Note: Fr. Ed’s homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time is now available online! Click here to listen.
Who do you say that I am?
There is no answer to any question that is more critical for every human being than the answer to that question. Our eternal destiny rides, in a very crucial way, on how we respond to it. When the Lord Jesus puts that question to His disciples, He first couches it in terms of what are the popular responses to that question, but then He makes it personal to them: “You, who do you say that I am?”
There are many ways to respond. In point of fact, given that each of us is a unique human being, with our own histories, etc., how we answer it might vary from person to person. We see this variety reflected in the lives of the Saints, as they each answered that question in their own way. Obviously, there are fundamental aspects that are in common and must be in common for an authentic relationship with the Lord Jesus to be in place, but even among those aspects there can be different points of focus or emphasis. For example, for some, that He is Lord may be the focal point; for others that He is Savior; for others that He is the Risen One; for others that He is the One Who calls them friend, etc., etc. The King of Kings relates to each one of us as individuals.
Freedom to differ
This brings up an interesting point. Suppose how we choose to answer that question is different from how others around us see Him? There is a marked tendency in some to attempt to impose a monolithic uniformity on things, especially things involved in our relationship with the Lord Jesus.
What complicates matters is that there are certain things that are meant to be uniform, but also a great many things in which the Church allows great freedom. For example, believing that the Lord Jesus is present as the Eucharistic Lord is non-negotiable, but the sign of respect that you give Him before you receive Him has several different options. That parents are required to give their children a Catholic education is non-negotiable, but they are given great leeway in terms of what vehicle for that do they feel best for their family, e.g. Catholic school, homeschool, CCD, etc., etc. One of the greatest of the ongoing challenges for the Christian community is how to show love, respect, and support for those who exercise their legitimate freedom in such issues in ways that may be different from others’ choices.
The starting point, of course, is whether or not there is freedom to differ in a particular area—for in some cases there is, and others there is not. Even agreeing on those cases can sometimes be a point of conflict! Then, if there is that freedom in a particular area, how to give folks room to make legitimate choices that they may feel best for themselves and for their families is a huge challenge. Part of the consequences of our fallen nature is that we, due invariably to pride, almost always assume that our way is best and if people were as smart, well-informed, holy, Spirit-led, etc., etc., as we are, then they would necessarily be doing things exactly the way we do. When put that way, the level of arrogance implied is fairly obvious, but sometimes it is not so clear.
A question of love
Much of this gets down to a question of love. That we are commanded to love each other by the Lord Jesus is not negotiable. That He also does not couple that command of love to some requirement that we be in total agreement with the person we are loving is also perfectly true. This can be a true test of our love—can we love people who see things differently or do things differently than we do? Hopefully, the answer is yes, because we are required to do so!
The Lord Jesus Himself is the classic example of that. He simply chooses to love us; it is not tied to anything but our own humanity. He invites us to do the same for those around us, and He will provide us with the power of the Spirit necessary to do so, if we just let Him. Please, Lord! — Fr. Ed