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To Pray to Understand

Lectio Divina: 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C

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Roman rite
Zec 12.10 to 11; 13.1; Ps 63; Gal 3.26 to 29; Lk 9.18 to 24
Ambrosian Rite
Gen 18, 1-2a.16-33; Ps 27; Rm 4.16 to 25; Lk 13.23 to 29
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
1) An event that has happened in a «spiritual place»: prayer.
In today’s Gospel Jesus asks to his disciples what the people think of him referring the question directly to them, “Who do you say that I am?». On behalf of himself and of his friends, Peter replies: «The Christ of God» (Lk 9:20) because he sensed that Jesus is the Son of Man, the Servant of the Lord. He overcomes evil because he does not do evil and has the strength to take it upon himself without drop it onto others. He is the Redeemer in whom God, who is love, became man, and his sacrifice has redeemed humanity from the slavery of evil, giving it a reasonable hope.
What is the meaning of this dialogue? Why does Jesus want to know what his disciples think of him? The Redeemer wants that the disciples are aware of what is hidden in their minds and in their hearts, and that they express their conviction. At the same time, he knows that the judgment that they will express will not be theirs alone because it will reveal what God has poured into their hearts by the grace of faith.
In this dialog we see the mystery of the beginning and of the growth of faith. First, there is the grace of the revelation: God love gives himself to man and calls him to a friendship with Him. Then there is the request of giving an answer to this vocation. Finally comes the response of man, a response which from now on must give meaning and shape to his whole life. That’s what faith is! It is the rational and free human response to the word of the living God.
The questions that Jesus asks, the answers that are given by the Apostles and finally by Simon Peter, are a test of the maturity of the faith of those who are closest to Christ. It is a closeness not only physical but spiritual. In fact, it should be noted that while St. Mark and St. Matthew place this dialogue at Caesarea Philippi, which is the farthest point that Jesus reached into his path and is far from Jerusalem, St. Luke does not indicate any place. Or rather, he does not indicate a material place but a spiritual one: prayer. In fact, this Evangelist writes: “Once when Jesus was praying by himself, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” «(Lk 9, 18).
It is as if St. Luke wanted to teach us that prayer is the «place» where we begin to understand something of who the Lord is. It is the place where we are ourselves and it is the place where we begin to understand something of the truth. Prayer is not so much the context in which we understand something intellectually, but it is the place of the experience and of the communion with the Lord, the Lord with us. In prayer, we return to our natural place because prayer is to stand before God. We are in the image and likeness of God. When we stand before Him we find ourselves. So, prayer is the place of our truth and of the truth of God. Prayer is something foreign to life, prayer is life, it is to live before God with simplicity, piety, attention and devotion.
 2) Our response.
Today, two thousand years later, this question, «But who do you say that I am?» Is addressed to each of us and from each of us Christ demands a lived response. «A response that is not found in the books as a formula, but in the experience of those who indeed follow Jesus, with the help of a «great worker”, the Holy Spirit» (Pope Francis, 20 February 2014).
In order to give «the same answer as Peter and what we have learned in the catechism: you are the Son of the living God, you are the Redeemer, and you are the Lord!» (Pope Francis, 20 February 2014), we must have within us the same motivation of St. Peter, who in another occasion made it explicit saying: «Master, to whom shall we go, only you have the words of eternal life» (Jn 6:68). This are true words that explain and give us life now and for eternity. The answer of the First of the Apostles: «You are the Christ of God», namely the true and full sense of personal and human history, coincided with recognizing Christ as the only possible answer to the human journey and adventure on this Earth.
Christ’s question is not made to know the opinion of the people and of his disciples regarding Him, but to teach that life is a response to God, a personal response. Peter answered, «You are the Christ.» It is the right answer, but it is not an easy answer. The answer to the question «Who is Jesus for you now?» is not an obvious answer nor a manifestation of our view of Christ.
Today Jesus asks us how the encounter with him changes our lives, how it acts in our lives. This «yes» to him means something important and life changing. We acknowledge him as the Living One, the Love that is donated.
  To be able to say: «You are the Christ,» we must have heard the falsity or insufficiency of the earthly solutions. It is necessary to be simple, pure in heart and poor, so poor to suffer for the nostalgia of God, rich in mercy.
Our answer, as that of St. Peter, is a profession of faith not in one of the prophets of history, but in the Redeemer, center of the world and of history.
