One night the nineteenth century essayist Charles Lamb and his dinner guests were chatting about William Shakespeare over Madeira port and Cuban cigars. “Supposing,” one guest asked Lamb, “that Shakespeare were to stroll into our dining room at this moment.” Charles Lamb replied, “We would raise a glass of port to the great man.” “But suppose,” said another guest, “that Jesus were to come here.” Lamb answered, “We would get down on our knees.” There is all the difference in the universe between the Man from Nazareth and great people you can think of. In his reply Lamb recognized that Jesus Christ is God and all others, no matter what their deeds, are but “poor players” on the stage of history.
Jesus had taken his apostles to Caesarea Philippi, away from the crowds and the religious leaders who were plotting to kill him. He was entering the final stage of his ministry and he had set his face toward Jerusalem. He had much to teach the apostles to prepare them for the scandal of the cross.
So, he began to ask them questions that would lead them to the heart of the matter, “Who do people say I am?” The responses came quickly. “Some say that you have the spirit of John the Baptist within you. Others say that you are Elijah and that you have come back to earth to bring the end of times.” These were all answers that compared Jesus to the prophets of ages passed. But even as they gave their answers the apostles sensed the inadequacy of their responses. As Pope Benedict once said in homily on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul , “Listening to him preach, seeing him heal the sick, evangelize the lowly and the poor and reconcile sinners, little by little the disciples came to realize that he was the Messiah in the most exalted sense of the word, that is, not only a man sent by God, but God himself made man.”
When they fell silent Jesus asked, “And you? Who do you say that I am?” Now there was no hiding behind the opinions of others. Now each of them had come eyeball to eyeball with Jesus and they knew they must answer, each for himself. Peter was the first. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This was not an answer from a catechism; this was an answer straight from Peter’s heart. It was not something that anyone had said before, it was a truth profoundly new and unique. It was not an answer that Peter thought up on his own; it was a response prompted by the Holy Spirit.
To each baptized person, Jesus leans over and whispers, “But YOU…who do YOU say I am?” That question will never go away. Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, assassinated in 1980 while defending Jesus in the poor of El Salvador, said eloquently: “Christianity is not a collection of truths to be believed or laws to be obeyed. Rather, Christianity is a person. Christianity is Christ.”
Very soon our young candidates for Confirmation will begin a special time. They will walk toward the opportunity of making a personal decision to follow Christ in our Catholic way of life. No one can or should make this decision for them, for it is Christ himself who asks each of them the same question he asked the apostles, “But YOU…who do YOU say I am?” Now it is their turn to step up to the plate and take a swing. I ask you to pray for them that they will hear the question in the depths of their heart and answer it with prayerful integrity. Pray that they will make Peter’s answer their own: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”