by Sister Karen Cavanagh, C.S.J.
But you, who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)
Christ of God!
No ordinary times have we here. No ordinary reminders have we of grace received, of self-emptying for the sake of each one of us. Over the next few weeks in our Scripture readings we have reminders and challenges of the call to discipleship and the mandates of the One we follow.
The challenge is to announce with our everyday lives His coming to not only talk the talk, but also to walk the walk – the arduous journey to Jerusalem. Jesus shows us the way and calls us to follow in His footsteps today, in our time, in our corner of the world and with every brother and sister we meet along the way.
We’re presented with images of a discipleship that are not attractive, appealing or without pain. Repentance, purification and transformation are not without sacrifice, self-surrender, and even at times, great pain. Images of a slain shepherd, a Cross, rejection, persecution and incorporation into Christ’s Passion are the ones now presented to His followers.
The commands and demands presented in today’s Gospel and readings seem overwhelming. It is only in the promise of God with us that we can even allow them to find a place, again, in our hearts.
We are all called to respond to the invitation to follow Christ and often there is comfort in the following, even of fulfillment as we sense God with us in the journey. For so many, and for me, the path has often been smooth, peaceful, consoling, rewarding and at times, I’ve lulled myself into believing this is the way of discipleship. Jesus puts before us today the truth of those other times when we do not sense that presence along the way.
When I was a true beginner in religious life (more than 50 years ago) and in my journey as a follower of Jesus, I made a retreat in which we were offered a challenge and a two-part question as the theme. The challenge was, “My child, give me your heart.”
Over and over during that week, Father Fergus Pease, O.F.M. Cap., repeated the questions, “How far will you go for Me? Where will you draw the line?”
My response at the age of 19 was a strong, willing and naively arrogant, “The sky’s the limit!”
I have never forgotten this invite, its challenge or my response, but I must admit that my first enthusiastic responses have often been renegotiated and colored with conditions as I’ve gotten older and a touch humbler. Today it seems Jesus asks the same question and that question is not any more watered down than it was back in that other day.
The Sky’s the Limit
Zechariah tells of a slain shepherd who would guide his sheep through a suffering that brings purification, of the Spirit who would bring a people to repentance and of God’s incredible mercy which would be poured into their hearts. Jesus is the fulfillment of that image, those people are you and me, and those hearts are ours. Do I say to this: “The sky’s the limit!” Do you?
Paul writes: “You who have been baptized have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Today’s epistle, then, ends with the consoling words that we are “heirs to the promise.” With these words I might have the courage to say that there is no limit to my “Yes.” However, Paul also wrote that we “who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.”
Now I see Jesus, looking with compassion, mercy and love outpoured, and hear Him ask you and me, “You say you will follow Me to the ends of the earth, but will you really? Will you follow Me even when you do not know the outcome, when you leave behind your security, possessions, safety and dreams? ”
Experiences of suffering, purification and taking up the cross are moments of learning and transformation on our journey toward Christian maturity. The how, the when and the why in our lives is a mystery. In faith, and with trust, we ever so slowly and even feebly learn to say our “Yes!”
Ready to Draw the Line
Often we fall short, but sometimes we get it. With Peter and the other disciples we are in Jesus’ company as we answer and, I like to hope and think, He smiles at us as He knows we might be ready, at any second or minute, to “draw the line.”
Jesus’ question to Peter, to the apostles and disciples and to you and me is the same yet different because each of us is different. Who do you say He is? Who do I say He is? Who we say Jesus is will influence who people say we are.
May the Eucharist we receive in light of these Scriptures today strengthen and nurture the answers we give and the responses we make with our lives.
Emmanuel, God with us!