Who do you say that I am?

Almost 2000 years ago Jesus gave us our life’s mission.  As He was ready to ascend to heaven he told the apostles, and us, to ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.[1]  We have been given an apostolate, at that point we became apostles.

Every Catholic has the same apostolate.  We might have different ministries – the two are not the same.  Bishops, priests and deacons are Ordinary Ministers. Lay faithful can participate in ministries of all kinds: Pastoral Care, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Liturgical Ministers and on and on.  By the way, the Eucharistic Minister at this Mass is the priest.  But regardless of our ministries we are all, everyone in the Catholic Church, apostles.  We are called in our varying ways to go and put to actions Christ’s great commission.

But to be effective in our apostolate we need to live what we are preaching.  Our understanding, though not total, needs to be deep-felt and earnest.  If we are to proclaim Christ’s message we need be aware of the most important aspect of His message. This is where Christ’s great question to us in today’s Gospel is important. ‘But who do you say that I am?[2]

Brothers and sisters, Christ asks each of us ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Christ wants to know who we understand Him to be.  Not platitudes or rote memorized answers we have learned from Holy Mother Church. Our answer to His questions is the answer deep within our heart, how do we truly understand Christ in lives.  What is deep within us determines how affective we will be in our apostolate.  If He isn’t the most important friend in our lives then our message will be weak, stale and unbelievable.  If Christ isn’t the central focus our lives then our vision that we give to those around will be cloudy, murky and unconvincing.  Faith isn’t a cultural affectation it is a way of life.

But we need help, our understanding of who Christ is comes first from God Himself.  God gives us lessons, and knowledge about Himself and His plan for us.  Contrary to the common understanding of today’ Gospel Christ’s first question isn’t ‘Who do the people believe I am’  it is “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?[3]  Christ is asking His apostles what do people expect the Messiah to be.  And then after He hears some answers (off the mark of course) He then pushes the disciples to find the answer in their hearts that He is the messiah.  St Peter’s profound answer is given to him from God the Father – God is teaching us.

God is always there, waiting to help us with wisdom and knowledge we just need to connect with Him and allow His omnipotence to work within us.  We need to live the life of faith to be able to gain the insight from God to allow us to live the apostolic life we were meant for.  To do this we need to pray as well as submit to those learned and wise people of faith to show us the path. When, in humility we offer ourselves; our intellect and soul, to God’s divine plan we, deep down come to understand who Christ is to us and to the world.

With this desire for true understanding and this trusting submission to God’s plan we can be as profound as St. Peter’s answer.  It is my hope that when someone comes up to us and asks ‘Who do say that Christ is?’ Our answer will be obvious to them from our lives, He is my reason for life and for living; and our very beings will echo what St. Paul wrote to the Romans ‘For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.[4]

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[1] Mt 28:19-20
[2] Mt 16:13-20
[3] Ibid
[4] Rom 11:36

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New Eyes, New Ears

Today’s Gospel reading[1] brings to light the importance of God’s help.  Of course we see in the later part Christ talking about the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which brings healing to those who have fallen and desire to heal their relationship with the Lord.  But, we also see the blessing of being open to God’s constant offering of wisdom and knowledge, true knowledge, the knowledge that frees us from the prince of deceit, the truth of love.

Peter’s response to Christ’s question, “But who do you say that I am?[2] was profound “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.[3]  God the Father supplied the answer. God is always offering, and what is important for us to understand is that Peter was open to it; he wasn’t resistant to God’s instruction.  Peter, who throughout his apostolic journey, had moments of human failure but never let go of his relationship with Christ and His Father; he never turned off the dialog with Christ. This is of paramount importance for us, because it is the only means of understanding how to travel the journey faith, our apostolic journey.  Our journey home is affected by our relationship with Christ, of knowing God.

Pope Benedict, in a 2005 Homily said: ‘Where there is no inner correspondence to God, there is no possibility of knowing God.[4] His use of the word ‘inner’ is hermeneutical, it gives us a key.  Our communication with God is first and foremost based on our prayer life.  As with any relationship dialog is vital, it opens each person up to the other, understanding grows; and our dialog with God is through our prayer life.  But a proper prayer life is needed; one that isn’t a monologue; one that allows God’s words to penetrate our being; one that allows God to help us. We need to make sure that in addition to our corporate prayers we give God time for personal communication. By allowing ourselves a heart-felt dialog with God He answers with His loving guidance. Profound things happen when we have this communication with Him – our hearts will see with a new set of eyes and hear with new ears. We can come to understand what St. Paul meant when he wrote to the Romans ‘Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God![5]

Brothers and sisters, let’s take stock of our prayer life; let’s find ways of adding or increasing our times of personal dialog with our Savior so that as the Collect this morning so beautifully spoke ‘That, amid the uncertainties of this world, our hearts may be fixed on that place where true gladness is found.[6]

 

[1] Mt 16:13-20

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Homily 12/8/2005 (Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception) – Celebration of the 40th anniversary of the closing of the 2nd Vatican Council

[5] Rom 11:33

[6] Collect Prayer – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Seek

As followers of the Lord a constant activity in our lives can be summed up in one word – seek.  Today’s readings[1] bring this out with clarity.

Seek the Lord
It is paramount, indeed vital that as disciples we constantly seek the Lord. The first reading from 1st Kings gives us a great lesson by showing us how the prophet Elijah sought the Lord.  Elijah, who has known the power of God in his life still seeks Him. God gives His prophet a lesson in where to find Him.  Though the Lord can and does work any way He wants, He desires us to find him in a tiny whispering sound.  He desires us to come to Him in the most intimate moments where our whole attention is focused on our dialog with Him.  He desires our total attention, our total intensity so that we can feel in our hearts what He is telling us.