With this profession of faith Saint Peter “embraced all things together, because he expressed the nature and the name of the Messiah» (St. Ambrose). In front of this profession of faith, Jesus renews to St. Peter and to the other disciples the invitation to follow him on the demanding road of love up to the Cross.
The first of the Apostles is opposed to the fact of Christ going to the cross. Of course, he does not want Jesus to die because he loves him and says «May God preserve you! This will never happen to you. “He is sincere, because he really loves Jesus, but it is a wrong way to love. However, he loves him and he tells it to Christ. What did Jesus reply? He did not say «Go away from me» but «Come behind me» (I think that this is the correct translation of the Messiah’s words), that is, «follow me.»
The Christian adventure is this to go behind Him, who is the Messiah and fulfills the desires of man. He is the Christ that overcomes evil not doing evil (dominion over others, power, prestige) but wins it with good and with love.
The important thing is to understand and experience the beauty of following the Lord of life, because our life is Him: «He is my life, because He won me over with his love» (Phil. 3). He is the Shepherd of life.
Even to us, that recognize the Redeemer as the Christ of God, Jesus addresses the proposal to follow him every day and reminds us that to be his disciples it is necessary to get hold of the power of his Cross, good and substance of our hope.
Certainly it is not easy to accept the cross that Jesus carried on his shoulders as a sign of his power of love. In a sense, I am afraid to accept the invitation of Christ: «If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his daily cross and follow me.»
Taking up the cross means to strive to defeat the sin that blocks the way to God, to accept the will of the Lord, and to increase our faith especially in the face of problems, difficulties and suffering.
The Carmelite Sister Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) has testified it in a time of persecution. In 1938, in the Cologne Carmel she wrote: «Today I understand … what it means to be the bride of Christ in the sign of the cross, although it will never be possible to understand it in full, since it is a mystery … The more it gets dark around to us the more we must open our hearts to the light that comes from above.”
Nowadays, in an «apparently» less dramatically way, the consecrated Virgins in the world witness the life that flows from the cross, because the love of self-giving «is lost,” and offers itself.
Their follow Christ, accepting his invitation to deny themselves and shows that it is possible to stop thinking about themselves. It testifies that love is not to put one’s self at the center, but to put the other at the center. Love is not static, it is ecstatic. It pulls us out of ourselves, correlates and makes sure that we take notice of the other as he or she is. This is life and love, the Holy Spirit, the love between Father and Son that reigns among us. This love is the life of God. Otherwise death reigns and we will kill each other.
Virginity is our bodies and our hearts crucified by and for love, given to God without reserve. Living virginally means that, carrying the cross daily and offering ourselves to Christ, we die to be reborn in Him in whom we have totally put ourselves. Each of us has his or her cross to bear and that means that every day we die to be reborn. It means that on the Cross goes the old selfish man and dies in it, while in it the new person whose life is love is born. A life given (crucified) for love is a life fully realized as Jesus did with his.
Becoming bearers of the Cross, these women have committed to become bearers of the Spirit. They are authentically spiritual women, capable of secretly fecundate history with the prayer of praise and continual intercession, and the works of spiritual and material mercy.
Patristic Reading
Golden Chain
On Lk 9,18-22
CYRIL; Our Lord having retired from the multitude, and being in a place apart, was engaged in prayer. As it is said, And it came to pass, as he was alone praying. For He ordained Himself as an example of this, instructing His disciples by an easy’ method of teaching. For I suppose the rulers of the people ought to be superior also in good deeds, to those that are under them, ever holding converse with them in all necessary things, and treating of those things in which God delights.
THEOPHYL; Now the disciples were with the Lord, but He alone prayed to the Father, since the saints may be joined to the Lord in the bond of faith and love, but the Son alone is able to penetrate the incomprehensible secrets of the Father’s will. Every where then He prays alone, for human wishes comprehend not the counsel of God, nor can any one be a partaker with Christ of the deep things of God.
CYRIL; Now His engaging in prayer might perplex His disciples. For they saw Him praying like a man, Whom before they had seen performing miracles with divine power. In order then to banish all perplexity of this kind, He asks them this question, not because He did not know the reports which they had gathered from without, but that He might rid them of the opinion of the many, and instill into them the true faith. Hence it follows, And he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am?
