"I am tired of hearing about men with the ‘courage of their convictions.’ Nero and Caligula and Attila and Hitler had the courage of their convictions…But not one of them had the courage to examine their convictions or to change them, which is the true test of character." – Sydney Harris
Yes, it is not difficult to find people who have the courage of their convictions. What is rare to find are people who have the courage to reexamine their convictions. St. Peter, the first pope, had this second brand of courage.
Peter went through much of his life regarding Gentiles as unclean. He thought they were unworthy of his association. This was part of his tradition. But new circumstances (and a dream) forced Peter to reexamine his convictions. And he came to a new conclusion. "I begin to see how true it is that God shows no partiality." (Acts 10:34) This was such a significant change for Peter that Luke relates it twice in the Acts of the Apostles. (cf. Acts 10 and 11)
Today’s reading is a challenge to everyone in authority in the church. They are responsible for teaching and defending the faith. But they should not rely on blind obedience. God has gifted human beings not only with wills to choose but also with minds to think. Sometimes new circumstances and the Spirit working among the faithful requires leaders to reexamine their convictions.
Jesus confronted the leaders of his time. Some were "teaching as doctrines human precepts." (Mark 7:7) It is an easy thing to do for those who seek security and order. But when church leaders are open to listen, dialogue, and pray with their people, the church will be lead to "have life and have it to the full." (cf. John 10:10)
Fr. Alan Phillip, C.P. is a member of the Passionist Community at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California. Visit his website at : http://www.alanphillipcp.com/