Language is fascinating. How and where one stresses a particular syllable, a particular word or a phrase may subtly, or not so subtly, affect the meaning and interpretation of what is being said. Tone of voice heavily influences the emotional impact on the listeners. Psychiatrists pay particular attention to the characteristics of a patient's speech, volume, rate, rhythm, prosody, grammar and so on, at each visit. Those factors may be enough to make a diagnosis very early on. Today's Gospel demands that we consider not only what is said but how it was said, something we obviously can't know with any certainty.
Jesus posed two questions in this Gospel reading. The first was informational; “Who do the crowds say I am?” Given the range of answers the question is a bit rhetorical. However, Jesus’ second question was—and is—anything but rhetorical. It was specific. It was personal. It demanded a concrete answer from the apostles. It demands a specific answer from each of us. And that is where the dilemma of intonation, inflection and vocal stress becomes apparent.
On this Feast of St. Ignatius make a composition of place. Where are you standing? How are you feeling? Is it cold? Is it hot? Are you annoyed with the other guys? Are you at peace?
How did Jesus ask the question?
But who do you say that I am?
How did the apostles hear it?
But who do you say that I am?
How do we hear it today?
But who do you say I am?
How will each of us answer it?
No matter what the emphasis, inflection or intonation might have been this is the most difficult question Jesus asked his apostles. It is the most difficult question He asks us. “Who do you say I am?” Everything depends on our answer.
Peter’s answer was brief and accurate. In the context of the time no further explanation was necessary. “You are the Messiah of God.” Peter’s answer contained, You are the Messiah. You are the Promised One. Our waiting has ended. And much more.
Peter’s statement was radical and courageous. Had he proclaimed the same knowledge publicly, charges of blasphemy would have quickly followed. The Church proclaims her own answer to Jesus’ question at the beginning of the Vigil Mass of Easter.
As he incises the paschal candle the priest proclaims:
"Christ yesterday and today
the beginning and the end
Alpha and Omega
all time belongs to him
and all the ages.
To him be glory and power
through every age for ever."
The beginning and the end. The Alpha and the Omega. That says it all. The Church can boldly proclaim this because those of us born since Peter’s radical confession of faith have not had to wonder. We have not had to wait. From our very conception we have lived in a world in which the promise had already been fulfilled. From the first instant of life in our mother's womb we were in the presence of the One for whom the world had waited. As men of the Society of Jesus, we rejoice in that fact today, and every day.
The following are four photos from the roof, two from St. Aloysius' College in Sydney and two from Campion Center (one of the Campion Center shots is more accurately of reflections on the roof).
The first two are obviously Sydney Harbor. 31 July 2011 was one of the great photographic experiences ever.
The next is the statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola from the roof down five stories. Five tall stories with high ceilings.
The last is the reflection of the decorative balustrade in a puddle on the roof from the previous night's rain.
And now it is back to work.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD