The Twelfth Sunday of the Year (C)
Dear brothers and sisters,
In these days of uncertainty and discomfort as we continue to look to the formation of the pastoral unit and the changes which soon will come, we hear the confident certainty of the Psalmist: “God is the strength of his people” (Psalm 27:8).
The Lord God truly is the strength of his people, of those who “look on him whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). Looking upon his pierced side and peering into his Sacred Heart opened for us in love, we, too, with the Psalmist, gaze toward him in the sanctuary to see his power and his glory (cf. Psalm 63:3).
As we look upon the Crucified Savior, his question comes down to each of us who would also be his disciples: “But who do you say that I am” (Luke 9:20)? By asking this question, Jesus does not simply inquire into the opinion of the crowds and disciples; rather, he longs to know if they recognize him.
He asks this question of them while “he was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him” (Luke 9:18). As witnesses to his prayer, the disciples are able to see what the people and the crowds do not see. “The disciples are drawn into his solitude, his communion with the Father that is reserved to him alone. They are privileged to see him as the one who … speaks face-to-face with the Father, person to person” (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, 297). And because they have seen him in prayer with his Father, they see within him, as if already flowing out from his heart, “a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness” (Zechariah 13:1).
Recognizing this living water welling up within him, the disciples can say with the Psalmist, “For you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts, like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water” (Psalm 63:2). Because they were thirsting for God, because they witnessed his union with the Father, they recognized him as more than the prophets; they knew him to be, as Saint Peter answered on their behalf, “The Christ of God” (Luke 9:20).
If we compare the answer of the crowds, “One of the ancient prophets,” with the answer of Peter, “The Christ of God,” we see that there are two ways of knowing Jesus (Luke 9:19, 20). "On the one hand, there is an external knowledge of Jesus that, while not necessarily false, is inadequate. On the other hand, there is a deeper knowledge that is linked to discipleship, to participation in Jesus’ way, and such knowledge can only grow in that context" (ibid., 291).
It is only in following Jesus’ way, the way of his Cross, that we come to know him as he truly is. Only by looking upon him whom we have pierced can we know his power and glory, the very strength of which is displayed in the opening of his heart for us. Only by looking upon him can we cry out in all sincerity, “You are my help, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy” (Psalm 63:8).
We can only stay in the shadow of his wings if we continually journey with him, and we can only journey with him if we keep his words: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
With these words, we see that the Christian life is simple, but it is not easy. It is simply because it consists of only one thing: following Jesus Christ in all things. It is not easy because it is often difficult to love as he loves, to love without condition and without thinking of the cost, to love until there is nothing left to give. In seeking to follow him, I learn that only if I lose my life in Christ can I cling fast to him, and only if I cling fast to him alone can I allow his right hand to hold me up, especially in the midst of painful or uncertain times (cf. Luke 9:24, Psalm 63:9).
I know that with the reduction here from two Sunday Masses each weekend to one we will likely see a decrease in the overall attendance at Sunday Mass. I also know that many of those who cannot come to the 10:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday will go to one of the other nearby Masses to fulfill their Sunday obligation, to worship the Lord Most High and to be nourished with the Holy Eucharist.
It is with deep sorrow that I also know some will likely be tempted to leave their Catholic faith, either to join another Christian community or to abandon the Christian faith entirely. Both are lamentable temptations and must be avoided at all costs. The Lord requires fidelity of us in all aspects of our lives; we cannot abandon him when things become difficult or uncomfortable for us. It is at these moments especially that we must remain with Mary and John at the foot of his Cross, gazing upon his open side and clinging to him intensely.
We hear again Jesus’ words to each of us: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” We go, then, where the Lord goes; we seek him where he is to be found; we gather to meet him in all of the tabernacles of the world.
We hear again the Lord’s question to his disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” What answer will you give?
The opinion of the crowd - that he is John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the ancient prophets – while not entirely wrong, is also not correct. Such is the way of crowds; very rarely do they arrive at the correct conclusion. Though the answers of the crowd point us toward the way that leads to Jesus, they do not reach his true identity because they do not recognize his newness; they do not know the difference he makes in the lives of those who follow him unreservedly and without excuses. The answers of the crowds "interpret [Jesus] in terms of the past, in terms of the predictable and the possible, not in terms of himself, his uniqueness, which cannot be assigned to any other category. Today, too, similar opinions are clearly held by the ‘people’ who have somehow or other come to know Christ, who have perhaps even made a scholarly study of him, but have not encountered Jesus himself in his utter uniqueness and otherness” (ibid., 292).
If we do indeed hold him, as do the Apostles, to be the Christ, then we will hear his voice even now and follow him, joining our crosses to his so that we might shout for joy beneath the shadow of his wings, beneath the arms of his cross from which his love pours forth upon us in every celebration of the Eucharist.
When the crowds began leaving the Lord because his ways were difficult to understand and to live, the Lord turned to the Apostles and asked them, “Will you also go away” (John 6:67)? It was then that Saint Peter gave his other great confession of faith, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).
At certain pivotal moments in their lives, the Apostles realized that Jesus is who he said he was: God himself. This realization "could arrive at its complete form only when Thomas, touching the wounds of the Risen Lord, cried out, in amazement: 'My Lord and my God' (John 20:28). In the end, however, these words send us upon a never-ending journey. They are so vast that we can never grasp them completely, and they always surpass us. Throughout her entire history, the pilgrim Church has been exploring them ever more deeply. Only by touching Jesus’ wounds and encountering his Resurrection are we able to grasp them, and then they become our mission" (ibid., 304-305).
Let it be the same with us; let us recognize the truth of Jesus Christ in the pivotal moments of our lives. Let us look with humble and tender love upon his pierced side, into his open heart, and see the strength that beats there for us. Let us cling fast to him, and know that we “are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:29). Amen.