Who Do You Say that I Am?

In high school, I had a friend that was very suspicious of organized religion, and specifically, Christianity.  What was his problem?  He saw too many Christians not living up to the faith.  And so, he said to me, “I respect the person Jesus Christ.  But I do not believe he was God – just an outstanding moral/social teacher.” Gandhi had a similar issue.  After reading the Gospels he famously said that if he ever met a Christian who actually lived out the Christian life, he would become a follower of Jesus Christ.  Wow…

This view, that Jesus was merely a good moral teacher, never sat well with me.  Intuitively, even though this young man is very smart, it seemed odd to say, “Jesus was a good man, but he wasn’t who he says he was!” How can someone be such an outstanding moral teacher and lie about who he is at the same time?

Jesus asks us this weekend, Who do you say that I am? And the disciples respond: Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Then Peter speaks,  Jesus, you are the Christ the Son of the living God.  Peter gets it right.  He recognizes that the person Jesus Christ is someone greater than the prophets – he is God among us!  And Jesus blesses Peter and says, Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 

So what we have here is that knowledge of who Christ is – or rather – the process of coming to know the Divine Person Jesus Christ, happens through the Church. Upon Peter, says Christ, will I build my Church, because Peter knows that Christ is the Son of the living God. The purpose of the Church is to bring all of us into an encounter with Christ.

Here’s the question I have been reflecting on… why is it difficult for good people like my friend and Gandhi to see who Christ is?  I think the answer is humbling. The answer lies in the recent events of our country.  I find the increased racial tension in our country very disheartening.  The challenge in following Jesus Christ is that he has called us to be “One Body”, members of His Church, where race no longer divides us.  The unfortunate reality today is that there are many Christians who perpetuate the sin of racism.  The sins of many Christians has caused great evil in the world.  Therefore, they do not want to belong to “a church” but will respect the moral and social teachings of Jesus Christ as a good man.

If Jesus were to ask each of us today, Who do you say that I am, What would we say?  My friends, this is the challenge for all of us this weekend. We are called to know who Christ is. This is why we have the Church.  This is why we come every Sunday because we need to learn who Christ is in the Scriptures.  We need to be fed and nourished by Christ in the Eucharist.  And finally, we truly need the love and support of each other as a faith community.  And My friends, this is the challenged, all of us here are called to actually live out the Christian life, and to do that we must imitate Christ.  Friends, Gandhi once said that we must be the change that we wish to see in the world.  If we truly want racism to end in this country.  If we truly want others to know just how much Christ loves them.  Then we have to know who Christ is, become more like him, and live like Christ in the world.

In Christ,

Fr. Stephen

Prayer – Keeping our Eyes Fixed on Jesus

“One can only admire [Peter’s] faith.  Despite what follows, Peter shows himself courageous and trusting in a way that the other disciples do not”.  Peter goes out to the stormy sea so that he can join Jesus.  Everything is fine at first because Peter’s eyes are fixed on the Lord.  But suddenly it changes.  Peter sees the severity of the weather.  “To say that he ‘saw’ the severity of the weather implies that he took his eyes off Jesus… Having turned his attention away from the Lord, who enabled him to do by grace what he could never do by nature, Peter is left to rely on his own feeble power.” And so, he falls into the sea, and cries out “Lord, Save me!”

Our readings this weekend remind us how important it is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  During my time in the seminary, Bishop Barron reminded us, seminarians, that our lives had to be centered on our Lord Jesus.  This, he emphasized, was essential for any parish priest, because if we are to share with others the good news of Jesus Christ, we have to know him.  The same is true for all of us here.  Christ has to be the center of our lives.

How do we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus?  The answer is simple: it’s by cultivating an intimate prayer life with Jesus.  I find it sort of humorous that at the beginning of our Gospel this weekend, Matthew writes, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side.  Jesus needed some space.  So he sent his disciples on ahead of him so that he could have some quiet time for prayer so that he could talk with His Father.  Prayer was a central element of Jesus’ life.  And so our prayer life with God, really ought to be the central element of our lives.

In our first reading, Elijah is told to Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by… [and] After the fire, Elijah finds God, in a tiny whispering sound.  This is prayer.  Jesus teaches us this weekend that we find God in the quiet of our hearts.  Intimate prayer happens when we find solitude with God.  Another way to express it is that prayer is when our hearts speak to the heart of Christ.

