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The Word Embodied

Meditations on the Sunday Scriptures
12th Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 19, 2016
John Kavanaugh, SJ

Profession of Faith

“But you: who do you say that I am?”

Peter’s profession of faith—“You are the Christ of God”—has often been examined in terms of his own vocation: his calling, his primacy among the apostles, his later failure, and his loving encounter with the Risen Lord.

Considerable attention has also been given to the texts following this event: the first prophecy of Jesus’ Passion and the costs of our own discipleship in following him.

What is less often investigated is the reality presumed by Jesus’ question. His words reveal something startling about God. They also reveal something wondrous about us.

  “But you. Who do you say that I am?” This, much more than the opinions of the crowd, is Jesus’ central interest. He is pre-eminently concerned with the judgment and affirmation of the individual person standing before him. Thus, if we take Peter to be a representation of each of us believers, it becomes clear that what Christ wants of us is our own unique affirmation. No one else can offer our act of assent. All of us have our own hearts to give freely away. This is what God seems to cherish most about us.

When Christ asks each of us, “Who do you say that I am?” he exposes the extraordinary character of our being. We persons are able to know our own relationship to the world, to possess it, and then to confer it upon others.

Text Box:  When Christ asks each of us, “Who do you say that I am?” he exposes the extraordinary character of our being.We have an awesome capacity to take hold of our own lives and give them away. In this matter, no one can ever take our place. Only we can utter our fundamental word. Only we can speak for ourselves. Thus, in responding to his question, we discover why each of us is irreplaceable and incomparable. At the same time, we discover our unity as persons: all of us humans are equal in the spiritual grant of freedom. The self-gift of a poor, old, broken-down priest is as valuable to God as the affirmation of any nation’s leader.

  “Who do you say I am?” In our response, being Jew, Greek, black or white, slave or free, old or young, male or female is not significant. What is significant is our freedom, that gift which images most fully our godliness.

We imagine that our foremost task in life is somehow to make a difference, to have done something that no one else could possibly have done, to be irreplaceable. But the only difference we really make in this world, the only thing we can do that no one else can do, is take ownership of our lives and give them away.

This we do in our commitments, in our promises. “I give myself to you in faith.” “I believe in you.” “I entrust myself to you in hope.” “I hope in you.” “I say ‘yes’ to you in love.” “This is who I say you are.”

Each of these unforced commitments is strangely an emptying out, a giving away, a bestowal we make. But in them we discover, too, who and what we are. We find ourselves only when we learn to love, to believe, to hope. We achieve our being only when we no longer cling to it.

  “Whosoever of you would cling to your life, will lose it; whosoever lets go of it for my sake will save it.”

John Kavanaugh, SJ

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Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at
St. Louis University in St. Louis. His untimely death is a grief for the many people he reached during his lifetime.
Copyright © 1998 by John F. Kavanaugh. All rights reserved.
Used by permission from Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 10545-0308
The Word Encountered: Meditations on the Sunday Scriptures
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York (1996), pp. 78-79.
Art by Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C).
Used by permission of Liturgy Training Publications. This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go to: