12th Sun [C] 2004

Fr. Charles Irvin

Zechariah 12:10-11,13:1; Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24


What do people think about me? Am I a nobody, an unknown, just a number in the American system? For whom am I important? Who am I?


Wondering what people think of us can be a good thing… and of course it can be a bad thing, something that leads us into trouble because we sell our selves out in order to be “one of the gang”, a part of the “in crowd”.


Then there’s the problem of low self-esteem, a negative image of ourselves that we’re always holding before us to see in our mind’s eye. We all know that having a severe negative self-image can lead to behavior that is harmful – harmful to others and harmful to our selves.


We should want, it seems to me, to be seen as an admirable person. As a matter of fact, depending upon what’s to be admired, it is a good thing to be admired by others. The only problem is that being popular in the eyes of others doesn’t necessarily mean they admire us. We all know of unpopular people who eventually became greatly admired by others. Abraham Lincoln is a good example of that. Bill Gates, for instance, was considered to be a “geek” by his high school peers. I wonder how many girl friends he had in high school? Maybe he didn’t even have very many dates back then.


We find Jesus in today’s gospel account asking his disciples to tell him how they see him, how that identify him. Jesus wasn’t interested in taking poll, nor was he interested in his popularity.

He wanted his disciples, I think, to crystallize their thinking about him and to sharply focus on who he really is. He wanted them to rid themselves of fuzzy thinking; he wanted each one of them to come to a decisive position about him.


Let me suggest to you a spiritual exercise that you would do well to enter into. When you’re at home, take out a pad of paper and write this question at the top of the first page. Write down: “Who do you say that I am?” Then take out your bible and read St. Mark’s gospel straight through. Reading it straight through will take you about an hour and a quarter.


Then imagine that Jesus is asking you to describe and identify just who he is. Now go back and read St. Mark’s gospel slowly. Each and every time you can answer the question, write down your answer on the pad of paper. You will come up with answers like “You care for the crippled.” “You care for sinners and outcasts.” “You speak of God as your Father in heaven.” “You tell us about our Father in heaven.” “You worked such and such a miracle,” and so forth. When you finish this exercise put the papers aside and then the next day come back and read your answers to the question. You will have a picture of Jesus… you will see him differently than you have before.


The identity of Jesus and who he is for you governs your entire spiritual life. It also governs how you act in life, how you treat others, how you relate to others, and how you treat and relate to your self. As a matter of fact, the identity of Jesus Christ, how you see him, understand him, and relate to him grounds your entire life. That is why so many people really don’t want to take a close look at Jesus. They really don’t want to identify him and answer the question: “Who do you say that I am?”


Thus it is that you and I know lots of folks who tell us that Jesus was a nice man, a holy man, perhaps even a prophet. They keep Christ at a safe distance away and settle for only talking about him rather than personally relating to him. It’s safe to talk about someone, its not so safe to get close up and personal with them.


To answer the question about Jesus by saying he is God’s Christ, God’s anointed, requires us to conform our thinking and acting accordingly. Moreover, if we acknowledge Christ Jesus to be the Son of God, if we acknowledge that he is God come among us as one of us, then what he had to say and what he asks of us is of the greatest importance.


Many former Christians find that to be too restricting for them. Many who are not Christian are not willing to become Christian for that same reason. To acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, means that they cannot do whatever they want to, the cannot enter into whatever makes them feel good, they cannot say “yes” to anything and everything, they cannot keep all of their options open. Many people will not get married for that reason. Marriage involves too much of a commitment for them. Being married restricts their freedom to come and go as they wish; marriage means they can’t get involved with anybody and everybody, whenever they want to, for as long as they feel like it.


Jesus is asking you to accept him into your heart and soul, into your life in all of its aspects. Jesus has given himself to you in love and is asking you to give yourself to him in love. Do you really want to do that? When you’re confronted with accepting his presence in your life, do you find yourself making excuses, finding ways of keeping him at a safe distance, and so forth? Do you find yourself not wanting to pay attention to and acknowledge who he really is?


Many of us are uncomfortable when it comes to identifying ourselves to others as Roman Catholics. We tell others we’re Catholic and then immediately begin to put qualifications on our self-identity. Acknowledging to others that we are Christian isn’t so difficult. The title  “Christian” has taken on a generic quality – it’s a kind of generic brand name. The brand “Catholic” carries with it a whole lot more; it puts demands on us. Our Catholic understanding of Christ and our Catholic understanding of what he wants and expects of us carries some considerable and weighty responses to Christ.


To my way of thinking, it is to be regretted that whoever chose to put today’s gospel account in our Sunday liturgy stopped where they did. I would have insisted that the next sentence should have been added to where today’s gospel account ended because Jesus then said: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his immortal soul?” Is the loss of your own soul worth it in order to please everyone around you and please your self? Is gaining the whole world, with it acceptance of you, worth the price of losing your soul because you would not accept Christ into your heart, mind, soul and life?


That is the question you and I must answer, and the answer is all bound up in the answer to Christ’s question: “Who do you say that I am?”

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”