Sunday, August 27, 2023

Beyond The Blindfolds

CHIJ Alumni Association Pre-Exam Mass 2023

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Isaiah 22:19-23; Psalm 137 (138):1-3, 6, 8; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20

Picture: By Valentin Fernandez on Unsplash

My dear friends, do you know who Julia Roberts is? How about George Clooney? As you may have heard, apart from being famous actors, they also happen to be close friends of each other. About a year ago, their friendship was put to a light-hearted test, when they both appeared on a talkshow together. Julia was blindfolded, and asked to identify George from out of a line-up of several men, just by feeling their faces with her hands. Somehow she managed to do it.

To know someone well enough to be able to recognise him or her even through a blindfold. This, I believe, is something like what Jesus is training Peter and the other disciples to do, in the gospel today. To see this, we need first to realise that we’ve reached an important turning point in the gospel. Till now, the Lord has been fruitfully ministering to great crowds of people. But even as his popularity has been growing, so too has opposition from the religious authorities. And now, his focus begins to shift, away from the crowds, to his own disciples. He starts telling them, repeatedly, that he will soon have to suffer and die, before being raised. In other words, the Cross will soon become something like a blindfold, cruelly covering the disciples’ eyes, making it difficult for them to recognise and follow Jesus. How will they learn to persevere?

The two questions that Jesus poses mark an important step in their journey. Who do people say the Son of Man is? This first query seeks information, or results. It’s the kind of question that can be answered by conducting a Google search, or an online poll. The second question is very different. But you, who do you say I am? This isn’t a request for information, but an offer of friendship. A call to deeper, more intimate, relationship. And not just any relationship, but the most significant one possible. The one that brings with it the keys to God’s kingdom. Granting access to that place where true gladness is found. For, as St Paul asks rhetorically,  who could ever know the mind of God? Nobody, except the One who comes to uncover God’s face to us.

All of which may help us better appreciate why we are here this evening. On the one hand, a Pre-Exam Mass can simply be an occasion to pray, for retentive minds and good results. And to calm anxious hearts, of students as well as parents and teachers alike. These are valid reasons to offer a Mass. But could there be another reason? Doesn’t the stress of major exams often become for us something like a blindfold? Preventing us from recognising the presence and action of Christ in our lives here and now? If so, by coming together to pray, we humbly receive the training Jesus offers us. Enabling us to better recognise and respond to his call. Not just in the coming exams, but also in the various trials that life may throw in our path in the days and years ahead.

Sisters and brothers, like major exams in the life of a student, blindfolds are an unavoidable part of the life of a Christian. What must we do to keep helping one another persevere in recognising and following the Lord through them all?

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