In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do the crowd say I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist, others Elijah; and others say one of the ancient prophets come back to life.” But, you, who do you say I am?” Peter then spoke up, “You are the Christ of God.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we all know that Peter was able to know that Jesus is the “Christ of God” because he not only loved Jesus deeply, but because he was inspired by the Holy Spirit. What about us? We know too that when Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” This question is also directed to each of us here today. Can we from our heart of hearts say to Jesus, “Lord, I know You, and I love You deeply?” If you and I can answer this question truly and personally, then we can be sure that we are living a meaningful and fulfilling life; a life that is wholesome even though we may be facing different challenges.
But, if we cannot say, to Jesus in our heart of hearts, “Lord, I know You, and I love You deeply,” then we can also be sure that our lives cannot be as meaningful and fulfilling as we wish it to be. This is because when we do not know Jesus personally and if we do NOT make Him the centre of our lives, then inevitably and sooner or later, we will make ourselves the centre of our lives. In another words, our lives can very easily drift into a very secular way of living where we strive to “enjoy life to the full” insofar as it makes us feel good!
And, if this should happen, then Jesus’ invitation to us, in today’s Gospel to “renounce ourselves, and take up our cross every day” in order to follow Him, would not appeal to us. And, what Jesus says to us, “For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for My sake, that man will save it,” will easily be brushed aside and ignored.
Actually, through these words, Jesus is giving us very concrete advice on how to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. The problem we face daily is that we somehow allow our secular world of materialism and consumerism that opposes and denies the Good News of Jesus to feed our desires and fire our imagination and dreams. We can so easily be caught up by the illusions of the materialistic world that we forget that the essence of life must be built on authentic love and not on superficial relationships that have no deep commitment and no unconditional love that Jesus in the Good News of Salvation proclaims.
On reflecting on “the Secret of Happiness,” Fr Joseph Galdon, a Jesuit once wrote, “the saddest reply I get when I ask someone how he or she is doing, is the long face, the wary sigh, and the answer, ‘Father, I am not happy at all.’ I get that answer from all kinds of people: from businessmen, wives, teenagers and sometimes even kids in primary school. The search for “happiness” seems to be the greatest of all human problems.
All of us pursue happiness in different ways. Some of us chase it in physical things – money to buy things we need, and even don’t need. Fr Galdon says, “I know of many people who think that the physical pleasures of sex are going to solve all the problems in their marriage and in the world. And if they cannot find it with their spouse in their marriage, they are going to go looking for it elsewhere. A lot of teenagers think that happiness can be found in drugs and alcohol. And many, I know, think that being a President of the company is more important than being a good father or a loving husband.
Clearly, some of us seek happiness in ways that lead only to more dissatisfaction and unhappiness – in pride or selfishness, in domination or manipulation of other people.”
However, there is also the optimism in relationships. I know of many married couples who are married for more than forty years or so, and whose bond for each other is so deep, that they cannot live without the other. Let me just cite two examples: one person, Clare (not her real name) said to me, “Father, I can truly say that I love my husband so much that if something bad were to happen to him, I would die, and if he dies, I too would rather die.” Another person, Catherine (not her real name), who has an aged husband who is suffering from dementia, and yet, I can see how Catherine would clean and truly care for her husband daily with so much love, attention, patience and peace, even though her husband cannot remember that she is his wife. These are only two of many other examples I can give.
As for us priest and religious, I would say that our foundational consolations come from experiencing the deep love we have in our homes with our family (this applies to all peoples); and such love is even deeper when it is built on a deep Catholic faith. Then, there are particularly deep spiritual consolations when we are able to share the love of Jesus with the many people we encounter in our lives and especially in our daily pastoral ministries. And, this love is even deeper if we experience a healthy community life of a religious.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, when Jesus in today’s Gospel urges us to carry our cross daily and follow Him, He is reminding us that unless we live our faith more authentically, love others more wholeheartedly and build our hope in our lives more spiritually and on God and not on our secular successes, we will never be able to know Him, personally, and we will never be able to answer the question He poses you and I today, “Who do you think that I am?”
Fr Galdon says, “All of us need someone to love and someone to love us. The unhappy man is often the lonely man – the man who does not have, or thinks he does not have someone to love. If we do not have someone to love, then there will be no one to challenge all that is good and unselfish in us. It is only when we have someone to love that we forget ourselves and all the selfishness in us and rise to the truly human level of reaching out to the other people . . . teenagers change, when they find someone to love. All of a sudden, the selfish boy becomes more thoughtful and attentive. The self-centred girl becomes more concerned with others.
If we were to reflect on our lives more deeply, we will discover that our truly happy times were when we were doing something for others, especially for those who were helpless or in need. And, our miserable times were when we were demanding selfishly from others, instead of giving generously?
Actually, it is not hard to find someone to love. The problem is primarily not in others, but in ourselves. It is difficult to love when we are unloveable ourselves. Fr Galdon’s grandmother once told him, “when we are in love, a girl is always more beautiful and a guy is more handsome, because they are happy.”
Robert Joyce, once said, “Unless the seed dies, it bears no fruit; unless we give ourselves and whatever God has given us, we shall be sterile and barren. The Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are both fed by the River Jordan. However, the Sea of Galilee is brimming with life and beauty, while the Dead Sea is literally dead, and no life can survive in its salty waters. “For each drop of water the Sea of Galilee gets from the north, it gives up at the south; it lives because it gives. The Dead Sea, on the other hand has no outlet; it receives, but it does not give, and so it dies and all it touches withers.
In short and as I conclude,when Jesus is saying to you and to me, “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for My sake will save it,” He is saying that we must “choose between serving or being served, sacrificing ourselves for others or taking advantage of them, or between giving or taking. As such, Jesus is cautioning us that “happiness” is a by-product of living the life that He has shown us and proclaimed. In other words, we need to seek “holiness” in order to experience “happiness”. . . for there is no “happiness without holiness.”
And, unless we live such a Christ-like life, as with Clare and Catherine in our real examples, and in the many inspiring lives that we know, where love is mature, committed and wholesome, we will not be very open to the Holy Spirit, like Peter. It is only when we are then able to live our faith as fully as God Wills of us that we are able to answer Jesus when He asks us, “Who do you say I am?”
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
(Ref: adapted from: “The Chain of Love, Essays for daily living; Fr Joseph A. Galdon,S.J.: pub. Cacho Hermanos, Inc.: 1993; p.22-25.)(Ref: adapted from: “Hearts Burning,” Fr Nil Guillemette,S.J.: St Paul’s Pub.; 2006; Makati City, Philippines; p.391.)
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