Sunday, July 12, 2009

"You are the Christ!"

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

In the reading today from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, our Lord asks His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Their replies make a list of holy men, prophets of God, including Elijah, and Jeremiah, and even John the Baptizer, who had been executed only a short time before. Then our Lord asks them directly, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Remember that, by the time this conversation between Jesus and His disciples takes place, He has given the Sermon on the Mount; He has healed many who were sick; He has cast out demons; He has worked other miracles – the feeding of the five thousand, for one – and has taught them far more than He has publically proclaimed. Remember also that, by this time, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of Moses have accused Him of breaking the Law of Moses and of casting out demons by the prince of demons, and have already started plotting to kill Him. In the midst of all this, the common people have recognized Him as being holy, but have not perceived Him to be the Messiah, the Anointed One of God whose coming had been promised by God and foretold through the prophets. Remember that Nathanael, at the time of his being called to follow Jesus, had exclaimed, “You are the Son of God!” Remember that those who were in the boat when our Lord calmed the storm and Peter had walked on the water had also declared, “You are truly the Son of God!” What was different about what St. Peter had said, that earned him a blessing?

Have you ever noticed how children look like their parents? In some cases, the resemblance is there, although not always clearly; while in other cases, the resemblance is so strong as to be striking. This is true not only of appearances, but in mannerisms, such as sounding alike, walking alike, and other in other ways as well. So it is with all the previous declarations that had been made, saying that Jesus is the Son of God – for we are all sons of God, in that we are made in His image, and after His likeness. St. Peter’s declaration went beyond that, when he said, not just that Jesus is the Son of God, but that He is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Deliverer promised by God, and proclaimed by St. John the Baptizer as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. Human senses were not sufficient to perceive as deeply as St. Peter did when he made this statement of faith. God the Father revealed this truth to the saint, so that His Son might be made known – and not just then, but, through the testimony of St. Peter, to all who hear the Gospel, at all times, and in all places. The loop of resemblance between the Father and the Son is completed, in a way, when, at the Last Supper, Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father. He replies, “Have you not known that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? He who has seen me has seen the Father.”

What about us? If the question was put to us, what would we say? Of course, because we have heard the Gospel, we know the correct response to give – but does that mean we also are blessed, as St. Peter was blessed? Or is there more to it for us than that?

Everyone has heard this bit of “folk wisdom” – “Talk is cheap.” Everyone knows this one as well: “Actions speak louder than words.” We who have been privileged to live in this time, with the Gospels written and the Church well established and a God-pleasing way of life taught to us; we who have been privileged to have been buried with Christ in our baptism, and empowered with the Holy Spirit as we were chrismated, and have received the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ – how do we truly proclaim that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? Do our lives reveal Him through what we say and what we do, and what we do not say and do not do? Can He be seen in us, in who we are, in how we live? Or do we look just like everyone else, indistinguishable from all the rest of those in the world who do not say that Jesus is Lord and Savior? Brothers and sisters, this should not be!

Let us commit ourselves, and one another, and all our life unto Christ our God. We say this again and again in our prayers, both in the worship of the Church, and in the privacy of our prayer corner. Let us also ask God the Father for the grace we need to be transformed more and more into the likeness of His Son, so that what we say and what we do brings the knowledge of Jesus Christ to those trapped in the ways of the world, longing to be set free. May God grant us grace to show the world His Son in us; and may we show the world in word and deed that Jesus is truly the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, pray to God for us!

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Good Shepherd: St. John of San Francisco

In the reading today from the Gospel according to St. John the Theologian, our Lord Jesus Christ tells us that He is the “Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for His sheep. He tells us as well that He has come so that we might have life, and have it abundantly. This does not mean an abundance of material possessions! Rather, it means a life filled to overflowing with the love of God for us in His Son – Who, indeed, gave His life so that we might inherit everlasting life through His death and Resurrection. He tells us He is going to His death when, speaking to His disciples in the upper room on the night on which He was betrayed, He says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” He adds, “You are my friends if you do what I have commanded.” What is His command? “Love one another, even as I have loved you.”

Today we celebrate the life and ministry of one such good shepherd, whose love for the Lord can be seen in his obedience to the Lord’s command to love everyone. The holy hierarch and wonderworker, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, loved the Lord, loved worshipping the Lord, loved serving at the altar of the Lord, loved offering the precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ to the faithful, for the forgiveness of their sins and the salvation of their souls. He taught the people whom God had entrusted to his care, and disciplined them when this was necessary. He thought nothing of himself, and would take the gifts that those who loved him would provide for him, and give them to the poor and the needy. He prayed continually for his flock, and visited them. He healed many who were sick in body, mind, and spirit. He inspired many to turn from worldly desires and interests, calling them to come closer to the Lord, even inspiring some to become deacons and priests, readers and members of the choir, and to share in caring for those in need in the community of the faithful, and in the world. He provided a home for orphans, feeding and clothing them and seeing to their education in both secular and spiritual matters. He ate very little; he only slept for a few hours, sitting in a chair, devoting most of the watches of the night to praying for those in need in the household of God, and for those still in darkness, spiritual orphans, that God, in His mercy, would bring them home to His family, His Church. St. John truly understood how love may be seen when one lays down his life for his friends, for this is the way he lived – his life was abundantly full of love.

What of us? How do we live? If St. John were here today, he would tell you about the great love God has for you, that our Lord Jesus Christ laid down His life for you, and took it up again so that you might always be with Him in His kingdom, which has no end. He would encourage each of us to examine our lives, repent of our sins, to receive the holy Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood, and to ask God to fill our hearts with His love, so that we might carry that love from here into every place we go in the world, sharing that love with those in need, and those who despair, even those who hate us – and when they ask us how we come to love them, we may answer by telling them of God’s love: so that His name is glorified, lives are changed, and souls are saved. Brothers and sisters, let us love one another, obeying the command of our Lord, and following the example of our friend and helper, St. John.

Holy hierarch, father John, pray to God for us!