The question

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The Gospel according to St. Matthew has been called the Gospel of the Church among other reasons because the passage proclaimed this Sunday, taken from chapter 16, makes patently manifest the intention of the Lord to establish a visible, historical, hierarchical institution through which his mission will be carried out. This Church that the Lord announces will rest on the shoulders of one man, whose task and mission is to shepherd the people and confirm the disciples of Christ in the faith.

The Second Vatican Council teaches that “this is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Savior, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”. This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.”

However, this Gospel passage is not only important for our understanding of the Church, it contains a fundamental question that is addressed to each one of us: Who do you say that I am?

Pope St. John Paul II encouraged us to ask ourselves this question often and search the depths of our hearts to answer it.

The Spanish author Miguel de Unamuno in a book entitled “The tragic sense of life” criticizes Christians pointing out that many do not truly believe in God, but they believe in those who talked to them about God, otherwise their lives would be completely different.

While it is true that we receive the gift of faith from Christ through the Church and we confess the faith of the Church, that faith must become my own personal faith if I am to grow in intimacy and communion with Christ.

The etymology of the word religion is very enlightening, it means to “re-link”, to reconnect. There cannot be a disconnect between spirituality and religion, at least when it comes to the Christian faith. A person who confesses Christ to be who He is, the Son of the living God, as Peter did, acknowledges that God became man, embraced our common human nature and, thus, everything that is truly human becomes an avenue for communion with God. Because of the Incarnation, our human nature has been irrevocably united to divine nature. Because of the Incarnation, what we do with our human bodies, with our human mind matters. Because of the Incarnation, the way society is organized matters. Because of the Incarnation, it makes sense that there be a visible, hierarchical institution that carries on the mission of the Risen Lord down the centuries. Because of the Incarnation, the Paschal mystery is possible and the Resurrection of Christ projects its light on every single dimension of our existence and gives meaning to everything that we are, everything that we do. It even makes our suffering and our death meaningful.

Our confession of faith is incomplete if it is only an intellectual proposition. To be a Christian, as Pope Benedict so beautifully explained and Pope Francis often repeats, is not to have embraced an ideology, not even a moral code, but to have had an encounter with a person who is alive. To be a Christian is to be in a relationship. Our faith, if it is truly alive, must also become incarnate in our lives. Catechesis is very important, but it is not enough. For it to be fruitful there has to be a foundational encounter with the living God which is constantly renewed and always sought. That encounter begins with the evangelization efforts of the Church, because it is from her and through her that we hear the mystery of Christ proclaimed, but the faith of the Church must become our own personal confession of faith. That is why when we pray the Creed we say, “I believe” in the first person singular. Our journey of faith, of course, knows of setbacks and difficulties, but we must persevere, relying heavily on the grace of God.

On Monday, August 28, we celebrate the memorial of St. Augustine, who in his very moving autobiography recounts for us his own journey of faith that took him down a very long and winding path to an encounter with the living God that led him to joyfully exclaim “late have I loved You beauty so old and so new.”

Peter’s own journey of faith knew of rebukes from the Lord, setbacks and betrayal, yet he persevered and because of that, he bore the ultimate witness to the love of Christ, fulfilling his mission, becoming the foundation and cornerstone of the Church of Christ, the institution that would be His continued presence in human history, the instrument of salvation for the entire human race.

Paul, who in the second reading declares to the Romans that all things are from Him, through Him and for Him, also went through a journey of conversion and ever deeper communion with Christ.

We can surely prepare an endless list of witnesses and confessors of the faith. They all have one thing in common, not only they understood who Christ was, they lived out their faith. They were transformed by the encounter with the Son of the living of God and worked diligently to conform their lives to the demands of their Catholic faith. They went even further, they sought to cooperate with the grace of God in the transformation of the world in the image of Christ according to the Gospel values.

The question addressed by Jesus to the disciples is addressed to you and to me at every step of the way, at every moment in our lives. It demands an answer from the depths of our hearts, not just from the top of our minds or the tip of our tongues. It has profound consequences for the way we live our lives. If we confess Him to be who He truly is and whom the Church proclaims Him to be, then our lives cannot remain the same. We must strive to be holy and work tirelessly for the sanctification of the world.

Fr. Roberto M. Cid