At the heart of Mark’s Gospel (today we are exactly half way through), the fundamental theme of the identity of “Jesus Christ, Son of God” (1:1; cf 15:39) comes at the forefront again. Christ has a rich and mysterious identity, which, from beginning to end, the evangelist Mark wishes to gradually reveal to his readers. Today’s text, in chapter 8, holds the passionate answer of Peter that differs from the current views of his contemporaries: the great religious figures of the past have become superseded, is Jesus of Nazareth now the Messiah, the Christ. The parallel text in Matthew (16:13-20) develops at greater length this dialogue between Jesus and Peter, with the addition of the theme of the rock, the Church, the keys… Mark, instead, in his brevity sums up Christ’s revelation in the words of Peter: “You are the Christ” (v. 29). Peter’s declaration is correct in its theological formulation, but he has, nevertheless, an inadequate and distorted understanding of it, as we can see from Christ’s reproach that immediately follows (v. 33).
At this point of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has entered a new stage: he leaves the crowds of Galilee; he wishes to give more time to his disciples’ formation and begins with the revelation of his dual identity as Messiah and suffering Servant, two realities that cannot be understood by human mind alone. Peter, with difficulty, manages to grasp the truth about Jesus as the Messiah-Christ, but he stumbles completely on the reality of the Messiah-Servant, who “was destined to suffer grievously… to be put to death and to rise again” (v. 31). Peter even appears as if he were giving a lesson to Jesus, as he reproaches him for that kind of talk (v. 32); so much so that Jesus harshly admonishes him and invites him to keep his place behind Jesus: The disciple walks behind the Master, he follows his footsteps. Regarding the theme of the cross and of suffering, Peter does not differ from the current belief, as he thinks “man’s way”. Only much later, with the coming of the Spirit, he will be able to reason in the way of God (v. 33).
“The way you think is not God’s way but man’s”: is the severe warning of Jesus not only to Peter but to the disciples of his own time and of all times. A warning that freezes all forms of comfortable and rhetorical religiosity. An incredible invitation to follow the narrow path of humility and austerity: to stop thinking only about ourselves, but to make us available to others and to follow the path that Jesus has chosen out of love, even to the acceptance of death, so that all may have life in all its fullness (Jn 10:10). An invitation to all the baptised (whether they are ordinary faithful or people with responsibility in the community, at all levels) to collaborate, so that the Church – of which we are all equally part – may be ever more of a disciple in learning and acting according to Christ’s style; more humble, poor and sober in its exterior signs; more courageous and efficient in its choices on behalf of the weak and the least; in a word, ever more consistent with its Master and following his ways. This is how a Church that is disciple and missionary has to be, its unique boast. (*)
To take up one’s cross and to follow Christ (v. 34), to accept the evangelical wisdom and the fruitfulness of the cross only through a grace that the liturgy makes us pray for, so that we may understand that we are certain to save our life “only when we have the courage to lose it” (introductory prayer), by offering it together with that of Christ for the life of the world. It is the certainty that was sustaining the suffering Servant (1st reading): “For the Lord Yahweh will help me; therefore I have not been confounded” (v. 7).
The values of fraternity and service to the needy are inseparable from the following of Christ, as St. James (2nd reading) teaches when he warns about hypocritical and empty talks, which do not warm those who are cold or feed the hungry (v. 15-16). The authenticity of the following of Christ is proven by acts of charity. A number of saints we remember this month bears witness to this: Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta (5/9), St. Peter Claver (9/9), St. Padre Pio from Pietrelcina (23/9), St. Vincent de Paul (27/9)... Since they dared loose their life by serving the poor, for the sake of Christ and the sake of the Gospel, they have saved it (Mark 8:35). Their witness, therefore, is a clear and encouraging example to all who work in the mission today, here and anywhere else.
The Pope’s words
(*) “Those who meet Jesus, who let themselves be attracted by him and are prepared to follow him even to the point of sacrificing their lives, personally experience, as he did on the Cross, that only the «grain of wheat» that falls into the earth and dies, bears «much fruit» (Jn 12: 24). This is the path of Christ, the way of total love that overcomes death... This is the experience of God's true friends, the saints who, in the brethren, especially the poorest and neediest, recognized and loved the Face of that God, lovingly contemplated for hours in prayer. For us they are encouraging examples to imitate”.
Pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Holy Face
in Manoppello (Chieti, Abruzzi), 1st September 2006
In the steps of Missionaries
- 13/9: St. John Chrysostom (about. 349-407), Bishop of Constantinople and Doctor of the Church. He wrote a lot and suffered much persecution. He died in exile at Cumana on the Black Sea.
- 14/9: Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, icon of the Crucified and Risen Lord, the symbol of the Paschal mystery for the salvation of all peoples.
- 15/9: Our Lady of Sorrows, intimately associated with the saving passion of Christ.
- 15/9: Bl. Paul Manna (1872-1952), a PIME Italian priest and missionary in Burmah, founder of the Pontifical Missionary Union for the spreading of the missionary spirit among Christian communities. He is celebrated also on 16 January, just before the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, which he promoted.
- 16/9: St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (Tunisia), an apologist theologian and martyr (about 200-258).
- 16/9: St. John Macías (1585-1645), a Dominican lay brother of Spanish origin who worked and died in Lima (Peru). He dedicated his life to the poor and sick.
18/9: Blessed John Baptist and Giacinto de los Angeles, married laypeople and catechists, martyred in Mexico (+1700).
Compiled by Fr. Romeo Ballan, MCCJ - Comboni Missionaries (Verona)
Translated by Fr. Henry Redaelli, MCCJ - Website: www.euntes.net “The Word for Mission”