Monday, August 25, 2008

Year A Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isa. 22,19-23; Ps. 138-1-3. 6.8; Rom 11,33-36; Matt. 16,13-20

Today’s Gospel, with very little varnish, tells us who Jesus is. It is also too often employed as a crude proof-text in support of the papacy. While this is not a grotesque distortion of this passage, it does represent an unacceptable reduction. The church is founded on the two-fold profession of faith that Jesus is the Christ and that he is Lord. He is the Anointed One and God’s only begotten Son, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God”. Peter’s confession is important not because it reveals Peter’s status to us, which is derived precisely from this profession, but because it is paradigmatic of the Christian experience. Stated another way, it is descriptive of the experience of Christians. Were this not so the church, the ekklesia, would not factor into Jesus’ response when he says that upon the one who made this confession, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16,18).

Proclaiming that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” is the mission of the church and the primary task of the pope as the Vicar of Christ. In a homily given to kick-off his first apostolic journey to these United States in 1979, John Paul II said: “The reason for my mission, my journey, through the United States is to tell you, to tell everyone, young and old alike, to say to everyone in the name of Christ, ‘Come and follow me.’” Of course, the catchphrase of his pontificate, taken from our Gospel of two weeks ago, echoed the words of Jesus, who, as he walked across the water, said to his frightened disciples, “it is I; do not be afraid (Matt.14,27).

Msgr. Luigi Giusanni outlines the experience of faith in Jesus Christ in five distinct passages. The first passage is an event that takes the form of an encounter, it is something that happens to you that shocks you that “makes you discover something new” (Is It Possible to Live This Way?, Vol. 1, pg 57). Giussani gives a concrete example of how this works. Two friends are leaving a church after attending the wedding of another friend, when, after the Mass, one of the friends says spontaneously to other, “I feel at home for the first time! I understand why my classmate is wrong: because he presumes . . . to discover things through his powers of reasoning; he thinks he can reason his way to the truth. But, instead, truth is discovered, by surprise, in one moment, in a determined moment” (ibid). That determined moment is when the event becomes an encounter. Peter’s confession in today’s Gospel is a more immediate example of this first passage of faith. Peter’s encounter, which took place after he had been in the company of Jesus for awhile, just as the encounter happens for many people after being Catholic for awhile, maybe even their whole lives, reveals that this event is always an experience, it is never abstract. It cannot be an abstraction because it is an encounter with another.

Now, this is not to say that the truth that comes to us in this determined moment is unreasonable. On the contrary, it orders our reason. Faith is both a method and a source of knowledge. “Faith means to know reality by means of a witness” (Traces, vol. 10- No. 8, pg. 30). Peter is an apostle, which simply means one who is sent. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, after all had been fulfilled, Peter, along with the others, is sent as a witness to “make disciples of all nations” Matt. 28,19).

The second passage of faith is the exceptional nature of this encounter. It is exceptional because it corresponds to your heart, like the feeling expressed in the example of being “at home for the first time” (ibid) Think of how Peter felt as the realization, which was not the fruit of an intellectual endeavor, but revealed to him by God, dawned on him and the confidence with which he spoke the words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16,16). Peter shows us that this encounter does not strike us as foreign, as something coming to us from the outside, but corresponds to our deepest self. The third passage, according to Giussani, is the wonder to which the exceptional encounter gives rise. Wonder causes astonishment and/or admiration. This leads to the fourth passage, which is a question: “Who is this exceptional One I have encountered?”

The fifth and final passage, which occurs after having answered “Who is this?” is also a question: “What am I going to do in light of this encounter?” This is the point at which your responsibility begins. This is the point at which Giusanni says, “you’re the one who has to start bowing your head, you’re the one who has to start acting” (59). Our responsibility is to answer the question our Lord put to Peter, “Who do you say that I am” (Matt. 16,15)? The only result of answering this question correctly, which is the only reasonable answer because to answer otherwise is not only to deny reality, but to deny ourselves, is to bow our head, to bend our knee, to fall on our face. This response to our encounter is not just borne of awe, but of happiness and joy for having glimpsed our destiny, at having an experience, even if still incomplete, of the satisfaction of all our often misplaced desires.

This event that becomes an exceptional encounter that creates wonder and leads us to inquire further only to discover that it is Christ, which discovery necessitates a response of belief, a profession of faith, can be summarized by the fruit of the fifth Joyful Mystery of the rosary, depicted so beautifully in the window of the west transept of this cathedral, namely the joy of finding Jesus. At the end of this Mass we, like Peter and the other apostles, because we belong to an apostolic church, founded on Peter’s confession and passed on by the faith of many witnesses, will be sent forth to witness to the fact that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16,16). How will you respond?

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