From a homily given last 15 Sept 2012
by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ

A young novice once asked his superior why there were so many leaving their order. The superior replied that those who left were like hounds that were hot on the trail of a rabbit. Many of these joined the hunt because they were roused by the bark and baying of the other hounds. Soon enough, they gave up the chase because they only heard the howl of the hunt, and never really saw the rabbit.

In the Gospel today, “along the way,” Jesus asks his disciples, “‘Who do people say that I am?’ They said in reply, ‘John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.’ And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter said to him in reply, ‘You are the Christ.’”

The confession at Caesarea Philippi is a realization that happens “along the way.” This discovery of Jesus’ identity is not made in an instant flash of insight nor is it imposed with an exclamation point. It is as gradual as the miracles that precede this confession, e.g. the slow healing of the deaf and mute person (in last Sunday’s reading), and the healing in stages of the blind man right before this conversation. To blur things even further, after this affirmation of who Jesus is, the wonderworking fades inexplicably as he sets his sights toward Jerusalem.

The journey to God is a slow journey. We grow into faith as fast as trees grow into a forest. There are seasons to this journey and we do well to try to be patient as God is with ourselves and with one another.

There are reasons for this slowness. We get to hear of Jesus through a variety of voices. We only know of him through the witnessing of others and the tradition of faith and scripture that has been handed down to us. As with human relationships, to know him rather than to merely know of him will take time and much letting go and openness.

To know Jesus as he is, to come to faith in him, and entrust our very lives to someone we do not readily see can be a perilous journey. What if all this were just an illusion, a human invention to dispel the darkness and indifference that surround us? Like happiness, faith can be like an island in an ocean of doubt and anxiety. And so because of the ambiguity, we take caution and calculate.

And even if we are not so ambivalent or calculating, we have expectations. We invest our lives with all sorts of expectations. Expectations are to be, well, expected especially if our lives are configured as cuentas claras transactions. Thus, with Peter and the other disciples, we have expectations of the anointed one of God, the Christ and redeemer of the world. And we expect God to have expectations of us as well.

Some of these expectations we see in the longings we express in prayer. We pray and relate to God with our cherished (i.e. expected) images of God and our selves. These icons are always and finally broken in the scandal and mystery of the cross. Thus, when Peter protests the brutal fate that must befall the anointed one of God, Jesus rebukes him for thinking in the way expected of human beings.

The dissonance between expectation and reality rises to a crescendo in the confession at Caesarea Philippi. There we are told who Jesus is and what he must go through. It must have been jarring to hear of this affirmation of the identity of the anointed one of God and acknowledge (almost in the same breath) that the Messiah would suffer at our hands and be rejected.

If this repels us, Jesus admonishes us to think the way God does. He invites us to love as God loves. And the way God loves is shown vividly in what Jesus does in the gospels, in how he is present to us, especially among those we leave by the wayside. If the cross is our way of shunting God and others to the wayside, that same cross is where we know God does not leave us. The cross is God’s way of bringing us home. By his cross we are redeemed. In his loving and willing sacrifice we find deliverance.

Who then is this Jesus to you? You cannot answer that without gazing at the anointed one, the Christ of God hanging on the cross.

Soon enough, he shall be asking us to trail him into that dark night of suffering and self-sacrifice. We will give up along the way if all we get to hear are howls of lamentation and loss. It will be unbearable if we never get to see the love we’ve been chasing, there all along, beneath the sacrifice, beating in the heart of the anointed one of God.

ABOUT FR. JET VILLARIN, SJ

Fr. Jet is a Filipino Jesuit priest and scientist, who just finished his term as the university president of Ateneo de Manila University. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000, and the Outstanding Book Award for “Disturbing Climate” in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations’ Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others.


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