In today’s busy world, we have every distraction available, and these can make prayer difficult.  But our challenge this weekend is to seek solitude.  Our challenge is to imitate Jesus, who sought time to pray and talk with His Father in heaven. 

Prayer will not take our storms in life away.  But, prayer, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, will give us the grace to persevere through any storms we may experience.  But Prayer is much more than God rescuing us in a time of need.  Prayer is a relationship, where God constantly fills us with his love, gives us purpose and identity.  Prayer is communion and friendship with God.  May the Eucharist we receive this weekend strengthen our fidelity to prayer.

In Christ’s Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

The Feast of the Transfiguration

“Peter volunteers to house Jesus and his heavenly guess; but what he is really trying to do is catch the ecstasy, house the glory and beauty of God that are pouring down over them, capture the experience of transcendental joy and communication so as to make it a permanent possession of man.  Who could blame him? Peter indeed senses that heaven and earth have come together… [which] unaccountably satisfies the deepest longings of our nature.”

Peter gives us great hope.  Just before our Gospel scene today Peter has an interesting exchange with our Lord.  We know it well.  Jesus asks the Apostles, Who do people say that I am? (Mt 16:13). And Peter confesses You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Mt 16:16).  And Jesus blesses Peter for understanding this.  But then, Jesus begins to tell his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly… and be killed and on the third day be raised (Mt 16: 21).  Peter, confused, looks at Jesus, no way man, No such thing shall ever happen to you! (Mt 16:22). Now frustrated Jesus says to Peter, Get behind me, Satan! (Mt 16:23).

Immediately after this scene, we have our Gospel today.  Jesus brings Peter, James, and John up the mountain and he is transfigured before them.  And Peter speaks again.  By this time, we are hoping that Peter says the right thing. He looks at Jesus and says: Lord it is good that we are here… If you wish, I will make three tents (Mt 17:4).

I think Peter responds like all of us would, which Jesus even says: [Peter], you are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do (Mt 16: 23). Peter sees the glorified Jesus.  It’s a glimpse at what the resurrected Jesus will look like.  Where the divinity of Jesus shines through his humanity, and he shines like the sun. This moment, the transfiguration on the Mount, is so beautiful, that Peter wants it to last. It’s a moment where he senses that heaven and earth have come together and Peter wants to cling to it. But the problem is that Peter is thinking as a human being does. Peter does not want to go to Jerusalem.  He certainly doesn’t want to see Jesus die.  He wants to hold on to this moment of the transfiguration. In short, Peter wants the fruit of the Resurrection, with out the crucifixion…

Jesus’ transfiguration, is an experience that is supposed to give Peter, James and John hope to go on the mission with Jesus.  This is the turning point in Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus’ identity has been established:  He is the Messiah, the son of the living God (Mt 16:16).  But now he is to go to Jerusalem so that he can finish his work.  So that he can accomplish his Mission.  And he wants his disciples to trust him and to go with him.

It can be easy for us to fall into the mindset of Peter… We want certain graces from God now without the journey that goes with it.

If we are struggling with sin in our lives, then we might be impatient with ourselves and beg God to take it away now.  But the journey towards freedom can teach us about our need for God. Or, maybe someone close to us is struggling in their faith.  A good friend of mine called me this week to ask prayers for her son.  Her son is struggling in his faith and isn’t sure of God’s love in his life.  It broke this mother’s heart.  The temptation for her is to be like Peter. But the son needs his journey so that he can have an experience of God in his life.  And so, for those of us accompanying others in situations like this, the journey itself can strengthen our bond, intimacy, and trust in God.

Fr.  Tony, myself, can also be like Peter. Fr. Tony and I, and I’m sure many of you also, have dreams for this parish. We have dreams about it being the Catholic hub, a parish completely on fire.  A parish where people come here because they know that they will encounter the Lord here.  And even for our desire to have a rockin parish, we have to remember that we are blessed, and have been blessed in many ways.  That our journey as people of God will bring more people to Christ.

But here’s the point my friends. The inevitable journey should not paralyze us in fear.  It should not prevent us from moving, growing, and being open to be transfigured.  Instead, the journey should inspire us!

My friends, the transfiguration today gives us hope for the end of the journey.  It gives us a glimpse at what resurrected life will be like.  But there is a journey we need to take.  Just as Jesus needed to go to Jerusalem, each of us has a special journey.  May the Eucharist we receive today strengthen us for this journey so that we too can be transfigured.

In Christ’s Friendship,

Fr. Stephen