Word Alive: Who is Jesus Christ in these challenging times?

Ken Canedo

August 21, 2020
Detail of Christ Triumphing over Death and Sin by Peter Paul Rubens (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Who is Jesus Christ in these challenging times?

A reflection for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

by Ken Canedo

 
More than twenty weeks have passed since my community went into lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I haven’t been to my office in all this time and, like so many workplaces, we have conducted our meetings and tasks with ZOOM-like zeal.
We stopped gathering for Mass at my parish while priests and staff took a crash course in television production to conduct livestream liturgy. Is there any better way to learn how to swim than by being thrown into the pool?  Slowly, as restrictions were lifted, our parishioners were allowed to return to Sunday Mass, but only 25 at a time. We stretched out First Communion over several liturgies in May. I played piano at each liturgy, and after the final Mass I had to go to my car in the church parking lot and have a good cry. They were tears of emotional release. First Communion is supposed to be the happiest day for a Catholic child, but these kids had to come to the altar wearing masks along with their white silk gowns and white shirts and ties. Even so, I could see the joy in their shining eyes.
Many friends were looking forward to graduation and all the festivities leading up to it. They had to resort to drive-in diploma ceremonies and other creative alternatives. I marveled at their youthful enthusiasm, despite the disappointments.
My brother became very sick and needed surgery, and for a time we feared he may have contracted the virus. I asked for prayers from my friends worldwide and had many sleepless nights of worry. But my brother recovered, and my family thanked our friends and our God for their love and support.
George Floyd was killed at the hands of police brutality, and cities burned in response as protestors called for change in the systemic racism that still permeates our institutions.
Politics are now truly extreme. Social media is a gutter of negativity as everyone talks while nobody listens. The meanness and lack of compassion have driven me off Facebook. I find myself more easily irritated, and my fuse is shorter. My emotions run quickly between peaks and valleys. I have trouble answering the simple question, “How are you?”
A lot of people have lost their jobs. Friends or their relatives have died from COVID. Many could not be with their loved ones at time of death, and they were unable to even have a funeral.
So much in our world has changed so fast. Such is life in the year of our Lord 2020.
In the year of our Lord. We reckon our calendar around what is considered the pivotal turning point in time, the birth of Jesus Christ. Events are either Before Christ (BC) or Anno Domini (AD, “the year of our Lord”). All of which begs the question that is posed in today’s Gospel from Matthew 16:13-20: Who is Jesus Christ?
We get a lot of information about Jesus from various sources: the Church and sacred Scripture, family and friends, television evangelists, the Internet, even rock operas and Broadway musicals. There does seem to be a basic general acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as an iconic person in human history, as a wise philosopher who influenced the course of Western civilization through his teachings and the zealous work of his followers. But Jesus is so much more.
Notice how Jesus turns the question around to his disciples, and to us: “Who do YOU say that I am?” Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In the very next verse, Jesus calls Peter the “rock” of the Church. His confession of faith is in the name of the Church.
Who do I say that Jesus is? Can I respond like Peter? Do I truly believe that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed, that is, chosen of God? Do I believe that Jesus is God’s Son, and that this God is a living God? Especially in this year of our Lord 2020?
These days, I think our faith is being put to the test. Many people have experienced hardships and sorrows that make my litany of woes look lightweight in comparison. Through all that we have endured and will continue to endure, can we still say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God?” In our trials and uncertainties, Jesus is there, holding us up personally and in our community of faith, the Church. Even in the face of death, Jesus is with us. The living God can be found in the midst of our bleakest circumstances. Little things, like the shining eyes of a child, the prayers of friends, or forgiveness, can emerge out of the blue and bring great joy.
Many of us missed the Easter Vigil this year. One of my favorite prayers from the Vigil liturgy is said by the priest when he traces a cross on the Easter candle with a stylus:
Christ yesterday and today,
the Beginning and the End,
the Alpha and the Omega.
All time belongs to him,
and all the ages.
To him be glory and power,
through every age and forever. Amen.

The readings for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, are
Isaiah 22:19-23
Romans 11:33-36
Matthew 16:13-20


Ken Canedo is an author and composer whose liturgical music has been published in various hymnals and missals since 1978. His articles have appeared in Today’s Liturgy and Ministry & Liturgy. He is the author of two books on the history of contemporary Catholic music: Keep the Fire Burning and From Mountains High. He works at OCP as a Music Development Specialist, and he is longtime pastoral musician at Holy Trinity Church in Beaverton, Oregon.
 
 

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