Deacon Greg Maskarinec’s Homily from September 16th – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
When I think back to teachers in high school, my math teacher Mr. Pickens comes to mind. He was an “old man”, probably younger then I am today! He stressed discipline in learning and emphasized the basics of algebra, trigonometry, and geometry. He put us on the spot by asking us questions and ordering us up to the black board to solve problems in front of the class. I didn’t always enjoy his class, but I came to appreciate all that I had learned from him. I regret not going back to high school and thanking him for all that he taught me, specifically about math and more generally about discipline when learning a new subject. But I give witness to him in word and action by speaking about him, as I am right now, by using the skills and knowledge I learned from him and by passing it on to others.
Today on Catechetical Sunday it’s natural to think of teachers who have helped shape us. The theme of Catechetical Sunday this year is “Enlisting Witnesses for Jesus Christ”. Last week many of the prep teachers were commissioned for their ministry, and today after the Creed other catechists here at MDP will be called forward. A catechist is a teacher of the principles of our Catholic faith. Without catechists the transmission of our Catholic faith would not occur. Did you know that in the Sacrament of Confirmation each and every one of us is called to be a public witness to our Catholic faith? To be a public witness means showing that we are a disciple of Jesus by how we live. And while it doesn’t always entail a systematic teaching of the faith, it’s difficult to imagine that we could be effective witnesses without being able to teach what we believe. Yes, every one of us should strive to be a catechist in the circumstances of our lives! Imagine what the world would be like without tradesman, health professionals, musicians, accountants, lawyers d other workers who did not want or were not able to pass on their knowledge. There’d be no progress because we’d be starting from scratch all the time. The same can be said about our Catholic faith.
In today’s Gospel we encounter the catechist par excellence….Jesus. And as all good teachers, Jesus often questioned his disciples when teaching them. The question Jesus asked Peter in today’s Gospel, Jesus asks of each and every one of us. “WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?” Or in light of Peter’s response, “DO YOU BELIEE THAT I AM THE CHRIST, THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD?” Our answer to this question is important because it determines the fate of our lives. But our answer isn’t given solely by our words as James says in today’s second reading, “So also faith us itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Our answer is reflected by both our words and actions. Through his words Peter acknowledged that Jesus was the long-awaited Savior. But Peter wasn’t willing to act and allow Jesus to suffer and die for him, nor did he realize that as Jesus’ disciple he himself would have to pick up his cross and follow Him. If we have both faith and works we will believe that Jesus suffered and died for our sins and we will pick up our cross and follow Him.
The cross is different for each of us and specific to our own circumstances. But there is no doubt that during this time in the Church all of our crosses have some of the same wood in them…the wood of the current sex abuse scandal. Some carry this wood of the cross because they are victims of the abuse; some because they are perpetrators of the abuse; some because they allowed such abuse to happen; some because they are indifferent to Jesus’ teaching on sexuality; and some because as Saint Paul said to the Corinthians, “God has so constructed the body so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.” We must persevere in faith, professing with our words that Jesus is our Savior and be willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus.
On this Catechetical Sunday I urge you to find someplace quiet where you can be alone and begin with the words of Isaiah in today’s first reading, “Lord God open my ear that I may hear.” Then ponder Jesus’ question, “WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?” And after that question is answered, take time to review your actions to see whether they are consistent with the person you profess Jesus to be. Maybe you’ll come to the conclusion that you need to learn more about the Catholic faith that you profess. We have Adult Faith Formation programs to help fill in the gaps. Or maybe you’ll realize that faith isn’t an issue for you, but living out your faith by carrying your cross is the challenge. Daily prayer, frequent confession and Holy Communion will help with that. Or maybe you’ll come to the conclusion that both faith and works are fairly well established in your life. Maybe becoming a catechist is the next step that the Lord is calling you to take.
Wherever we are on our journey of faith in these difficult times, let us not be ashamed to have gone to, in the words of Pope St. Leo the Great, “the school of truth, Catholicism,” for we have the Lord Jesus as our teacher…the teacher par excellence!