Our Gospel this week is the second half of the interchange between Jesus and Peter at Caesarea Philippi. Last week Peter identified Jesus as the Messiah. In this week’s Gospel, Jesus is telling them what kind of Messiah he will be, one who suffers and dies, but Peter can’t accept it. Jesus gives three clear directions for being his disciple: deny self, take up your cross, and follow him.
Deny self: this simply means it is more than all about me. I have to be willing to go out of myself for others.
Take up your cross: being willing to put the needs of others before my own comfort; in other words, denying self is the cross that Jesus is offering to us. It is not looking for pain and suffering, but being willing to “deny self” for the sake of others.
Follow him: this means to follow Jesus’ example, to live as he did, especially in how we relate to other people. I would like to point out a couple ways I can emulate Jesus and, if I do, I will be denying self and taking up MY cross:
Be compassionate: I am willing to help those in need, visit the sick and the elderly, share time and talent with those in need. Jesus paid special attention to the outcasts of society.
Be humble: I recognize that all I am and all I have is a gift of God to be shared. I do not have to be right all the time and I can give way to the will of others. Jesus never put others down because he was better.
Be patient: I am willing to accept the mistakes of others, give them room to be themselves and grow, even those who are difficult. Jesus modeled patience for us in his relationship with Peter and the other disciples, who were slow to catch on to what his mission truly was.
Be forgiving: I am willing to forgive, and more than once, because I know God forgives me over and over. On the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them.”
Be faithful: to the commitments I have made, to a trusting relationship with the God who made me. Jesus often went off by himself to a deserted place to gain strength and direction in life from his relationship with his Father.
The list could go on and on, but you get the idea. All we have to do is deny self, take up the cross of doing so, and include the needs of others in our priorities. How am I doing?
Church sign of the week: The devil doesn’t care if you go to church or read the bible, as long as you don’t apply it to your life.
“What’s in a name?” Juliet asks Romeo. In the scriptures, there is a lot of importance in a name, because often when God gives a special mission to someone, he changes their name. For example, Abram became Abraham, Sari became Sarah, Jacob became Israel, Saul became Paul, and, in our reading today, Simon becomes Peter.
Jesus asks who the disciples think that he is and Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” He is rewarded with the name “Peter,” which means “rock,” and is given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, a sign of power. He now has a special mission and a name to go with it.
My friends, the same thing happened to us at baptism. The ceremony starts out with the question, “What name do you give this child?” And with that name comes a special commission to live as Christ did, showing love of God through love of neighbor. Each of us has a special mission. There are people we will meet and have the
opportunity to influence in a way that no one else can. Christ has entrusted to me, with my name, the responsibility to live out that commitment.
Jesus says to each of us, “who do you say that I am?” Intellectually we will say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But what do we say with how we live our lives? Am I living in such a way that I am fulfilling my baptismal promise? Am I living a life of love of God, shown through love of neighbor?
Church sign of the week: Let all that you do be done in love.
One day a teacher held up a jar of mayonnaise and asked the students what was in it. “Mayonnaise,” they said. The teacher then taped a label on it and held it up again. “Mayonnaise,” the students said. “But the label says mustard,” the teacher complained. “It is still mayonnaise,” the students answered.
My friends, one of our human foibles is to be putting labels on people all the time. Race, income, ethnicity, religion, culture, lazy, good looking, sleezy, and so on. And then we relate to them in light of the label we have placed. But often the real person below the labels is much different than the meaning we attach to the labels.
As a human being, Jesus also put labels on people. In our Gospel, a Canaanite woman, a pagan, approaches Jesus, asking for a cure for her daughter. In his mind, Jesus had her labeled and in a box: pagan, unclean, not worth bothering about. But she surprised him with her strong faith and his mind was opened: his mission was to more than the lost sheep of Israel.
