Several times I have been approached by people to talk about their feeling of seemingly losing their faith in God. Often I would pose the question: Are you losing your faith in God, or are you losing your faith in your images of God?
This is a way of rephrasing the conversion between Christ and his disciples in today’s Gospel: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is? But who do you say that I am?”
This conversation reminds us that our growth in faith leads to what Fr. Benny Calpotura, SJ, calls an internal locus of control. One of the pioneers in the field of psycho-spirituality, he brilliantly blended his professional training with Ignatian spirituality.
Ultimately this internal locus of control is our relationship with Christ: “Who do YOU say that I am?”
My bias in framing this relationship comes from the prayer of the 13th-century English bishop, St. Richard of Chichester, popularized by 16th-century Spanish St. Ignacio de Loyola:
“O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day. Amen.”
To know, to love and to follow—this is the process of deepening our personal relationship with Christ. Ignatius took this and further developed it in his Spiritual Exercises. He begins with self-awareness and self-acceptance in the context of our relationship with God.
It is interesting to see that in using this framework in a corporate setting, participants in two separate sessions conducted came up with identical expressions of this process as awareness and acceptance, transformation, action and commitment.
This convinced me that the human heart and soul, when given the proper environment and context—an environment of care and moral role models to inspire them—naturally seek this process to see, to love and to follow; a self-awareness and self-acceptance that transform and lead to action and, ultimately, commitment.
In the Gospel this Sunday, Christ is preparing his 12 apostles for his coming death and departure. He does so in dramatic fashion, in the region of Caesarea Philippi, the Silicon Valley of world religions then.
Here Christ presents his “case” to the 12 and asks them to make a choice—“Who do you say that I am?”—with the other world religions as backdrop. They pass the test: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Then the mission is revealed, divine in its origin— “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father”—with the grace to transform—“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”—and the action—“Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” It is the mission and power to heal wounded humanity and a broken world.
Fidelity to this mission assures victory over evil: “And upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
To know, to love and to follow Christ, this process of developing our personal relationship with Christ will lead to mission, a life lived with the inspiration of sharing in the mission of Christ to heal wounded humanity and to mend a broken world.
This Gospel comes at a most appropriate time, when we see around us how broken our world is, not just in the Philippines, but all over Europe, the Middle East, North and South America, the Korean Peninsula, etc.
Violence and hatred
The growing number of incidents of violence and hatred deepen the wounds that divide and dehumanize people of different races and nationalities.
We must go back to Caesarea Philippi, and with the backdrop of the powers that be —the movements of populism, with a number seemingly mutating into fascism—we must seek Christ and hear the question again in our heart and soul.
“Who do you say that I am?”
This is the question we must go back to pray for, and with the grace to see, love and follow Christ, we must respond—a response that transforms us and leads us to act and to commit to mend a broken world and to heal wounded humanity.
We end with two assurances from Christ. One, the mission is built on a solid foundation: “On this rock I will build my church.” Two, the mission is guaranteed to succeed, “and the gates of the nether world will not prevail against it.”
There is an important requirement. We must become “church,” a community united in and with Christ, whose mission is to save fallen humanity and to heal the whole of creation.
Let the healing take place in the communities we belong to—our families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our schools, our churches, etc. In these communities, let us together create an environment where all, especially the young, can know Christ more, and in knowing him love him more dearly, and in loving him, follow him more nearly.