THEOPHYL; Rightly does our Lord, when about to inquire into the faith of the disciples, first inquire into the opinion of the multitudes, lest their confession should appear not to be determined by their knowledge, but to be formed by the opinion of the generality, and they should be considered not to believe from experience, but like Herod to be perplexed by different reports which they heard.
AUG. Now it may raise a question, that Luke says that our Lord asked His disciples, Whom do men say that I am? at the same time that He was alone praying, and they also were with Him; whereas Mark says, that they were asked this question by our Lord on the way; but this is difficult only to him who never prayed on the way.
AMBROSE; But it is no trifling opinion of the multitude which the disciples mention, when it is added, But they answering said, John the Baptist, (whom they knew to be beheaded;) but some say, Elias, (whom they thought would come,) but others say that one of the old Prophets is risen again. But to make this inquiry belongs to a different kind of wisdom from ours, for if it were enough for the Apostle Paul to know nothing but Christ Jesus, and Him crucified, what more can I desire to know than Christ?
CYRIL; But mark the subtle skill of the question. For he directs them first to the praises of strangers, that having overthrown these, He might beget in them the right opinion. So when the disciples had given the opinion of the people, He asks them their own opinion; as it is added, And He said to them, Whom say you that I am? How marked is you! He excludes them from the other, that they may avoid their opinions; as if He said, you who by my decree are called to the Apostleship, the witnesses of my miracles, whom do you say that I am? But Peter anticipated the rest, and becomes the mouthpiece of the whole company, and launching forth into the eloquence of divine love, utters the confession of faith, as it is added, Peter answering said, The Christ of God. He says not merely that He was Christ of God, but now He uses the article. Hence it is in the Greek. For many divinely accounted persons are in diverse ways called Christs, for some were anointed kings, some prophets. But we through Christ have been anointed by the holy Spirit, have obtained the name of Christ. But there is only one who is the Christ of God and the Father, He alone as it were having His own Father who is in heaven. And so Luke agrees indeed in the same opinion as Matthew, who relates Peter to have said, You are Christ, the Son of the living God, but speaking briefly Luke says that Peter answered, the Christ of God.
AMBROSE; In this one name there is the expression both of His divinity and incarnation, and the belief of His passion. He has therefore comprehended every thing, having expressed both the nature and tile name wherein is all virtue.
CYRIL; But we must observe, that Peter most wisely confessed Christ to be one, against those who presumed to divide Immanuel into two Christs. For Christ did not inquire of them, saying, Whom do men say the divine Word is? but the Son of man, whom Peter confessed to be the Son of God. Herein then is Peter to be admired, and thought worthy of such chief honor, seeing that Him whom he marveled at in our form, he believed to be the Christ of the Father, that is to say, that the Word which proceeded of the Father’s Substance was become man.
AMBROSE; But our Lord Jesus Christ was as at first unwilling to be preached, lest an uproar should arise; as it follows, And he straitly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man any thing. For many reasons He commands His disciples to be silent; to deceive the prince of this world, to reject boasting, to teach humility. Christ then would not boast, and cost you boast who are of ignoble birth? Likewise He did it to prevent rude and as yet imperfect disciples from being oppressed with the wonder of this awful announcement. They are then forbid to preach Him as the Son of God, that they might afterwards preach Him crucified.
CHRYS. Timely also was our Lord’s command that no one should tell that He was Christ, in order that when offenses should be taken away and the sufferings of the cross completed, a proper opinion of Him might be firmly rooted in the minds of the hearers. For that which has once taken root and afterwards been torn up, when fresh planted will scarcely ever be preserved. But that which when once planted continues undisturbed, grows up securely. For if Peter was offended merely by what he heard, what would be the feelings of those many who, after they had heard that He was the Son of God, saw Him crucified, and spit upon?
CYRIL; It was the duty then of the disciples to preach Him throughout the world. For this was the work of those who were chosen by Him to the office of the Apostleship. But as holy Scripture bears witness, There is a time for every thing. For it was fitting that the cross and resurrection should be accomplished, an d then should follow the preaching of the Apostles; as it is spoken, saying, The Son of man must needs suffer many things.
AMBROSE; Perhaps because the Lord knew that the disciples would believe even the difficult mystery of the Passion and Resurrection, He wished to be Himself the proclaimer of His own Passion and Resurrection.

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Mgr Francesco Follo

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