There is a strong message for us in this story. We all have cultural viewpoints and biases. It is part of being human. But Jesus was open to having his mind and opinions changed. Because of that, he was able to grow into a better understanding of his mission. We need to be open minded, also, realizing that we carry the biases of our past, but they are not always the full answer. We need to be able to grow.
I invite us today to reflect on the interaction between Jesus and the Canaanite woman. Am I open to hearing the other person and letting go of my biases? Am I growing, as Jesus did? Can I see that it is mayonnaise and not mustard, as the label claims?
Church sign of the week: Everyone smiles in the same language.
Our selection from 1st Kings this weekend about the prophet Elijah is a favorite of mine. The Jewish king had married a pagan, Jezebel. Elijah was fighting her efforts to get the Jews to worship her god, Baal, so Jezebel was searching for him to have him killed. Elijah escaped and was hiding in a cave on the mountain where Moses had received the 10 commandments. He was told to go outside the cave to meet the Lord, who would be passing by. Elijah thought he would find the Lord in a strong wind that was crushing rocks, but the Lord was not there. Neither was the Lord in an earthquake nor a raging fire. Where did he find the Lord? “In a tiny whispering sound.”
My friends, it is our human nature to be drawn to big, unusual, exciting things, and so, like Elijah, we can presume that that is where we will find God. And maybe sometimes we will, like in a powerful storm or an extraordinarily kind deed that someone does. But
normally, God comes to us in the tiny whispering sounds of daily life: in the quiet time we spend sharing coffee with God in the morning; in the few moments we stop to talk with a beggar on the street, reaffirming their dignity; in our patience with a cranky family member or a difficult coworker; in the 2 minutes of silence we observe at Pius after communion to reflect on the question, “What is God calling me to today?” These are the kinds of times when God comes to us most often.
But, that means we need to be paying attention, listening, looking for God’s presence in the “quiet, whispering sound,” since there will not be a loud, clashing symbol to get our attention! There are two specifics that will help us: the first is spending quiet time each day, speaking with the Lord and then being quiet and listening. This is crucial. The second is to be attuned to what is happening around us, how it is moving or affecting us, asking ourselves what God might be saying to us.
Jesus promised that he would always be with us, that he would not leave us orphans. God will speak to us, if we are attuned and listening, but it will be with a quiet, whispering sound, not a clashing symbol.
Church sign of the week: Change your perception of what a miracle is and you’ll see them all around you.
This weekend we are remembering the Transfiguration of our Lord: He took Peter, James, and John up to the mountaintop and was changed in front of them, his divinity shining through his humanity. Most importantly, his Father identified Jesus as His Son with the same words that were spoken at his baptism in the Jordan: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. But this time, the
Father adds something: LISTEN TO HIM.
LISTEN TO HIM: that is crucial advice for all of us. But we need to remember there are two distinct steps or parts to “listening,” both of which are very important.
LISTEN to him: the first step in listening is to hear what someone is saying. If I always have music or noise around me or if I am always busy doing something, I will not be able to hear Jesus or his Spirit talking to me. I have to take quiet time each day, shut my mouth, and LISTEN. Then Jesus has the chance to speak to me.
LISTEN to him. But just HEARING is not enough: I also have to obey. When my mother asked me, “Did you listen to me?”, she wanted to know if I actually did what I heard her saying to me. That is the second, and most important, step in listening to Jesus.
It is easy to come to Mass and “listen” to the scriptures and the homilies, but let them (to use a trite expression) “go in one ear and out the other.” That is not “listening” to Jesus in the sense the Father was calling us to. We need to obey, making his words come alive in our hearts and how we live.
I invite us this week to reflect on the two steps of “listening,” asking ourselves if we are taking the quiet time to listen to what the Lord says, but, more importantly, if we are then obeying by the way we live our lives. The Father says to each one of us: This is my beloved Son…LISTEN TO HIM. Let’s make sure we are taking both steps of
listening. God bless.
Church sign of the week: When God calls you, do you pick up?