Who Do People Say That I Am?
Reflection by Bill Grady, an Aspirant to the Permanent Diaconate
September 15th, 2018
Last weekend we started a homily series on Hospitality. Fr. Toochukwu began his homily by reiterating the Saint Thomas More Vision Statement. Do we remember what the three statement components were? (a) Come Encounter Christ. (b) Joyfully Share His love; and (c) Go Make Disciples.
To live out this vision statement, we must demonstrate love, joy and excitement as we venture through the community(s) mission of making disciples. We must sacrifice ourselves in doing so. As Father expressed, it is us taking the initiative to make some sacrifices in order to accommodate others, welcoming people to our parish in a more hospitable manner, to enable them have a sense of belonging to the Church and the community.
Suffering for the Sake of Christ
In today’s Gospel from Mark 8:27-35, we heard that Jesus went on with his disciples to the village of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and to die…
The question we may ask ourselves is, “Why is it such an act of faith for Peter to proclaim Christ specifically in Caesarea Philippi?” Caesarea Philippi is an ancient Sin-City where pagan fertility gods were worshipped, and the message Christ was bringing could potentially be fatal to those who openly followed it, and yet, Peter boldly proclaims the truth that Jesus is the Messiah in this particular place. Though Peter’s conviction wavered and he ultimately denied Christ, his proclamation meant he was willing to die for what he believed. With this Jesus wants his disciples to know that the proclamation of faith, comes with some sacrifices, and may even lead to death.
In the first reading, we equally see the prophet Isaiah who went through sufferings and pains for the sake of his faith and for those he was called to serve. He said, “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” Both Peter and Isaiah were willing to step out of their comfort zone for the sake of Christ.
Dying to Ourselves
We can as well ask ourselves, “In what ways are we willing to “die to ourselves” for the sake of Christ and for the benefit of others?” We, too, can come out of our comfort zone. But to do that, we must first encounter Christ, we must know him as the Messiah as Peter did. And, in order to serve God and our brothers and sisters, we must be rooted in our faith, otherwise our Christianity will not work.
In the second reading St. James reminds us that faith without good work is dead. In order words, our faith must be expressed in acts of hospitality – welcoming, caring for the needy and bringing hope to people’s life, following the example of the hospitable Jesus who is willing to do anything for God and for His people.
Putting Others First
Jesus wants us to know clearly that those who profess to love Him must stop making self the object of their existence and learn to put others first. That demonstrating hospitality towards others is a wonderful example of elevating others above oneself. We know from Mark’s account that Jesus always helps people, especially the sick, the poor and sinners. So, how can we help people as disciples? One of the ways is to show hospitality towards others in the Church.
For instance, we can make a difference in someone’s life who maybe be troubled. It could be someone experiencing the loss of a friend or family member. And, by offering a lending ear, it could mean the world to someone. Sometimes, we encounter people who live sheltered lives – they have no friends; no close family; socially not active among other life hindrances. So, there is no one in that person’s life who s/he can talk to about his/her troubles. But, having someone who is willing to make the extra effort to listen and care can make a world of difference. And, this is what the Church can do for these people – make a difference in their lives.
Fixing Our Eyes on Christ
In today’s society, carrying a crucifix around our neck and reading from a Bible may cause some eyebrow raising. We may be ridiculed, but being focused on the cross – our faith in God – it will not obstruct our missionary goal. If we are confronted by the media, for example, about a recent news report that is not pleasant to bear (like the recent report about sex offenses of priests), our faith rooted in God will not road block us to continue with our work. When we keep our eyes on God, we begin to think as God does and not as human beings. But again, the road towards successful evangelization and pouring oneself out in a hospitable manner, may be lightning struck primarily because of our worldly culture today.
We are reminded to keep our eyes focused on Jesus in all our ministries including hospitality. Our purpose of being hospitable in the Saint Thomas More Church is to create a space of welcome, to accommodate and to help people know that Jesus is “The Christ” just as Peter did. And having encountered Christ, be willing to give their lives in serving God and others in this faith community.
Why does it matter to us?
Excellent question! This matter because our culture; our human mentality; our upbringing among many other factors overrule our Christ-like manner of going out of our way to accommodate others. It’s a pattern; a way of life in society that many times trickles in to the Church environment. But, we need to bring down the wall that blankets and supports us to behave in this manner. If we are always self-centered and focused on us, then reaching out to help others will never happen. So how do we change that? What must we do to make a difference? Well, we could begin by asking ourselves a few simple questions. Let’s say someone new comes to Church during Christmas, Easter, among other Church gatherings and all the pews are filled. Would you be willing to give up your seat? Let’s face it! Many of us have assigned seating in the Church; I’m guilty of it too. We come to mass every week and go to the same area of the Church; sit in the same pew (or chair for me), and essentially that is my place!! It’s not for anyone else. It’s mine!! True…
Or better still, you come to mass at Christmas or Easter (just a couple examples) and, the parking lot is full. I mean full – it is bursting at the seam with fullness. Would you give up your parking lot for someone else? Would you? On a meeker and milder note; if a new person comes to Church, would you go out of your way to invite that person for a tea, coffee, etc. after mass? (I.e., Star Bucks, Tim Hortons’s McDonald’s…)
My point, again, is that our goal at Saint Thomas More is aimed at being active missionary disciples where we focus on inviting people in to our Church and not send mixed messages that discourages people from coming or leaving. This may be difficult for some of us. We need to develop a good Faith-based vision that helps us to see Christ clearly in others, so that we can welcome them as we would welcome Jesus.
To be hospitable, we need to be cautious and sensitive towards others we invite and welcome in to our Church. We need to be less judgmental and critical toward others because we don’t know people’s background and their troubles; the disappointments they may have encountered, general abuse experienced among all the other ungodly things that are horrific towards one’s life. Some of the people we see in our church might be coming back to their faith, and are asking for God’s help. We must provide them with our Christian love and support.
This is very important to note as we invite people to ALPHA. Some of our guests may be coming back to their faith or may not even have any faith. We should lovingly and joyfully welcome them and meet them where they are, so that they can experience the love of God among us.
What do we do now?
Last week we asked you to invite someone to ALPHA. I guess it was probably difficult or uncomfortable for some people, but it was worth it. We thank those who responded, as more people registered after the weekend Masses. If you did not invite anyone, or have not registered, please do so now, as we begin this Friday.
I pray that God may bless you and your families, that we remain faithful to him in the midst of the challenges in our spiritual journey. May he help us to care for those around us, may our good works be rooted in faith as we serve God and our brothers and sisters in this faith community. And, this is our prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen!!