The door is open
Three places: desert, prayer and community
Almost always the Gospel tells us the location where the event that is described takes place: Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jericho, Jerusalem, Caesarea, etc. Today’s gospel tells us that Jesus is in a solitary location (the material place) and into prayer (the spiritual place) and is surrounded by his disciples who are his community of life and mission. We could call this third place a “human place” where a fraternal communion lives for the announcement of the good News.
If every one of us wants to be a disciple (= the one who learns, from the Latin verb “discere”= to learn) he must remain with Jesus in a solitary location -- in the world but not of the world -- and in community.
I’ve quoted few times already the prophet Hosea’s verse 2,16 but today we should at least reach verse 2:22:” I will allure her now; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak persuasively to her. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as on the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. I will betroth you to me forever: I will betroth you to me with justice and with judgment, with loyalty and with compassion; I will betroth you to me with fidelity, and you shall know the LORD”. (2:16-17b 21-22)
God wants us totally for him and removes us from all the habits of daily life to take us into the desert, the solitary place of our heart. In this solitude God is everything for the soul and the soul is all for God who speaks to the person’s heart. Then the human being is able to welcome the declaration of love that God makes: He says I love you.
A declaration of love is the demand of an answer that the human being gives to God in prayer. A prayer well done doesn’t need many words or many studies.
Let me better explain this concept. The Saint Cure of Ars saw often in his church a farmer. This illiterate man after a full day of work in the fields was used to enter into the small church of Ars, sit on a bench in front of the Tabernacle and remain there for a long period of time. One day the Saint Cure approached this farmer, who while praying was not opening his mouth even to say the popular prayers, and asked: “What do you say to the Lord?” “Nothing” answered the man. Then he added, "I look at Him and He looks at me.” Adoration is the essential part of the prayer, it is prayer that becomes look and opens the heart to the Presence of Goodness, Truth and Love.
In today’s world we live among intense hyperactivity. Not even the priests and the religious people can avoid it because they are burdened by so many and urgent pastoral duties that they cannot deal with all of them. Among this pervading activity the moments reserved to prayer tend to present themselves as empty spaces and pauses. Moreover often we think that the activity towards the others is the only possible enrichment and the only evangelical necessity so that we consider the moments reserved to prayer as true waste of time.
The example of the farmer of Ars shows that it is a big mistake to think that simple prayer can be worthless and that the moments dedicated to God are a waste of time.
In fact as Pope Benedict XVI used to say, no one more than Jesus Christ was in a perpetual state of adoration and prayer in front of the Father because the vision of God lived in His soul among all his activities of man. He was taking all the opportunities to plunge into the silence and solitude of a pure prayer. “He dismissed the crowds and after doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray” (Mt 14:23) "The next morning, long before dawn, he arose and went out and went to a solitary place. And there he prayed " (Mt 1:35). Jesus was taking these moments from the backbreaking days in which He was at the disposal of his disciples, the sick and the people that were crowding in and looking for him. In the evening, at night and in the morning Jesus kept aside to pray. As a man Jesus felt the need of extended moments of prayer free from every human activity.
Let’s not forget that for Him the link between action and prayer was love and the same should be for us. It is a love that makes itself available to the announcement that God has become man and that this man is present as a “sign” of harmony, communion, unity of community and unity of people in the community of the redeemed (the third “place” of which we speak today): the Church lived in the family, in the parish, in the movements and in the monastery.
Who do the crowds say that I am? And you?
With these questions Jesus doesn’t want to have a public-opinion poll, which is good to have a general idea over a subject but not to commit one’s life. In asking this question He wants to help the disciples of his time and those of today to understand who He is for us and who we are for him.
In today’s gospel the question has two answers.
The first one expresses the opinion of the people that in Jesus see a prophet, perhaps a great prophet, but cannot see more than that. The people were not hostile to Jesus. On the contrary they ran in crowds to listen to him, but they were more interested in the material benefits from his miracles than in the spiritual benefits of his presence of charity among them.
Clearly the people had not understood the mystery of the man Jesus.
The second answer comes from Saint Peter. The Leader of the Apostles gives a wonderful answer, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Christ is so happy for this answer that says “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father”. (Mt 16:16-18). However at the same time He says that Peter could not have given this answer if the Father had not suggested it to him.
It is important to point out that Jesus had not asked: “Who do you (Peter) say that I am?” but “Who do you (all of you) say that I am?” The “you” has an ecclesiastical meaning because it is in this answer that the Church was born. The relationship “I-YOU (singular)” is a beautiful one but the “I-You (plural)” is even more beautiful because in this personal answer we become community, “a place of feast and forgiveness’ where we encounter the God of Life and Love.
Peter’s answer is correct: “Christ is God’. He wins evil with the Cross, kills death with Cross, gives his life for love and is rich “only” of mercy. He is the opposite of an egotist who wants to save only himself; God-Love wants to save the other. He who is the righteous lets himself to be judged. He, who is the law, is mercy and forgiveness. We take away his life; He gives his life for us. This God-Man is wonderful. How could we follow Him (today’s gospel of the Roman Rite)
crossing the narrow door (today’s Gospel of the Ambrosian Rite) that can be open with the key that is the Cross? How could we speak of Him, the Christ of God, as Saint Peter did?
We find an example of that in the consecrated Virgins, who speak of Christ only when they asked, but live in a way that makes us ask about Him (Paul Claudel) because their life lived in virginity says that, “Christ is God and deserves everything.” With a life of and as Virgins that are waiting for the Bridegroom and with vigil prayer, they ask for themselves and for the entire humanity that Christ crosses the narrow door of our heart and expands it.
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C- June 23, 2013
Zec 12:10-11; Ps 63; Gal 3:26-29; Lk 9:18-24
Who do the crowds say that I am?
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Gen18:1-2a.16-33; Ps27: Rm 4:16-25; Lk 13:23-29
Monsignor Francesco Follo is permanent observer of the Holy See to UNESCO, Paris.