Sunday, June 23, 2013


At an end-of-the-school-year picnic on Friday, I learned that the pre-K kids at Holy Family School are taught that, whenever they pray, they should close their eyes and imagine that Jesus is holding them. I told their teacher: it's not a matter of their imagination...

   Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office,
more than 7,500 different products
bear the likeness of Mickey Mouse,
making his the most widely reproduced image
in the entire world.
In second place is Jesus.
Number three?  Elvis, of course.

Most everybody knows the name of Jesus.
And most everybody knows a little bit about him.
And even though he lived
long before the advent of photography,
many people can pretty easily recognize his image.
But how many folks really know Jesus?
And when I say know him,
I mean in a truly personal way:
not in the way you know about other great historical figures
like Julius Caesar or Abraham Lincoln,
but in the way you know your parents or siblings or best friend;
in the way you know someone
who’s let you in beneath the surface—
who’s revealed something of his or her inner self to you.
Safe to say: even many—if not most—of those Catholics
who are regulars here at Sunday Mass
struggle with this personal, one-on-one knowing of Jesus.

Jesus first asks his disciples:
Who do the crowds say that I am?
He’s well aware that the merely curious, the casual bystanders,
all have their own theories and opinions about him—
much as we do about movie stars or our favorite singer.
But then Jesus takes things a whole lot deeper,
asking those disciples—those who have followed him closely—
Who do you say that I am?
These are people who know Jesus differently.
Like the crowds, they’ve heard him teaching openly
and seen his many miracles: healing the sick;
multiplying the loaves; even raising the dead.
But they’ve seen more.
This Sunday’s Gospel begins by telling us
that Jesus was praying in solitude,
and the disciples were with him.
That’s something the general public was not privileged to see.
To see Jesus pray—and thus to see how Jesus prayed—
made it quite clear:
this man is not like the other preachers and teachers
in our synagogues and on our street corners;
this man is not like the other wonderworkers
who wander about from village to village.
Because his disciples have gotten so close to him,
they not only know him differently;
they know him to be different.
Peter—true to his role—speaks for them all:
You are the Christ—the Messiah, the Anointed One—of God.

How important it is for us to remember—
though it can seem so glaringly obvious—
that Jesus is a real person!
He’s not another endearing character
who exists only in the pages of a book or up on the silver screen.
Jesus really lived, really died, and really rose from the dead.
And although he does not walk among us as he once did,
Jesus is still alive very much and just as real today as ever.

Jesus is indeed a real person…
…but Jesus is no ordinary person.
There’s a tendency in the modern mind
to consider Jesus as an exceptionally gifted individual.
English author C. S. Lewis—an adult convert to Christianity—
once famously wrote:
      I am trying here to prevent anyone saying
      the really foolish thing that people often say about Him:
      “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher,
      but I don’t accept his claim to be God.”
      That is the one thing we must not say.
      A man who is merely a man
      and said the sort of things Jesus said
      would not be a great moral teacher.
      He would either be a lunatic—
      on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—
      or else he would be the Devil of Hell.
      You must make your choice.
      Either this man was, and is, the Son of God:
      or else a madman or something worse.
      You can shut Him up for a fool,
      you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon;
      or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.
      But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense
      about His being a great human teacher.
      He has not left that open to us.
      He did not intend to.  (Mere Christianity)
If an ordinary man—a mere mortal—
told you that he’d soon be rejected,
crucified, then raised from the dead;
and if he told you that you, too, ought to take up the cross—
not once, not once and a while, but daily—
and then follow him down the same road:
you’d say he was nuts—and you’d be right!—
and you’d be just as nuts to obey him.
But if that man is truly the Christ, is truly “of God,”
then where he’s gone you can, in trust, follow…
…and you’d be nuts not to obey him.

On Friday night some friends invited me to join them
at the third annual Babbling Brook Bluegrass Festival
just a few miles north on Route 37.
While no one playing was quite as famous
as Mickey Mouse or Elvis,
the music was good—really good, in fact.
When we first got there, however,
I remarked at just how sedate the crowd was
(kind of like Catholics in church on a steamy summer morning):
quietly sunk deep into their lawn chairs.
But as the evening wore on and the bands continued to play,
heads began bobbing and toes began tapping.
By the time the last group was wrapping up,
many (myself included) were then singing along
and a few people were up on their feet dancing—
including a blond boy (all of five-years-old, I’d say),
who was loudly protesting, “Don’t make me go home!”…
…but nonetheless danced all the way to the car.
If time spent in the presence of a few talented musicians
has such power to draw us in and lift us up,
then how much more so
time spent—one-on-one—
in the presence of Jesus, the Christ of God?

St. Paul reminds us along with the Galatians
that when we were baptized
we clothed [ourselves] with Christ.
Clothing wraps and envelops our entire body,
expressing our identity to others.
Likewise, putting on Christ means allowing him
to work on us in a very personal way,
embracing our total reality—
and, in so doing, eliminating all of our superficial distinctions.
You see, who we say that Jesus is
makes all the difference in who we say that we are.
Spend time getting to personally know this extraordinary man,
and all of your life—even when marked by the cross—
begins to appear pretty extraordinary, too.

Who is Jesus for you?
How did you reach that conclusion?
And are you satisfied with it?
Is Jesus really real for you?
Is Jesus someone you know—
or someone you only know about?
Are you ready to get to know him better?
Because his question is personal—and eventually unavoidable:
Who do you say that I am?

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