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Catholic Voice
  April 22, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 8   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

'Who do you say that I am?'

Archbishop Alex J. Brunett

Today's Gospel narrative shows again one of Christ's favorite teaching methods.

It was one of asking questions. There are more than 100 questions Christ asked in the four Gospels. Today he asks Peter three times: "Do you love me?"

But the most important question he had already asked Peter: "Who do you say that I am?"

Coming to grips with who Jesus is and what he means to us is the most important task we have if we are to benefit from the meaning of Easter.

It is a fair question for us to be asked today, "Who do you say that Christ is?" The answer to that question will have an effect on your moral standards, your feelings about your responsibilities to God and to one another, and your feelings about your own purpose and destiny. The early Christians had no difficulty with that question. They out-loved, out-laughed and out-died the people around them. Why? They knew who Jesus was and it affected everything about how they lived. The question is the same for us today: "Who do you say that He is?" "Who is He?"

Is he simply a good teacher — an excellent moral guide — a spiritual guru in the same class with Mohammed and Buddha? Or is there something more to this Galilean?

We live in a world where the answer to that question is not always clear. We are used to various opinions, contrary beliefs, divided loyalties and an endless number of answers provided by our family, our political party, our friends, our hair dresser, the local bar, inane reality TV, weekly TV talk show hosts and so on.

What a divided world! East and west, north and south, blue states and red states, black and white, male and female, rich and poor — the list goes on and on. Some of these differences are of little importance. Others shape our existence from the cradle to the grave. No divide, however, is as important as the divide represented by the question Jesus poses to you: ''Who do you say I am?"

Failure to have an adequate answer to that question will lead to our own inability to understand why our world, our communities, our family, our own lives are not all that we would like them to be. We fail to understand that love and justice are values that must be planted and nourished, sustained and cared for each day. We spend hours and hours at our jobs, then wonder why our families have become strangers. We carry our biases and resentments like badges of honor, then wonder why anger and violence are strangling society. We easily justify our ignoring the cries of the poor around us, then can't understand why nothing can be done for them.

Failure to have an answer to that question of Christ: "Who do you say I am?" leaves a lot of "gaps" in our lives — places where we lose our way, times when we are hurting, spaces in which we find ourselves alone and abandoned, abysses of despair and doubt and cynicism.

But it is such "gaps" that God fills with his grace and presence — grace in the form of healing, or in the understanding and support of compassionate family and friends, the direction given by the wisdom of selfless parents and teachers, strength we discover within ourselves to carry on.

Today's Gospel story about Peter and the question Jesus poses to him are always about starting over again, about re-creation, about growth and discovery, about the grace to make things right. We always have the opportunity to respond anew to that question of Jesus. We always live in the limitless hope and unconditional mercy of God who keeps giving us "second chances" to rise from religious neglect in the world around us and discover again the Christ of faith.

We answer that question of who Jesus is by the actions of our life; every time our personal life speaks to others of the living presence of Christ.

We answer that question when we are compassionate and caring while everyone else is self-centered and self-seeking; we answer that question when we are patient while everyone else is filled with anger and lacks understanding; we answer that question when we are loving and caring for our family, our children and our marriage; we answer that question when we are forgiving and understanding and motivated by faith and not the fluctuations of the stock market.

The same question Christ asked of his disciples is posed to us every day of our life. I ask you neophytes to consider the answer that you will give to that question and you can only give an adequate answer by the conduct of your life. Every Eucharist we celebrate is our opportunity to renew that commitment which sets the tone and meaning of our faith. May the Lord give you the confidence and faith to speak up. "You are the Christ, The Son of the living God."

(This was Archbishop Brunett's homily for the Neophyte Mass April 14.)

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