WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?, JESUS ASKED HIS DISCIPLES. When the apostle, Peter, answered this question correctly, our Lord rejoiced in the Spirit. His question was intended as a test, an examination in the school of Christ, as it were. That Peter, who spoke for the other apostles, promptly gave the proper reply was a clear indication that he was attuned to the action of the same Spirit who was his own guide and bond with the Father. "Blessed are you, Bar Jonah, for it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven." Knowing that those he had chosen to accompany him recognized his unique relation with the Father, assured him they would be capable of collaborating with him in the mission assigned him by the Father. For the primary and indispensable condition for associating with our Lord and cooperating in his redemptive work is to recognize him as truly the Son of God.
St. Paul's commission as an apostle of Christ began similarly with a divine revelation of the identity of the Lord Jesus, though, to be sure, under very different circumstances. Paul himself reports the events surrounding his recognition of Jesus as the Lord of glory and his appointment as apostle to the gentiles. Felled to the ground by a brilliant light from heaven and hearing a reproachful voice addressing him by name his first need is to know who it is who breaks into his life with such awe-inspiring power.
"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" I answered: "Lord, who are you?" He said to me: "I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting."... I said" Lord, what am I to do?" (Acts 22: 7, 8... 10)
Just as Jesus told Peter that he would assign to him the charge of leading his Church once the apostle recognized his master's true identity, so also Paul's task was given to him only after Jesus revealed himself as the glorified Lord. The apostles' mission thus grows out of their loving knowledge of the person of Jesus, the Son of the living God. Their work, indeed their whole life, was to follow from this surpassing knowledge of Christ which became the basis of all their dealing with others. As St. Bernard well understood, they were given to the whole Church to teach us not only what Christ revealed and taught but also how to live as he himself had put into practice the things willed by the Father.
There are our teachers who leaned more fully the ways of life from the teacher of all, and they teach us even at the present time. What is it that the holy apostles taught and teach us? Not the art of fishing or tent-making or anything of this sort; not to read Plato or pour over the subtle insights of Aristotle, not always to study and never arrive at the knowledge of truth. They have taught me how to live. Do you think it a small thing to know how to live?. A great thing it is; indeed, the greatest of all achievements. He does not live who is puffed up with pride, who is defiled with luxury and infected with other diseased practices, for this is not to live but to confound life and to draw near the gates of death. I conceive that the good life is to suffer evils and to do good and thus to persevere until death. (In Festo Petri et Pauli Sermo II.5 PL 183: 407)
Life is an art to be learned. More than any other art it is not mastered easily. Hippocrates already observed that "Life is short, art is long, opportunity fleeting, experience misleading, judgment is difficult." (Hippocrates, Aphorisms I . vol. IV, 99 Loeb ed.) Both Peter and Paul learned this art of life which they continue to teach, not by strenuous human effort alone, but through looking upon the risen Lord Jesus and accepting him as their Savior. It was in the contemplation of the light shining on the face of the glorified Christ that each of these apostles found the motive and the grace to struggle so courageously to come to understand the true meaning of life. By sharing in the cross of their Lord. they learned how to remain united with the Savior while enduring the suffering that accompanied their vocation to witness to the truth of the Gospel.
There is no other way of practicing this art of life than the daily taking up of the cross and adhering to the one who gives true life to his followers. The Syriac translators of the Greek New Testament were inspired when they translated the word "Soter" (Savior) with the word "machyana" that means literally: "the One who gives life". He brings us an increment of his divine life here at this Eucharist through the words of his apostles and above all in the sacrament of his risen body and blood. May we take his words to heart and live by them, and as we receive him in communion may we experience the power of his resurrection and the joy that accompanies the grace he won for us through the suffering and death of his cross.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
© Abbey of the Genesee
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