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A non-standard Messiah | Gospel of august 27

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Gospel according to Saint Matthew 16,13-20:

Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi. He asked his disciples, «What do people say of the Son of Man? Who do they say I am?». They said, «For some of them you are John the Baptist, for others Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets». Jesus asked them, «But you, who do you say I am?». Peter answered, «You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God». Jesus replied, «It is well for you, Simon Barjona, for it is not flesh or blood that has revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. And now I say to you: You are Peter (or Rock) and on this rock I will build my Church; and never will the powers of death overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what you unbind on earth shall be unbound in heaven». Then He ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

A non-standard Messiah

Luis CASASUS President of the Idente Missionaries

Rome, August 27, 2023 | XXI Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 22: 19-23; Rom 11: 33-36; Mt 16: 13-20

Disagreements and misunderstandings. Last Sunday we saw one of those sublime dialogues of Christ, on that occasion with the Canaanite woman who was distressed by the suffering of her daughter. Today, once again, we witness Jesus’ effort to patiently approach the hearts and thoughts of those close to him: Who do people think that I am? And what do you think?

Most of us do not do this. Depending on our character, to convey our judgment in the face of a difficulty or misunderstanding:

* We try to raise our voice higher than our interlocutor. And we underline his faults.

* We keep a hurtful silence, or we reduce our communication to the maximum.

* We crush the person next to us with long arguments, justifications or lessons.

* We change the subject, ignoring the real problem.

By reacting in this way, we actually cover up the deepest and most important feelings: fear, sadness, loneliness… and we stay on the surface of the problem, without producing relief and openness in the other person.

Who do people think I am, and what do you think? With these two questions, Christ is interested in what is happening around and within his disciples. Later, only later, would he instruct them on what would happen to him, for He was well aware of the difficulties involved in accepting that apparent defeat is a triumph and our most serious conclusions…pure smoke.

—ooOoo—

We cannot be naive in interpreting Christ’s statement: The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. Of course, this means that the power of evil will not be able to interrupt the salvific work of the Church, but this does not mean that this work will be free from all kinds of corruption, scandals and external and internal difficulties.

The First Reading is an example of how Providence takes care of the chosen people even before the foundation of the Church. Hezekiah, who was an honest and faithful king, chose as his prime minister Eliakim, of whom we hear that he was set “as a peg in a sure place“. His conduct was supposed to be more dignified than that of his wicked predecessor Shobna, but, if we follow a few lines further on in this First Reading, we meet with a disastrous end:

In that day, the peg that was nailed firmly in its place will give way; it will be torn out and fall down, and all the things that were hung on it will be broken.” It is declared by the Lord Almighty (Is 22: 25).

So it happened, because Eliakim fell into the most shameful and petty nepotism. It is very difficult for those who have power – inside and outside the Church – to avoid corruption, to which they are driven by their own ambition and by the greed and hunger for power of those around them.

But this sad reality makes it all the more admirable to see how, in spite of everything, the gates of hell do not prevail, while empires and the ideologies that accompany them come to an end sooner or later… and usually in a regrettable way.

Let us not remain merely a global and historical observation, but rather let us think of our own fragility and how easy it is to pass from witness to scandal, if we do not truly feel what we repeat in the Eucharist: We give thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.

May the message of Psalm 137 be engraved in our hearts today:

Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar.  The Lord will vindicate me; your love, Lord, endures forever, do not abandon the works of your hands.

—ooOoo—

The Gospel narrative says that Jesus strictly forbade the apostles to proclaim that He was the Messiah. The reason is that, at that time, when they had not yet seen him suffer the Passion and be crucified, people would think that he was the Messiah they had dreamed of, the liberator king who would put an end to Roman oppression. That would have eclipsed his true saving message.

Do you think that you and I are different from the passionate Peter? Surely, we have made an image of Christ “to our own measure”, that is, one that meets our expectations, not necessarily negative, but always too earthly. As the Master said to Peter: You do not see things as God sees them, but as men see them (Mt 16: 23). Some of these well-intentioned and limited ways of seeing Christ are:

–  One who will guide me to change the world.

–  One who will comfort me in my many sorrows and misfortunes.

–  My refuge, the only being I can love, for the world is cruel and terrible.

–  A teacher who explains reality, the secrets of creation, of the human being.

Of course, all these perspectives must be improved, purified.

Let us not lose sight of the fact that the Gospel text tells us today that Peter was instructed not by flesh and blood, but by God himself. It is not that Peter “got the right answer”. It is moving to see how Christ recognizes the work of the Holy Spirit in his disciples, imperfect, frightened and some quite ignorant. For us it is a confirmation that we are to share our spiritual experience with sincerity, without embellishment or concealment, especially as our Father Founder taught us in the Examination of Perfection.

The Second Reading is an exalted hymn to divine wisdom and a true confession of Paul, acknowledging that God’s ways are mysterious, but our reason cannot find a different shortcut to unite us to Him. We are truly powerless before his designs.

Perhaps for this reason, our Father Founder taught us to understand how the Purification not only has an ascetical dimension (of my intentions, my tendencies, my passions…) but also a mystical character, where the Holy Spirit modifies my way of uniting myself with the Divine Persons. Thus, the Purification of the Spirit does not mean separating good from evil, but an effective preparation, removing what is unnecessary for a profound union (not only sentimental, intellectual, passing…) which is essentially a filial consciousness; in other words, a union with God the Father, with Christ as brother and with the Holy Spirit, the friend, as Pope Francis recalled (06 MAY 2013; 14 MAY 2023).

This requires going beyond a blameless moral life; I need my blood to be poured out as Providence wills, so that my love for others does not pass through “the darkest valleys” (Psalm 23), where I do not immediately see the fruits or rejoice in them. This Purification of the Spirit is painful because it reveals to us that neither God is as I thought, nor I myself as faithful as I thought. I can reject this purification, but then I will be only a sympathizer of Christ, not a true disciple, in whose littleness the light of God is seen.

Let us note that this happens today to Peter: Inspired, he says who Jesus really is and then Jesus tells him who he is: You are the Rock on which to build my Church.

Surely, it is in the holy founders of the various religious families that we can most clearly appreciate the acceptance of this purification, for their original intention was not to “create something new for the Church”, but to live a form of intimacy with God, as they thought it was more perfect.

A man named Miguel went every day to visit Carmela, his wife, at the nursing home for people with senile dementia. She suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and every day Miguel explained to her that he was her husband, told her about their children and grandchildren and she listened with surprise and a satisfied smile, he fed her and after kissing her he said goodbye until the next day, to repeat again, patiently, the same ceremony.

Miguel’s friends would ask him why he did this day after day, if she could never know who he was again. He would answer: But I do know who I am.

In reality, our true and most intimate identity is determined by the way we treat others. Miguel may never have thought that this would be his ultimate relationship with his beloved, but he had accepted with affection and compassion what it now meant to be Carmela’s husband.

_______________________________

In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

Luis CASASUS

President