Memorial of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest
Reading 1 ECCL 3:1-11
and a time for every thing under the heavens.
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.What advantage has the worker from his toil?
I have considered the task that God has appointed
for the sons of men to be busied about.
He has made everything appropriate to its time,
and has put the timeless into their hearts,
without man’s ever discovering,
from beginning to end, the work which God has done.
Responsorial Psalm PS 144:1B AND 2ABC, 3-4
Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
my mercy and my fortress,
my stronghold, my deliverer,
My shield, in whom I trust.
R. Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!
LORD, what is man, that you notice him;
the son of man, that you take thought of him?
Man is like a breath;
his days, like a passing shadow.
R. Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!
Alleluia MK 10:45
The Son of Man came to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 9:18-22
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude,
and the disciples were with him,
he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah;
still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’”
Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”
He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.
He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
Commentary on Luke 9:18-22 From Living Space
After the incident concerning Herod, which, as we saw, is a pointer to things yet to happen, the disciples return from their mission. What follows is omitted from our readings. In fact, Jesus took them to a quiet place where they could rest and reflect on what they had been doing. However, they were pursued by the ever-hungry crowds and Jesus fed them with the Word of God, with his healing and finally, through his disciples (“You give them to eat”) with bread and fish. The story is another step in the Twelve’s involvement in the mission of Jesus and it leads into today’s reading.
We find Jesus praying alone. As we have already seen, it is something that Luke mentions a number of times about Jesus and especially before significant events in his public life. Some people might wonder what Jesus would have to pray about. Such a question could reveal a rather limited idea of prayer, e.g. as something you do when you want to get something from God or when you are depressed or in trouble of some kind.
But prayer is ultimately getting in touch with God and that is something that Jesus would surely want to do a lot. Prayer is also a way of discovering just where God’s will enters one’s life and that is something that was always of supreme importance to Jesus. “I and the Father are one.”
Jesus, we are told, was not altogether alone. His disciples were with him. Were they praying too? Later, they will ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.
All of this is Luke’s introduction to a high point in all the Synoptics: the revelation of Jesus’ true identity. From the other Synoptics we know that it took place at Caesarea Philippi, a mixed Jewish-Gentile region outside Herod’s territory.
“Whom do people say I am?” Jesus asks them. They give various answers: John the Baptist (resurrected) or Elijah, expected to return to announce the imminent coming of the Messiah, or some other of the earlier great prophets.
But then he asks, “Who do you say I am?” Peter, answering for all of them, replies simply: “The Christ of God.” “Christ” is not a name but a title. It comes from the Greek christos (cristos) which means “anointed”. And Christos is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew ‘Messiah’. The anointing indicates someone who is king and, in this case, the One who is anointed the Saviour King of Israel.
In short, Peter is saying that the man standing before him is the long-awaited Saviour of the Jewish people. It is a dramatic development in Jesus’ relationship with his disciples.
His next words at first sight seem unexpected and contradictory. He strictly orders his disciples not to say anything of this to anyone. Surely they should be doing the exact opposite? But the people are not yet ready for this revelation. They have a very limited and preconceived idea of what the coming of the Messiah will mean. They see him in very political terms as a kind of national liberator who will drive out and destroy the Romans and all enemies of the Jewish people and restore the past glories of Israel.
Even after the Resurrection Luke has Jesus’ own disciples them asking him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Their ideas, even at this late date, are no different from the ordinary people’s. At this point in the Gospel, they must be secretly proud that they, of all people, are the first to be privileged with this information.
If that was the case, they were very quickly to be disillusioned. Almost immediately Jesus goes on to say that “the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, be killed and raised on the third day”.
This is the first time in Luke that Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man”. It occurs 81 times in the four gospels and is only used by Jesus of himself. In the book of Daniel (7:13-14) we see the ‘Son of Man’ pictured as a heavenly figure who is entrusted by God with authority, glory and sovereign power. Jesus’ use of the title in a Messianic sense is made clear by its close proximity to Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the ‘Christ’.
We know from Matthew and Mark that the disciples – in particular Peter – were dumbfounded when they heard Jesus’ words and wanted to reject them entirely. It was totally against all their expectations of the Messiah, apart from the fact that they could not bear to have those things happen to their Master.
To them, it simply did not make any sense. First, Jesus as Messiah was going to be rejected and handed over by the leaders of their own people. Secondly, he was going to go through a terrible and humiliating death. His “being raised” on the third day – whatever that meant – did little to alleviate their confusion.
But, as Mark indicates, this was a further step in their relationship with Jesus. They now recognised him as the Messiah but now they had to learn just what kind of Messiah he was going to be and how he was going to liberate not only his own people but people all over the world.
