Reflection on the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel speaks of a moment in the life of Jesus when, in response to Peter’s recognition of Jesus’ identity as Son of God, Jesus pronounces Peter to be “the rock” on which Jesus will build his church. We might be aware that this passage has been a source of contention between Protestants and Catholics at some points in history — the Catholics wanting the meaning to point to the primacy of Peter — which melded into papacy, and the Protestants on Peter’s identifying Jesus as Son of God. Each claimed to have Jesus’ true meaning in the words. Maybe they’re both right. I don’t know whether that is still alive as a question between Protestants and Catholics.
What struck me, though, was not the meaning of Jesus’ declaration, but the relationship between Jesus and Peter: What Jesus was doing was identifying what we might call Peter’s charism, something that characterized Peter’s personality, his special gift: you are rock! What might it mean? —determination, stubbornness, dependability, faithfulness, someone who could go through heavy duty and come out smiling, someone you could always count on. How does “rock” identify Peter?
And as I was thinking about that, I began to wonder whether God might have a name for each of us, have given each of us a special gift, a charism that came to us at birth or with baptism; maybe it becomes a nickname, “the boss,” ‘Sweetie,” “pal” — something that names the relationship in a special, maybe intimate way, a certain energy that can sometimes be identified, God, who is still, now, holding each of us in being. Imagine if we could dissolve each other into energy, it would have a certain “feel” that becomes a personality, a character, a style. God sees and knows each of us in that way, holds us in being like that.
And each of us blobs of energy bears a gift, something within this creation that is to be given expression, each completely idiosyncratic, no two alike, each with a purpose, held in being here to be just this. Only you. Only you can play the role, do this particular service, offer this particular gift. No one can play any other’s role. Each has a particularity: Our purpose is to be our deepest self, and this self has its own specific calling. The task is for each of us to discern what is ours to do, and not to try to do what is not ours to do. For this we will need friends who help us recognize in ourselves what is given, as Jesus was naming for Peter how his own characteristic gifts were to be put in the service of the reign of God.
So charisms, callings, did not stop with Peter. Each of us has our own gifts, our own energies that seek to find their role in continuing Jesus’ mission. But when we think of our present situation, how the virus has been killing lives and disrupting societies across the globe, we can’t even imagine how societies, how lives, are being changed and how survivors will be challenged. What will have to be unlearned, re-learned or learned anew in societies across the globe! I have heard about a new religion that is sweeping this country — if I heard correctly — turning values upside-down and demeaning present forms of Christian (and perhaps other) faiths. Survivors – and we now – will have to live deep into their (our) faith, their courage, their hope. We had better start now. May all of us be drawn always deeper into God’s love, faithful to the charism with which God has blessed each of us.