"And you, who do you say that I am?"


Image by Noah Grezlak on unsplash.com
Image by Noah Grezlak on unsplash.com

Just recently, when I was a teenager, I used to spend a lot of time volunteering at a home for adults with severe mental disabilities - people who as a result of accident of birth or disease had brain injuries and so had the bodies of adults, but the minds of children.

And one day we took a group of them to a Safari Park. For anyone who hasn’t been, that is a kind of zoo where the animals are kept free to roam around the parkland and the visitors drive through in vehicles. It’s better for the animals because they are free to roam rather than being cooped up in cages; and also people get to see them in something like a natural habitat. So we went through the safari park in our minibus. And as we came round one corner, there, standing right by the side of the road, was a fully grown lion! Emily - still a beautiful child at the age of about 35 and a mental age of maybe 10 or 11 - had her nose right up to the window. “Paul! Paul!” she shouted, “look at the big dog! It’s as big as a house!”

I am so stupid that for about five seconds, I seriously thought about trying to explain to her that actually it’s not a big dog - it’s actually a big cat that roams around the jungles of Africa. But then I caught some sense and thought: “Oh, what’s the point? She’s not going to understand all that - let her just enjoy seeing the big dog.”

For once, it was the right decision. After that, in all the time I knew her, I don’t think she ever really stopped talking about the dog the size of a house. She named it Hector - I don’t know why. And at least a couple of times a month I would have to take her back to check on how Hector was getting along. Fortunately he was a very healthy animal, with a gentle disposition and a truly incredible appetite for sausages, which Emily, against all the rules, insisted on smuggling some in for him, claiming that “they didn’t feed him anything like enough”. After a while I think he came to enjoy Emily’s visits just as much as she did. Even lions can get used to a little unconditional love.

And I like to think that taught me something about the names we give to things - and to people. Simon, son of Jonah is not a happy man because he has found the right answer to the question and picked out the correct name, like a quiz in school. He is a happy man because he has put Jesus Christ at the centre of his life - the Christ - the Son of the living God. He has recognized the presence and goodness of God in the world and in his life.

We do not have words to describe and understand God any more than Emily had the words to describe and understand a lion. To her it will forever be Hector, the big dog that she loves to bits. And for Peter, Jesus will forever  be the Christ - the Son of the living God – the source and goal of his existence.

So, who do you say that I am?
Each of us must answer for ourselves to articulate what is personally most meaningful about the life we have in Christ.

Let us, this week profess our Faith in the source and goal of our own Existence.

Paul O'Reilly SJ