Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalms 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35
Today Jesus asks two questions: “Who do others say that I am?” and “Who do you say I am?” Jesus makes it clear that it’s much more important to know who we say Jesus is than to be able to report on all the many things other people say Jesus is. When we are baptized, through a series of questions and the profession of the Apostles Creed, we declare along with St. Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Now this acclamation is made for us by our parents and our Godparents, but eventually, particularly by the time we receive First Communion and Confirmation we need to be able to declare this with confidence ourselves.
A sad reality of the world today is that there are many children who have and will come to their First Communion or Confirmation with an idea that Jesus is someone other than the Christ, or simply have no idea who he is. When our parents or our Godparents to do not meet their promises to teach us the Faith and to keep us an active member of God’s Holy Church, even though we have received the grace of the sacraments (which by no means are negated by our failings) we simply can’t answer the question that Jesus posed to his disciples today.
As many of you know, I was raised by one parent who wasn’t sure if God existed and another who was sure He didn’t. I was baptized by my maternal Grandmother in secret in the kitchen sink with no ceremony, and no parents or Godparents present save my Grandmother herself. Although I received the grace of Baptism and was in fact made a Catholic Christian by this act, I had no idea who Jesus was growing up, as I had no one to teach me about Him other than lapsed Catholics, lukewarm Protestants and people who had sworn off God all together.
I was raised in a town 7 miles north of Boston where everyone was either the grandchild, or great grandchild like myself, of Irish or Italian Catholic immigrants. The first two generations of immigrants in this area left a Catholic mark on every part of town. The town was divided up into two parishes and children identified themselves by parish. My generation grew up with beautiful church building around us, a large Knights of Columbus Hall and a town that partied on major Catholic Feast Days…yet the Churches were beginning to be empty. By the time I was in college the parish and convent in the town down the road had been turned into a parking lot.
Surrounded in a culture that echoed Catholicism, but had few my age who really proclaimed it, I had to answer for myself the question: Who is the Jesus guy that I see pictures of, and temples for, all around me? Through books, movies, music and something brand new and exciting, the World Wide Web, I was able to find out three popular explanations of who other people said Jesus was.
- A madman. A guy with delusions of grandeur who was charismatic enough to get a bunch of 1st century Jews to follow him. History is full of crazy people who lead strange cults and movements that explod overnight and then fall apart under their own weight. This explanation of Jesus was appealing to me because it allowed me to simply ignore Him…who really cares about a crazy man from two millennia ago? The problem is, there is absolutely no explanation as to why people still follow Him 2,000 years later. I had to reject this explanation because it just doesn’t hold up to rational though and a good understanding of history.
- A failed revolutionary. A 1st century Vladimir Lenin or Che Guevara. A man who was angry about how his people were being treated, and in order to change who was willing put a match to the powder keg that was Roman Jerusalem. But he failed and the Temple was destroyed a few decades after his death. This is an appealing way to deal with his hard words about some authority figures in Scripture, and it easy to see the romance in a man who gave his life for a cause he believed in. The problem is, there is irrefutable historical evidence of men and women dying for Jesus centuries after his death. No matter how romantic a figure, no one gives their life for an ancient failed revolutionary.
- A nice guy, who said some nice things and said be nice to one another. Who doesn’t like a nice guy? But once again we go back to History…centuries of people do not endure torture and death for refusing to renounce a 1st century Mr. Rodgers.
Eventually in college, while reading scripture, and through a gift of grace, it dawned on me, there was only one real explanation for who Jesus was. He isn’t who other people say he is, but rather He is who God tells us he is through the divine gift of Faith. He is the Son of God, the Messiah.
…As the fall kicks into gear, programs like Catholics Come Home and RCIA begin around us in the Archdiocese. Men and women of all different ages are sick of hearing other people say who they think Jesus is, and have come to hear Jesus Himself explain who He is through His Holy Church.
Some of these people are those who made Frist Communion or Confirmation without any real catechesis. Others were taught the faith but eventually the voices of those in the world who said Jesus was something other than the Son of God lured them away, but now they have heard the voice of the Truth. Still others are like me, completely unchurched with no background in the Church what so ever.
All around you people are grappling with the questions Jesus posed to His disciples. Pray that they may respond with Peter that He is the Son of God, and that if he is the Son of God, He must be the most important thing in their lives. When this hasn’t been the case in your life before, it takes great courage to live this way. Pray that God grants them this courage, and also fortitude to those who promised to teach the faith to their children and Godchildren…and may God give us the ability to assist them in any way we can.