21 June 2013

'But who do you say that I am?' Sunday Reflections, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

St Peter Preaching, Masolino da Panicale, 1426-27 [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)
Gospel Luke 9:18-24 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Now it happened that as Jesus was praying alone the disciples were with him; and he asked them, "Who do the people say that I am?" And they answered, "John the Baptist; but others say, Elijah; and others, that one of the old prophets has risen." And he said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered, "The Christ of God."
But he charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." And he said to all, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. 

St Thomas More, Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527 [Web Gallery of Art]

On 12 June Taoiseach (Prime Minister ) of the Republic of Ireland stated in the Dáil (parliament) in the context of legislation that the government is trying to push through that would allow abortion in certain situations, I am proud to stand here as a public representative, as a Taoiseach who happens to be a Catholic but not a Catholic Taoiseach. A Taoiseach for all of the people – that's my job.

A number of columnists and writers of letters to the editor in Ireland have been praising Mr Kenny for this and contrasting it with words spoken by Labour TD (Member of Parliament) Brendan Corish  in the Dáil in 1953, I am an Irishman second, I am a Catholic first, and I accept without qualification in all respects the teaching of the hierarchy and the church to which I belong. This statement has been frequently, incorrectly attributed to a previous Taoiseach of the same Fine Gael party as Mr Kenny, John A. Costello. However, Mr Costello, as Taoiseach, said in 1951, I, as a Catholic,obey my Church authorities and will continue to do so, in spite of The Irish Times or anything else . . . 

Today's second reading, Galatians 3:26-29) is very relevant to all of this, and not only in Ireland. St Paul says to us: In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christs, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise (RSV-CE).

Though the Second Reading on Sundays in Ordinary Time isn't linked thematically with the Gospel, as the First Reading is, St Paul's words tie in with the question Jesus put to the Apostles and puts to us now: But who do you say that I am?

Who is at the centre of my life? Pope Benedict frequently reminded us that our faith is above all in a Person, Jesus Christ, God who became Man. And Pope Francis, in his homily on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christ) said, So let us ask ourselves this evening, in adoring Christ who is really present in the Eucharist: do I let myself be transformed by him? Do I let the Lord who gives himself to me, guide me to going out ever more from my little enclosure, in order to give, to share, to love him and others?

St Paul's words challenge us to ask ourselves, 'What is my deepest identity?' We have many levels of identity, each of which has its own importance. I remember my first All-Ireland Football Final in Croke Park, Dublin, in September 1955. Dublin were playing against Kerry. I was there, aged 12 and standing on an orange-box, with my father, John, like myself a true 'Dub', and a neighbour and friend just a few doors up the street, Denis Stritch, who died only a few months ago, God rest his soul. Denis was from Kerry. During the game, the result of which was disappointing for me and my Dad, we identified with Dublin and Kerry, rivals but not enemies.

But if Denis and my Dad had ever visited me in the Philippines they would have identified themselves as Irish. However, if they had attended Mass in Bacolod City they would have identified themselves as Catholic Christians, as would everyone else present. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek . . .

This is our most basic identity.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, St Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5. When Jesus puts his question to the Apostles, But who do you say that I am? Peter answers clearly. The Christ of God.

Whether I am a janitor or a journalist, a priest or a politician, I am called by my baptism to live out of my identity as a son or daughter of the Father, a brother or sister of Jesus, in the service of all my brothers and sisters. Pope Francis concluded his Corpus Christi homily with these words, Brothers and sisters, following, communion, sharing. Let us pray that participation in the Eucharist may always be an incentive: to follow the Lord every day, to be instruments of communion and to share what we are with him and with our neighbour. Our life will then be truly fruitful. Amen.

In most situations there is no conflict whatever between my various levels of identity. My being a Catholic Christian is not in conflict with my being an Irishman. But if I take my baptism seriously I can never leave 'the mind of Christ' at home or outside. In most areas of life Christians may legitimately disagree on issues while living their baptismal faith with all their hearts. Sometimes I have to yield on matters that I may not be happy with but that aren't fundamental. Politicians, for example have to do this all the time, as do the rest of us on many occasions. But when it comes to matters of life and death I cannot, as a Christian, put the Gospel aside, as if 'the mind of Christ' was a T-shirt I wore now and again.  

St Thomas More (1478 - 1535), patron saint of statesmen, politicians and lawyers, whose feast day is this weekend, 22 June, gave his life because he put his identity as a Catholic Christian before anything else. Just before his execution he said, I die his Majesty's good servant, but God's first. He recognised his erstwhile friend King Henry VIII as King of England but not as head of the Church.

That was Sir Thomas's response to St Paul's words this Sunday, for you are all one in Christ Jesus, to the question of Jesus, But who do YOU say that I am?

How do I answer that question?

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