We, too, of course, have to keep going through the same process. We have to deepen our understanding of the true identity of Jesus and we have to be able to understand how the suffering and dying Messiah is not only the way he needed to go to reconcile us with God but that we too have to be ready to go the same way. We have to learn to see the redemptive and healing power in the pains, sufferings, disappointments and failures of our lives.
Homily by Fr. Alfonse on Luke 9:18-22
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
It was bound to happen. After spending three years with His disciples, Peter finally figured it out. Actually, the moment had arrived for him to figure it out. The Holy Spirit had enlightened his heart and mind to know that Jesus is God.
Now, all the Apostles know who He is. The Word is out. Actually, the Word has finally materialized. What I find remarkable is how long it took them to realize it. Moms and dads: Isn’t it remarkable how long it takes for your son or daughter to figure out that you truly love them??? [Sorry, I had to throw that in there!]
The point I am trying to make is the following: Although the Apostles spent days and weeks with Jesus; although they saw him and heard him constantly, it was not enough to know Him. It still took the Heavenly Father to reveal Him. Faith is a grace. And no matter how often the Apostles saw the Lord’s face, it still took the Father’s grace to reveal His Son to them.
The same holds true today. No matter how hard a Christian tries to convert someone to the faith, it still takes God’s grace to reveal His face to them. We convert no one. We simply draw them closer to the Lord. It is the Lord, and only the Lord, that can make the blind see, the deaf hear and the dumb believe.
And just when we think we know Him, He slips away from us. The Lord will not be controlled. Unlike us, He will not allow His friends to distort Him, confuse Him, demean Him, twist Him or change Him. He will not be manipulated. He will not allow Himself to be placed in a test tube and experimented on. Peter discovers this quickly, and is reminded ferociously to let God be God. Let the Lord do what He must do: “the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
Although Christ did not allow others to manipulate Him, He did allow them to define Him. When His enemies tried to twist Him, He did not change. When they tried to bend Him and break Him, He stood tall. Though Judas’ betrayed Him, He would not betray his people. He accepted Peter’s denial as he accepted his sorrow. He was saddened by Thomas’ doubt but never doubted His Apostles.
What you see is what you get. How can I understand the Lord? Get a bigger brain! Sorry, but it is true. Can you fit the entire ocean into a lake? Can you fit the entire world’s knowledge into your head? Every day is a learning day. Every day we are learning more and more about the world we had nothing to do with. So how can I believe in the Lord? Use the brain that God gave to you. But that is not enough. For starters, you must receive the Lord’s grace. How does one receive grace? By asking for it.
What you see is what you get, right? So does that mean “What you don’t see is what you don’t get?” For some people it is.
Yesterday I got into a debate with an atheist. I published one of his comments and responded to it. But then I refused to publish anymore because the atheist turned into a Ranter [A Ranter is someone who spews out his thoughts without thinking.] In his recent comment (which I did not publish), he wrote: “People are animals. Read a biology book for a change.” Ahh yes, quick to judge…If he only knew how many science books I had to read in my life, especially while I was earning my Master of Science degree at RIT! But maybe his advice to me reveals his limitations. Maybe that’s his problem, that he never read anything other than a biology book. And of course, if that is all you know about being human, then you might begin to believe that that’s all there is to being a man or a woman. What you read is what you know, right? But if he ever picked up a book of poetry, then he would begin to see some human beings as more than animals. He would see them as poets. And if he picked up some music and played it, then he would see some human beings as more than flesh and bones, he would see them as musicians. And if he ever picked up the Bible and read it, then maybe he would see Christianity as different from other religions; and God as different from “god”; and Christians as evolved human beings who love their enemies and forgive them seven times seventy-times. If he did any of these things, then he might very well begin to see humans as aliens more than as animals. And he would be right!
What you see is what you get. What you don’t see is what you don’t get!
For the longest time, the Apostles only saw a man, Jesus, standing next to them. What they couldn’t get is how He could love them so much. Eventually they did, and were blinded by the light.
Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
23 SEPTEMBER 2016, Friday, 25th Week of Ordinary Time
MAKING SENSE OF GOD’S PLAN IN OUR LIFE
“There is a season for everything; a time for every occupation under heaven … What does a man gain for the efforts that he makes?” This is perhaps one of the most important questions we need to ask ourselves if we were to live our lives meaningfully. Otherwise, we can be busy doing many things in life, pursuing one thing after another, adding laurels to our crown only to discover, as the Qoheleth says, “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.” Is it really the case that everything we do is vanity? If it were so, then we might as well give up trying to build anything since they will be destroyed; or do any good because evil will continue. What is the meaning and purpose of life?
Hence, like the Preacher in the first reading, we are called to “contemplate the task that God gives mankind to labour at.” Yet we are also mindful of the limitations of the human mind in seeking to grasp the divine plan and wisdom of God. Indeed, the author is conscious of the limits of this undertaking when he said, “All that he does is apt for its time; but though he has permitted man to consider time in its wholeness, man cannot comprehend the work of God from beginning to end.”
