wings, faith and reason. Faith enabled Peter to look deeper into Jesus’ character and see the divine.
Peter also needed both wings to learn the full truth about himself. Remember two weeks ago, Peter tried to walk on water like Jesus but failed. At the time, Jesus questioned Peter’s faith. Today, Peter’s faith finally brings him deeper into the mystery of Jesus. However, it won’t be until the end of Matthew’s Gospel that Peter’s faith brings him deeper into the mystery of his own character. Out of fear for his life, Peter betrays Jesus. How often have we acted out of fear, the opposite of faith? Did fear limit our potential at those times? Was our fear the result of rationalization, the judgment that something was simply unlikely or impossible for us?
When the Risen Christ forgives Peter, Peter finally breaks through the barrier of fear and soars with the second wing of faith to new heights, preaching the Gospel far and wide, penning two beautiful letters in the New Testament, and finally suffering martyrdom in Rome. Do we feel forgiven? If not, what prevents us from experiencing God’s forgiveness? If we do feel forgiven, has our experience enabled us to soar to new heights? What potential has God revealed in you as you have come to know Jesus?
Some people say religion is unnecessary, that they are happy without it. That is their decision. We cannot force anyone into a relationship with Jesus. But we know that the Lord has given us two wings, reason and faith. If we try to fly on one wing alone, we will never reach the heights to which God is calling us. With reason alone, we are no more than rational animals, citizens with a role to fulfill in society, producers with a specific task to complete inside a great machine. With faith, we learn that we are created for more than politics and economics. St. Augustine knew this truth well. He wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”