by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the mens branch of the Idente Missionaries.
Madrid, August 23, 2020. | XXI Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Book of Isaiah 22: 19-23; Letter to the Romans 11: 33-36; Saint Matthew 16: 13-20.
This is a quote from a famous and talkative Nobel Prize winner in Physics (1965):
You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You’ll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing—that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something (Richard Feynman).
Peter did not exactly have a scientific education, but he had a very remarkable openness, which allowed him to draw conclusions about the identity of Jesus based precisely on his personal experience, on what He had done in his own life.
There is a huge difference between knowing the name and the facts of a person and to know the implications of his life on ours; in the case of Christ, to progressively identify ourselves with Him. Who do you say that I am? is a question that necessarily involves a commitment on our part. The answer to this question requires a change in our attitudes and behavior. This is true knowledge: Peter’s profession of faith was no simple intellectual response to a question. It was the taking of a position, a definitive stance before God and before the world. Peter embraced the truth about Christ, and in return, Christ entrusted him with the care of the Church.
We do not really know what was the idea of Peter about Jesus. He might have conceived Jesus as the son of God who came to abolish the rule of the Roman Empire and restore the Kingdom. Or he might have conceived him as spiritual reformer; but the experience of Peter made him a different man. On the day of Pentecost, this ignorant fisherman addressed multitudes who spoke different languages, but they heard him in their language. He stood before the rulers and authorities and declared his loyalty to his master; he accepted imprisonment for the sake of his master; and finally he embraced death on the cross.
Yes, Peter was well aware of what Christ had done in his own life. The important thing was not the miracles or the words. The prodigious deeds were interpreted by many as the work of the devil. And Christ’s words were sometimes misunderstood and at other times used as a weapon against him. But the continuous activity of Jesus in our heart, the Motus Christi, is something that remains and that we must welcome with attention and cleverness.
Certainly, our relationship with Christ, just as with the Holy Spirit or our heavenly Father, has two directions.
The ascetical aspect of this relationship is condensed in His own words when He says who He is: Way, Truth and Life. The conclusion is that our effort must be directed to identifying ourselves with Him (Way), to remembering what He teaches (Truth), with the help of the Holy Spirit to our poor memory and to realizing at all times that only what we do with Him is fruitful and lasting (Life).
The mystical dimension of our relationship with Christ can be summarized in that fraternal consciousness which is also based on his words: I will be with you until the end of time.
St. Paul’s words today powerfully summarize who Christ is for us, ascetically and mystically: For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever.
Let us remember with a little story how regrettable it is not to embrace the Truth at every moment and make it our Way and our Life:
During the early 700s AD onward for many years the turmoil in what we now know as Spain was very volatile, the power struggles were common and the ever present threat of attack from the Muslim warlords in their quests for dominance must have caused the local Princes quite a few problems.
The story is told of one particular Prince of Granada was suspected of planning an attempt to take the throne of Spain for himself. Fearing this Prince of Granada might succeed, his fellow nobles had him kidnapped and placed in solitary confinement for 33 years, after which he died. During his captivity he used the time in studying the Bible. After his death, his captors examined the cell where he had lived for so long, and found scratched into the walls notations of this sort: Psalm 118:8 is the middle verse of the Bible; Ezra 7:21 contains all the letters of the alphabet except the letter j; the ninth verse of the eighth chapter of Esther is the longest verse in the Bible.
There’s a difference between knowing facts about Jesus, and his Word, and allowing Him to change you from the inside out. The Truth of Jesus is not just information. As James puts it: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do (James 1:22–25).
When we are aware and accept that Christ walks with us, that he knows our pain and our aspirations, we begin in an unexpected way (as the Second Reading says) to bear fruit for the Kingdom of Heaven. We are made apostles and sent out as ambassadors of Christ to the world. Our stance before the Truth has consequences: We must be consistent with our faith each day. People around us will not separate the message and the messenger, the Truth and its living manifestation. Can anyone recommend to others what has not been profoundly true to oneself? They would ask. And how can we believe what is said, unless we see its effects on the one who says it? Just as we say that Jesus is the visible face of God, each of us must make Christ visible in our actions. A single exception to this in my behavior will spread doubt and skepticism in my neighbors.
In the simple actions of every day, we have the possibility to show the presence of God, which is more important than solving the thousand problems and tragic situations that we would like to solve.
Let me express it with another simple metaphor:
The pencil maker took the pencil aside, just before putting it into the box.
There are 5 things you need to know, he told the pencil, before I send you out into the world. Always remember them and never forget, and you will become the best pencil you can be.
One: You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in someone’s hand.
Two: You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but you’ll need it to become a better pencil.
Three: You will be able to correct any mistakes you might make.
Four: The most important part of you will always be what’s inside.
And Five: On every surface you are used on, you must leave your mark. No matter what the condition, you must continue to write.
It is well known that St. Francis of Assisi was one of the saints who most clearly expressed and lived what it means to be an instrument of Christ, an “instrument of his peace”, said this Founder. There is a story that Francis once emerged from the woods at Porziuncola, where he had been praying, and was met by Brother Masseo. Why does the whole world follow you? Why you? You’re not handsome, not clever or educated, and you don’t come from a noble family. How do you explain it?
According to the story from the Fioretti, when Francis heard this he spent some moments gazing up to heaven and his heart was with God. Finally, he said, You want to know why the whole world chooses to follow me. It is because the Lord could find no more miserable creature for the miraculous work he wished to accomplish that is why He chose me. To put to shame nobility and greatness and power and beauty and wisdom.
Today’s Gospel text is important for everyone, not only for St. Peter and the Popes. It is up to each one of us to lead a group, a small or large community of the Church, and moments of discouragement and skepticism easily come. But Jesus calls the Church ‘my Church.’ This tells us that Jesus Christ is the owner of the Church. He is the Supreme Authority. Neither Peter nor the disciples own it. Neither Pope, nor Bishops, nor religious own it. We all belong to the Church of Christ. And for that reason we can have faith in the words we hear from Christ today: The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
Who do you say I am? With this question Jesus reminds us that our knowledge of Jesus must never be at second hand. A man might know every verdict ever passed on Jesus; he might know all the Christology; he might know every teaching about Jesus; he might by-heart every commentary on the teaching of Jesus; he might analyze the historical background of every utterance of Jesus. But or discipleship never consists in knowing about Jesus; it always consists in knowing Jesus. Jesus demands a personal verdict from every Christian. Who do you say I am?
Let us not lose sight of the fact that today Christ is revealing the meaning of being the head of his Church, Pope and successor of Peter. A Pope is entrusted with a particular task in church. He always appears first, is called to feed the lambs and the sheep and must sustain his brothers in the faith. The stone of which Jesus speaks, is the faith professed by Peter. This faith constitutes the foundation of the church, which keeps it united with Christ-rock, makes it indestructible and allows it to never be overwhelmed by the forces of evil. All those who, like Peter and with Peter profess this faith, are inserted, as living stones, in the spiritual building designed by God.