My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,1
I want to begin my homily this morning by asking you to pray with me for an end to the violence in the Middle East and North Africa.
As we know, this has been a sad and troubling week. So we want to ask that God’s grace and healing be with the families of the victims, especially those who were killed representing our country in the great cause of diplomacy and peace.
As we also know, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI was also in the region this weekend, in Lebanon. I think he is probably back home in Rome by now. In Lebanon, our Holy Father brought a message of peace and reconciliation.
So, let’s keep praying for peace in that part of the world this week in unity with our Holy Father.
This weekend we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s visit to our great Archdiocese, on September 15–16, 1987. Blessed John Paul was also a great pilgrim and apostle of peace.
I hope you will have a chance after this Mass to say a short prayer in the chapel here in the Cathedral that we have devoted to commemorating his visit.
In God’s providence, in our Gospel reading for this Sunday, which we just heard, the main character is St. Peter, the first Pope, the “rock” on which Jesus built his Church.2
This is a very interesting Gospel. Because in this Gospel, Jesus has a question for us. He asks us:
But who do you say that I am?
This is the most important question we are ever going to have to answer.
But before we talk about the answer, we have to remember that this is a turning-point moment in the Gospels. Up until this time, Jesus has been traveling all around with his apostles — he has been teaching the crowds and healing and working miracles.
Now, in the Gospel passage we just heard, he wants his apostles to make a decision about what they’ve seen and what they’ve heard.
It’s interesting that first he asks them what the people in the crowds have been saying. And so they tell him. People think he is Elijah or one of the other prophets who has returned, or maybe St. John the Baptist who has come back from the dead.
So then he asks them what they think. “But who do you say that I am?”
St. Peter speaks for the twelve apostles, as he always does because he is their leader. And St. Peter gives the right answer. He says to Jesus:
You are the Christ.
As I said, this is the most important question that any of us will ever have to answer. And when Jesus asks his disciples this question, he is asking us that question, too.
Like the crowds in Jesus’ time, many of our neighbors in the world today would agree that Jesus was an important historical figure — a prophet, a moral teacher with a lot of wisdom. Those things are all true. But we can’t stop there.
Because the encounter with Jesus must be a personal encounter — for each of us, for every person.
At some level it doesn’t matter what other people think about Jesus. What matters is what each of one us believes. “Who do you say that I am?”
Jesus is the Christ! But what does that mean? That means he is the Son of the living God.3
That means that he is the “Suffering Servant” whose voice we heard this morning in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah.
But how do we know that? This is the key point. It’s the lesson of the Gospel today.
We know that Jesus is the Christ by faith, my brothers and sisters.
St. Peter and the apostles have a different answer than the people in the crowds because they have faith.
They have listened to his words and witnessed his wonderful deeds. And they have come to believe that he is the Holy One sent by God. They have come believe that he has the words of eternal life.4
We are called to have that same faith, my brothers and sisters. We are also following Jesus. Every Sunday, in our Gospel reading, we are hearing the stories of his ministry. We are hearing his teachings.
And just like St. Peter and the apostles, we have to make a decision about Jesus. Who do we say that he is?
Having faith in Jesus is not just agreeing with a set of statements about Jesus. Having faith means following him. It means giving our lives to him. Jesus tells us that today in the Gospel.
Jesus tell us that we must deny ourselves. We have to give up our own our priorities, our own comforts, our own ways of doing things. We have to deny ourselves, and we have to take up our cross.
The cross is the sign of Christ’s mission.5 So when Jesus says we have to take up our cross — he means we have to share in his mission, which is the mission of his Church.
My brothers and sisters, it is beautiful to have faith and to follow Jesus! It is a beautiful way to live! Faith is a journey that we are making with Jesus. Faith means being with him. Seeing the world with his eyes. Sharing in his mission of love for all peoples.
Faith means that we make Jesus our way of life. And this way of life, the way of the cross, is a way of love. That’s what St. James is talking about in the second reading today.
St. James gives us some challenging words. He tells us: faith without works is dead. It is not really faith at all. So we need to show our faith by imitating Jesus, by doing everything out of love — out of love for God and out of love for our neighbors.
And our love has to be concrete. We have to express our love in feeding the hungry, in welcoming the poor. This is how we demonstrate our faith in Jesus. By faith working through love.6
So as we approach the Eucharist today, let us ask for the grace to really believe that Jesus is present, that he is with us as the Christ, the Son of the living God. And let us ask for the grace to really live with faith in him. To take up our cross and follow him — and to love as he loves.
And may Our Lady of the Angels intercede for us, that we might help bring peace to our troubled world, beginning with peace in our hearts and our homes and our neighborhoods.
1. Readings (Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B): Isa. 50:5-9; Ps. 116:1-6, 8-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35.
2. Matt. 16:18.
3. Matt. 16:16.
4. John 6:68-69.
5. 1 Cor. 1:17-18.
6. Gal. 5:6; 1 Cor. 16:14; Eph. 5:2.