Seek a time and place
But to be able to come to this intimate and intense encounter, to hear the whispering sound, we need to withdraw ourselves from the chaos of our lives.  We need to find a mountain of solitude as Jesus does so many times in scripture including the Gospel today.  We need to give ourselves time to hear God whisper; to follow Christ’s teaching when in Matthew tells us ‘But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.[2]

The noise of our daily life, both external and internal, makes it almost impossible to listen to God.  If we look back in our lives to those special encounters; those most intimate, intense and relished encounters with family and friends; we will find most of them being one on one, private, where the world seemed to be missing, pushed to the fringes of our awareness – the only thing that was real was the other person.  So too with our relationship with Christ – He desires nothing less and He gives us nothing less.

Seek those who the Lord seeks.
However, Christ always comes down from the mountain. What is important for us and our relationship with Christ is also important for others as well.  It is also important for us in our ability to bring others to Christ. For bringing others to Christ is what we are to do, it should be who we are.  And what works for God, works for us. Indeed, it is the only thing that will work. To be convincing to others that our message is real we come to them like a whisper as well.  We don’t brandish our faith like fire or earthquakes in big and showy demonstrations for this will only amuse or annoy and will disappear with time.  No, by the quiet actions of our lives we give power to our message. By this whisper of faith, our living our beliefs, we bring Christ to those who need Him.

Last night I turned on EWTN and happened on the marvelous movie of the life of St. Dominic made by the Dominican Province of the Philippines in 2011. Titled ‘Dominic: Light of the Church’ it was moving lesson for each of us on how we should seek those God seeks.  It showed the power of Bishop Diego d’Azevado’s and St. Dominic’s method of humility and quiet proclamation of the faith by living their faith among those they were evangelizing. Truth was preached and faith was lived.  This is our methodology to introduce those around to us our most intimate friend.

As the movie showed and as we well know this apostolic calling is not easy, it is filled with dangers of all kinds: ridicule, ostracization, and maybe even physical.  But in addition it is fraught with our weakness and we are bound to falter, to fail at times.  We will fall. But in our hearts we should know that Christ will always be there, that God is constantly whispering to us.  And like He did to St. Peter in today’s Gospel He will always be there to immediately stretch out His hand and catch us.

St. Dominic Pray for us.

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[1] 1 Kgs 19:9A, 11-13A /  Rom 9:1-5 / Mt 14:22-33
[2] Matthew 6:6

Trust

I like to call the season of Ordinary Time: ‘the season of learning’; learning what it means to be a disciple of Christ, learning what is important and how we are to live our lives.

  • Last week we heard the parable of the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price, the great catch of fish.
  • The week before we heard the parable of the sower.
  • The week we hear about the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.

The multiplication of the loaves and fishes show to us the greatness of God’s mercy, not only in His feeding the thousands on that day but it is the foreshadowing of His great gift of the Eucharist that continues to nourish His creation.

But, I think, what can be missed in this gospel narrative is the faith of the people – their trust.  These people of ancient Israel were not stupid. They lived in and around a very inhospitable environment. They knew better than anyone that food and water was not easily accessible; they knew the dangers of wandering in the wilderness in the dark – they knew what was important to survive.  That they went out so far into the wilderness to listen to Christ forgetting this important aspect of their lives is just not tenable – they knew what they were doing.  They had faith in God, they had complete trust in their creator to give them what is needed.  God was most important thing in their lives. They completely trusted in His mercy even if they couldn’t understand why He would give it and how it would manifest.  These people, who against normal good judgment threw caution to the wind and trusted that God, somehow, some way, would look to their wellbeing.

Let’s remember that this wasn’t the whole of Israel that was there; indeed it was just a small group from the surrounding region. Most people in Israel didn’t understand the importance of Christ and even more, didn’t have trust in their God to this extent; but these followers did.  They knew the in depths of their very being what we hear proclaimed by St. Paul – nothing will keep God from our side. They were comforted by the knowledge from the Prophet Isaiah that God will give us what we need and at no cost.

Brothers and sisters, this total trust in our loving God is foundational to building our society into the healthy organism that God intended.  It is foundational in healing the ills within our church because it is foundational to being whole and healthy ourselves.  Because when we open ourselves totally in trust to our Heavenly Father the fears that isolate us from each other dissolve, the fears that freeze us from action melt away; instead we radiate the compassion of Christ Himself through our actions. But knowing this and desiring it is only part of our living as disciples.  In fact, knowing and desiring only brings us to a vantage point – it does not make us disciples, or at least very effective ones.

We need to hunger for this type of trust, we need to work hard at gaining it.  It should never be something that we long for and never try to gain.  It isn’t some item on a bucket list that we pull out and look at every so often only to put it back in a drawer; it should be the primary action point in our list of priorities.  Trust in God allows us to be one with Him who created us because trust leads to openness and openness leads to increased trust. Increased openness – increased trust – one building on the other leads to a deeper relationship – it is love.

Yesterday, Aeneas Williams, was inducted into the NFL Hall Fame. In his induction speech he made a powerful statement ‘Begin with the end in mind and die empty’. And though he was talking about football; a better lesson on how we should desire and work for our relationship with God could not be spoken. God gives His all to make sure we are with Him in Heaven and we should do the same.  Keep God as our goal, throw our very being, our ‘everything’, into reaching that goal and trust that though it might not seem like it (as the world swirls around us) God has assured us this goal is within our grasp; our first step is to reach for Him.

Desire trust, allow trust, work for trust, and give everything to attain it – God is doing the same.