As we celebrate “Lay apostolate Sunday” today, instead of reflecting on how Peter was appointed as head of the apostles, by Jesus and given the Petrine authority of the “keys of the Kingdom of heaven,” and how as the first pope of Rome, Peter’s authority was handed down through succeeding popes till we have Pope Francis the 266th pope today, I thought it might be more appropriate to reflect on the question that Jesus posed Peter and his apostles, and all of us today, “Who do you say, I am?”
This question is not just any question, but the most important question of our lives as believers of Christ. This is because the answer to this question will give us the foundational perspective of how we are each to live our daily lives. This question is so important that it even defines our identity. This is because to know who Jesus is, is to know our true identity.
If like Peter we know that Jesus is truly the “Christ, the Son of the Living God,” then the purpose of our life is to love, praise and serve Jesus’ Father’s Will as His sons and daughters.
But, before we answer this question of Jesus, we need to first answer another important question. And this is, “Who am I?”
My brothers and sisters, if we go home and ask ourselves, “Who am I?,” while looking into a mirror, we will only get a skin deep answer. This is because our external appearances does not and cannot define our identity. That is why regardless of what we do to our bodies to look good and regardless of how much people complement us for our external beauty, it will not and cannot bring us deep and lasting happiness in life. This is what we call skin deep spirituality or cosmetic spirituality.
However, if we were to dim the lights in our bedroom, and then light a candle and as we reflect on how we have been living our lives as a spouse or as a parent or son/daughter or on your life as a maid, accountant, lawyer, engineer, doctor and the like, we will get a better and more satisfactory answer to the question of who we are. These answers would be deeper because they deal with our emotional hurts and happiness, and relationships in our lives, and not just our external appearances.
But, in order to get in touch with the deepest truth of who we are, we need to get in touch with the foundational question that Jesus ask, “Who do you say that I am?” My sisters and brothers in Christ, unless we know who Jesus is personally, we will never be able to discover our true self. But, when we discover our truest and most authentic self, we will then truly know how to live our lives in more meaningful, wholesome and fulfilling ways. This was precisely why and how Peter was able to live his life fully and even willingly die for his faith as a martyr with deep peace.
I believe many of us try so hard in different ways to live a good and meaningful life, but have yet to experience the deep peace and joy of life that we long to have. How many of us know of people who are so successful in their careers and so financially well-off and stable, but are unfortunately still unhappy in their lives? How many of us know of people who are deeply hurt and in spite of the crises in life, are able to transcend their hurts,and forgive and still find life to be meaningful, challenging and fulfilling? How many of us know of people who profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to their superiors, and literally own nothing; have no family and children they can call their own; have no credentials and success in life that the secular world speaks of with such excitement, but are very much at peace with their lives, and live a fulfilling life of selfless service of others?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the deepest love and the most fulfilling life is not found in what we possess, but how intimately we know the person of Jesus. But, to know Jesus, is more than being able to memorise the many verses in the Bible well and coming to Church on Sundays and doing some good at home. To know Jesus, is to live more consciously in His Presence and Love; for this we should bring to a greater consciousness each day of how Jesus is constantly part of our lives.
One very good way to be connected to Jesus daily is, several times each day, bring to consciousness of Jesus being in your heart; feel His presence and love within you regardless of what you are going through or what you are doing during the day. Then, speak to Jesus from your heart and ask Him, “Lord, how can I love you more?” Then at the end of the day, recall and reflect on the day that you have spent and ask yourself, “How have I lived a Christ-like life and have related to others in Christ-like ways? For the times that I have been able to live the Christ-like life, thank Jesus for those moments.
But, for the times that we have not been Christ-like in the way we relate to others tell Jesus that you are sorry. When we live this way, we are constantly living a more authentic and wholesome life; and over time we will develop a personal relationship with the Lord.
However, in order to live such a connectedness life with Jesus, we need to develop a basic consciousness of living a life that is sincere and selfless as in contrast to drifting with the masses of society who can be caught up in living a self-serving and self-centred life. This poem may help us have a sense of what this basic authentic life is about.
I have to live with myself, and so,
I want to be fit for myself to know . . .
I want to be able as days go by,
always to look myself straight in the eye;
I don’t want to stand with the setting sun
and hate myself for the things I’ve done.
I don’t want to keep on a closet shelf
a lot of secrets about myself,
and fool myself as I come and go
into thinking that nobody else will know
the kind of man I really am;
I don’t want to dress myself up in sham.
I want to go out with my head erect,
I want to deserve all men’s respect;
But, here in this struggle for fame and pelf,
I want to be able to like myself.
I don’t want to think as I come and go
that I’m bluster and bluff and empty show.
I never can hide myself from me,
I see what others may never see,
I know what others may never know,
I never can fool myself – and so,
whatever happens, I want to be
self-respecting and conscience free.
To develop a personal love for Jesus, we need to start with taking one little step at a time each day and with the great hope that our love for Jesus would one day become second nature. I like us to reflect on this second poem:
One song can spark a moment,
One flower can wake a dream,
One tree can start a forest,
One bird can herald spring.
One smile begins a friendship,
One handclasp lifts a soul.
One star can guide a ship at sea,
One word can frame the goal.
One vote can change a nation,
One sunbeam lights a room.
One candle wipes out darkness,
One laughter will conquer gloom.
One step must start each journey,
One word must start each prayer.
Our hope will raise our spirits.
One touch can show you care.
One voice can speak with wisdom,
One heart can know what’s true,
One life can make the difference,
You see, it’s all up to you!
And so, as I conclude, let us on “Lay apostolate Sunday,” be mindful that you and I are called to grow in our holiness through our vocation; you through the lay apostolate, and I through my priesthood and religious vocation.
On this celebration, God wants to give you the special graces and wisdom to discover how you as the laity can help build God’s Kingdom by living a more active faith; beginning in your home, and reaching out to others by becoming more fully engaged parish activities and programmes, and to witness the Gospel of Christ in the secular world of your profession and contact with others.
To do this, you are challenged to take small steps each day to deepen your personal relationship with Jesus, so much so that you would eventually be able to answer Jesus’ question of “Who do you say that I am,” as a second nature to you. When that happens, you would have found the deepest joys; the greatest hope and the most fulfilling way of living your life.
(cf. “Happiness Manufacturers, Spiritual Challenges for Youth; Hedwig Lewis,S.J.; Gujarat Sahitya Prakash; 2001; pp.76,79.)
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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