Yet, this question cannot remain unanswered and we need to challenge ourselves. In the gospel, Jesus too was contemplating about His life and His calling. He was coming to a critical stage in His life. He had been proclaiming the Good News in words and deeds. Yet, He came to a consciousness that just performing miracles and healings would not be sufficient to bring about the fullness of God’s kingdom. He needed to bring the message to Jerusalem and to the whole world. Hence, He asked the disciples a very pertinent question, “’Who do the crowds say I am?’ And they answered, ‘John the Baptist; others Elijah; and others say one of the ancient prophets come back to life.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ It was Peter that spoke up. ‘The Christ of God’ he said. But he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone anything about this.”
This was the confirmation that Jesus needed to hear from His disciples. He needed to be sure of His calling and identity. This assurance from Peter who uttered this Christological confession of faith was not from his own reflection as Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon Son of Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 16:17) Revelation is required to make this confession of faith in Jesus as the Christ; and faith is the response to divine revelation not accessible by mere human logic alone. We are told that eight days later, His own Father confirmed His identity and calling at the Transfiguration. (cf Lk 9:28-36) when His Father declared, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.” (Lk 9:35)
As a consequence of this confirmation of His identity and calling, Jesus took the radical move of going head-on to Jerusalem to meet His death. That is why, following the confession of faith, He immediately prophesied about His imminent death declaring, “’The Son of Man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.”
We too must ask ourselves these fundamental questions. In order to make sense of life, we need first to recover our true identity and calling. Knowing our identity will reveal to us our calling. The confirmation of Jesus as Messiah in today’s gospel speaks of His mission in the world. The confirmation of Jesus as the Son of the Father confirms His identity. Mission flows from identity. Because Jesus is the Son of the Father, He is not just a political messiah or a liberator but He comes to reveal the Father’s love and mercy for humanity. By not grasping our true identity we will also be at a loss with regard to our calling in life. As a result, many people in the world, not knowing their identity, do not know who they really are and therefore what they are called to do and where they are destined to be.
Unbelievers, sadly, see themselves as mere animals of a superior kind. They think that death means the end of everything and the destruction of the person. They are a most pitiable people as St Paul remarked, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Cor 15:14-19)
This explains why many atheists and non-believers of Christ subscribe to the philosophy of fatalism. This is particularly so when life is difficult and they meet with tragedies, one after another. For such people, life is senseless and has no meaning. The only option out of their misery is suicide. Those who are successful also find life equally empty, because quite often their ambitions lead to poverty in their human relationships, as they do not have time for love and friendship, not even for their loved ones! Even for those who live apparently happy lives and are satisfied with their career and family life, there will come a time too, when they question the meaning of life, such as when they suffer a terminal illness, an accident, or tragedy strikes someone close to them.
Like Jesus therefore, we are called to prayer and discernment. We read in the first line of today’s gospel, “One day when Jesus was praying alone in the presence of his disciples he put his question to them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’” It is significant that He posed this question to them only after having spent time in prayer to the Father. So who am I? The psalmist provides the answer, “Lord, what is man that you care for him, mortal man, that you keep him in mind; man, who is merely a breath whose life fades like a passing shadow?” But this answer would not be complete unless we also refer to Psalm 8 that says, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air; and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. (Ps 8:3-8)
Indeed, although we are just a breath, yet God in His generosity has created us to be lesser than gods, sharing in His life and love, His intellect and will; and consider us worthy to be His co-creators in this world. This, then, is our calling. We are called to be good stewards of God. We might not know exactly how this world is evolving and how our contributions will really help to make this world a better place, yet, we can be confident that God who is in charge of creation knows how to ensure that everything will be fulfilled in accordance to His plan. All we need to do is to make the most of our lives, fulfilling our part in the plan of God and not be too anxious over the outcome as this is in the hands of God. Like Jesus on the cross, we too say, “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.” (Lk 23:46) With the psalmist we affirm, “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, my mercy and my fortress, my stronghold, my deliverer, my shield, in whom I trust.” With Him on our side, we can go through the vicissitudes of life without fear.
The key to living a balanced and holistic life is to see our lives in the hands of God. When we trust God we do not take success and failure, health and sickness too seriously. We will come to embrace both joy and suffering as a fact of life necessary for us to grow in perfection and in union with the Lord. We do not hoard material things for we take nothing with us. We do not cherish too highly our status and power as all these too are passing. We will only make use of them to grow in our spiritual depth and to realize that our true calling is to be with Christ. In this way we do not cling to things of this world but only see them as means by which we can sow and grow the seeds of love, joy and peace of the eternal kingdom where we will be with God forever and with each other.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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