“You! Who do You Say I am?”

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Is 22:15,19-23; Ps 138; Rom 11:33-36; Mt 16:13-20

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said, ‘the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’ Then he gave the disciples strict orders not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

Ten things you might not know about Mary - Mary MacKillop TodayFOR the last two weeks, the Church has been celebrating the memorials of several saints; from Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Lawrence, Maximilian Kolbe to Bernard of Clairvaux and Pope Pius X. All of these saints have one thing in common and that is the single-mindedness of defending the faith.

ST. LAWRENCE - DEACON AND MARTYR: AUGUST 10 - Catholic Fun FactsAll these saints had the clarity of vision not only on what authentic faith is but also on what the Church is all about no matter what the world thought about them. In a way, the question Jesus asked his disciples in the gospel is very significant when applied to these holy men and women, “who do you say I am?” 

Other people’s perception of us is very important, yes. It can help us to remain grounded to reality. But it can also be very destructive, especially in our time of radical political correctness and cancel culture both from the left and right. If one is perceived or categorised, or boxed in a particular way, it could be hard to shake that off and it could determine how people receive what that person says or does.

A good example of this is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Joseph Ratzinger is described by many theologians as one of the best minds after the Second Vatican Council. But I also think he is the most maligned and misunderstood.

Pope Benedict looking like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars ...Some criticised him for abandoning his progressive stance during the council and going over to the other side. He was often caricatured as the panzer cardinal or God’s rottweiler. After he was elected pope, some even objected for having elected a Nazi pope, although nobody seems to able to articulate the basis of these criticisms or accusations! On the other hand, if one just read Pope Benedict’s writings, one will come to understand the basis of his theology and ecclesiology. One would recognise the key to interpret everything he says and does. And may I suggest that this can be traced to Jesus’ question today: “who do you say I am?” 

St Peter's confession: How the 'rock' of the church got God so wrongOur understanding and expression of authentic faith that the Church professes are ultimately linked to our understanding of who Jesus is. What we say about the Church flows from what is said by Peter about Christ. The Church is only what it is because of its perception of who Jesus is. Everything the Church has to say begins and ends with its God-given knowledge of Jesus, the inexhaustible treasure which it holds in trust for the world. And this is very important for us especially now. Our knowledge of Jesus must be spot on—who he is and what is he on about. We might know every verdict ever passed on Jesus; we might know every Christology that the human minds have ever thought out;  we might be able to give a competent summary of teaching about Jesus of every thinker and theologian – and still not be Christians.

Why? Because Christianity never consists in knowing about Jesus; it always consists in knowing Jesus. As Pope Emeritus Benedict always insisted, our faith is not based on ideas but an encounter with a person—the God made flesh. And our Lord demands a personal verdict. The question he asked the disciples was not just for Peter, he asks every one of us: “YOU! Who do You Say I am?” However, our response should never rely solely on our whim, for our convenience and interest—the wisdom of the world.

For if we do that, there is a real danger of misrepresenting Jesus, misrepresenting faith, and misrepresenting what the Church should be on about. And worse, we might even use Jesus, the faith, and the Church to mislead the world for our selfish interest or convenience. Instead, we should follow Peter. Peter’ confession of faith in today’s gospel was bolstered by grace, not just his own investigating or theorising. God the Father revealed something about his Son in Peter’s response. Therefore, Peter’s faith should be our faith.

Brothers and sisters, who is Christ to you? If our response lacks any element of Peter’s response, it is time to re-examine and deepen our faith. Let us ask the Holy Spirit this week to show us and lead us to authentic knowledge of Christ and the authentic understanding of faith.

NB: I am a subscriber of Bishop Robert Barron’s YouTube channel and Word on Fire. In my reflection of the Gospel, I came across his talk for the 2020 Napa Institute. I also recommend Deacon Bill Ditewig’s latest blog.

Seeking the Quiet

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: 1 Kgs 19:9.11-13; Ps 84; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew

JESUS made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night, he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’ they said and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ ‘Come’ said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord! Save me!’ he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’

 LAST Tuesday night, after the Mass, I was about to get into my car to go home when I noticed for the first time, there was nobody around. The street and the sports facilities across the church were empty. And the first hint of that was silence. So on this 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, let us reflect on the meaning and place of silence in our spiritual life, especially, during this time of difficulties brought by the Stage 4 restrictions.

I understand, with all the technologies around us, we are so used to the constant chatter. And we are increasingly becoming uncomfortable when suddenly everything is silent—some even having that sense of being oppressed and overwhelmed by the silence to the point we want to shout! And we bring this seeming aversion to silence in our religious or spiritual life.

When I was growing up in our little village in the Philippines, I was already hearing from my parish priest and among parish leaders about the call of Vatican II for the full, conscious, and active participation of the people in the liturgy. And that is good. But you know what? While they advocated this principle of Vatican II, they, at the same time, were comfortable and even cherished silence whenever they enter the house of the Church. For them, silence too is part of being fully engaged, it is part of their conscious and active participation in the Church. And they passed that to us young ones.

However, today, it seems silence is seen as an antithesis to the call for full, conscious, and active participation. It often comes to mean that the laity—you—had to be constantly stimulated into sound and action. The enemy came to be seen as silence because it is almost tantamount to boredom; if there is silence in the liturgy, many would think we have lost the people—like a “dead air” in broadcasting term. And we modern people do not want “dead air”. So we tend to overemphasise fellowship. Do not get me wrong, I am all for fellowship—the theology of Vatican II is a theology of communion, koinonia, of fellowship. But fellowship like silence has its proper place whether in the liturgy, in the space or environment, or the general life of the Church.

If we overemphasise fellowship, there is the danger to lose the sense of the sacred; then we tend to overlook the sacred places where we are supposed to meet, listen and be in communion with God. In our first reading, Elijah came to know that the Lord is not to be found in the earthquake, the fire, or any other pyrotechnics or “special effects” but on the quietest of noises—the Lord was there “in the sound of a gentle breeze.”

When we are faced with turmoil and difficulty—like this COVID-19 pandemic, social restrictions, and isolation, we too need to ignore the pyrotechnics of the situation and seek a moment of quiet. That is where we will find the Lord. It may take time and sacrifice, but the Lord will reveal himself. It is not by chance that in waiting rooms, libraries, and places of worship we are asked to mute or turn off our phones. Not everyone is meant to be a part of the conversation. When we receive a call in a meeting or noisy room, it is pointless to stay inside and try to hear what the caller is saying. We excuse yourselves and go to a quiet spot to continue the conversation. To have a real conversation with Our Lord we have to do the same thing. It requires solitude and silence, especially in the house of the Church.

In today’s Gospel, the disciples were sent by Our Lord into what soon became stormy waters. Peter took a risk and stepped out of the boat and into the storm because he believed Our Lord was there and would help him. But as the wind starts to howl—because of the disquiet around him, he faltered and began to sink. And yet, despite the howling wind, despite the noise, Jesus is there, saying: ‘Courage! Do not be afraid.’

So brothers and sisters, when we face challenges, maybe our first response is not to create more noise or shout back, but to keep quiet. When life seems overwhelming—when we face storms in our lives—that is the time to seek some silence and solitude to help us take shelter from the interior storms as well. Yes, Stage 4 is and will be difficult for all of us. But instead of focusing on the pyrotechnics of the situation, seek the quiet… listen… listen… Do you hear Him? He is saying to you now: ‘Courage! Do not be afraid.’