There are many people today who feel attracted by the figure of Christ and want to know him better. They realize that he is the answer to so many of our deepest concerns. But who is he really? How can someone who lived on this earth so long ago have anything in common with me today?
The Gospel we have just heard (cf. Mt -20) suggests two different ways of knowing Christ. The first is an impersonal knowledge, one based on current opinion. When Jesus asks ‘who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ the disciples answer: ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ In other words, Christ is seen as yet another religious figure, like those who came before him. Then Jesus turns to the disciples and asks them: ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter responds with what is the first confession of faith: ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Faith is more than just empirical or historical facts; it is an ability to grasp the mystery of Christ’s person in all its depth.
Yet faith is not the result of human effort, of human reasoning, but rather a gift of God: ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.’ Faith starts with God, who opens his heart to us and invites us to share in his own divine life. Faith does not simply provide information about who Christ is; rather, it entails a personal relationship with Christ, a surrender of our whole person, with all our understanding, will and feelings, to God’s self-revelation. So Jesus’ question ‘But who do you say that I am?’ is ultimately a challenge to the disciples to make a personal decision in his regard. Faith in Christ and discipleship are strictly interconnected.
Homily, WYD Closing Mass,
August 21, 2001
Reflection – ‘It’s not enough to know about God – we have to know God.’ These were among the first words I remember ever reading of Catherine Doherty’s, although I’m not sure where I ran across them. But they resonate with the ‘two ways’ of knowing Christ the Holy Father speaks of here. To know the historical facts, or even the doctrinal tradition and dogmatic definitions about Jesus is one thing; to know he is Messiah and Lord is another. To know and be able to intelligently discuss the ‘truth claims’ of the Christian religion is one thing (although it is an increasingly rare thing in our age of religious illiteracy, frankly); to know Jesus is another.And this knowing of Jesus is no small thing. After all, do we really ‘know’ Jesus? In what sense? We’re talking about God here, after all, assuming the Christian faith is true. We know him, yes, but this knowing is not some brash confident certainty. It is, rather, a plunge into deep mystery, really a commitment to a lifelong journey of faith, of ever-deepening knowledge, but a deepening of knowledge that many times feels like a plunge into darkness and confusion. I often feel like I ‘know’ much less about the Lord than I did twenty years ago, and I fully expect to feel the same twenty years from now.
Pope Benedict here summons us to embark on this journey, the path of discipleship. The movement from the head to the heart it is sometimes called, from knowing about Jesus to a living relationship with Him which plunges out life into an adventure, a mystery, a perilous voyage into the heart of God which leads us into the hearts of men. It is the way of the Cross, true, but this itself is the deepest intimacy of knowing Christ. The cross is the marriage bed of Christ, as Catherine loved to repeat. And it is this nuptial union which alone brings us into the fullness of divine life which we are destined to share with Him.