Reflection – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
For print version: Reflection – August 27, 2017
Isaiah 22.15, 19-23; Romans 11.33-36; Matthew 16.13-20
Do you sometimes feel that people with whom you live, work, or socialize try to define you, put you in a certain category? Maybe they label you as smart, or dull, maybe they ascribe certain characteristics to you because you live in the suburbs.
We all have a propensity to categorize things because we like to understand them and what we can understand is less threatening. That is what people from the times of the Gospels did to Jesus – faced with his teachings, the miracles he performed, they categorized him as one of the prophets, John the Baptist and so on. All are figures about whom they had a certain knowledge and opinions. But categorizing limits us – certainly it is harder to see reality as reality is in a given moment if we have a made-up label ready to be put on it. And if you have ever spoke with someone who had a strong opinion about you, did you feel you were in the presence of a good listener?
Who Jesus is eludes any label. Who you are cannot be defined by one either. When you observe yourself, just like that, sitting in the pew, when you notice your thoughts and emotions, think about who is doing the observing. Let’s say I caught myself thinking about a butterfly right now as I speak to you. There is a spilt: I (the first person pronoun) and me. “Me” does the thinking, the “I” becomes aware that “me” is thinking. “This is an interesting phenomenon that has never ceased to cause wonder to philosophers, mystics, and scientists that the “I” can observe “me” (…). What is the “I”? Is “I” my name? Evidently not because I can change my name without changing the “I” (…) How about my beliefs? (…) When I move from one religion to another, has the “I” changed?” We cannot put any label, any category on the “I”, the part of us that is aware of our thoughts and reactions.
Let us go back to the dialog from today’s gospel. In response to Jesus question: “who do you say I, Jesus, am”, Peter replies “Christos”, which means – the Anointed One. Notice that here Jesus is defined simply in relation to the one who anoints, presumably, God, the Creator. Peter’s answer was not a product of intellect, or the flesh and blood as Jesus calls it. It is rather an example of spiritual knowledge, the knowledge to which we have access when we drop the labels and categories, when we open ourselves to whatever we experience and let ourselves be transformed by it. In response, Jesus gives us the vision of who we are – and again we are defined in relation to each other as a church, a community that is built on the rock, the spiritual knowledge, the Holy Spirit.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk and peace activist, had a parallel simile to illustrate our interdependence and connection to the Source, the Creator. God in Thich Nhat Hanh’s vision is ocean water and we are the waves. Here is a direct quote from Thich Nhat Hanh:
“When you look at the surface of the ocean, you can see waves coming up and going down. You can describe these waves in terms of high or low, big or small, more vigorous, more beautiful or less beautiful. You can describe a wave in terms of beginning and end, birth and death. (…) Looking deeply, we can also see that the waves are at the same time water. A wave may like to seek its own nature. The wave might suffer from fear, from complexes. A wave may say: “I am not as big as the other waves” (…), “I am not as beautiful as the other waves”, “I have been born and I have to die”. The wave may suffer from these things, these ideas. But if the wave bends down and touches her true nature she will realize that she is water. Then her fear and complexes will disappear.” 
Our parish is all-welcoming – our parish is a representation, a mirror image of the Church as envisioned by Christ, a representation of the ocean from which you cannot separate a single wave. Being here gives many of us the taste of how it feels to live while being interconnected, while being dependent on each other, while being aware of the Source from whom all of us came. A person cannot experience such life with a belief that she or he is shameful, intrinsically disordered that his or her love is of lesser worth than the love of others. Sadly this is the message that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual and two-spirited persons hear in churches nowadays. We, LGBT people, are with you here in Christ, we want to know him, we want to know ourselves, just like you do. Thank you, Saint Joe’s, for welcoming us with our gifts, our love, our dignity. “The wholeness of each of us depends on our wholeness together.”
 de Mello, Anthony. 1990. Awareness. Doubleday, New York, p. 47-48
 https://m.facebook.com/Thich.Nhat.Hanh.Quotes/posts/266414296745481; also in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book: Going Home. Jesus and Buddha as Brothers.
 Belford Ulanov, Ann. 2004. Spiritual Aspects of Clinical Work. Daimon Verlag, Einsiedeln, p. 30.