DEFINING OURSELVES (Mt 16:13-20): Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (24 August 2008)

DEFINING OURSELVES (Mt 16:13-20):  Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (24 August 2008)

Today’s Readings

The other day a friend sent me a link to a site called “Yearbook Yourself!”  The moment I got to the site, an animated yearbook appeared before me and began to flip its pages.  I was instructed to upload a photo, and once I had done that, a series of years appeared below my picture.  It turned out that selecting a year would adapt your picture for that year: You would be furnished the haircut for the era as the appropriate music played in the background.  I went through the years and watched myself change, looking strangely cleancut in the 60’s and sporting a ridiculous afro in the 70’s, among others.  It was fun, for whatever it was worth.

Anyway, I mention that because our Lord’s question to his disciples in today’s gospel reminds me of yearbooks.  “Who do people say that I am?” he asks his disciples.  Isn’t that what yearbook write-ups are all about?  People end up with all sorts of write-ups–from the most inane cliches like “class clown” or “the person most likely to succeed” to exaggerated descriptions that praise the person to high heavens and even to outright putdowns that make you wonder how the write-up even saw the light of day.

But no one really remembers what these write-ups say because very few make it a habit to flip through the pages of their yearbooks.  If ever, we do that only when a reunion is coming up just to make sure we remember the names of our former classmates.

Anyway, I think our Lord may as well have requested for a yearbook write-up in today’s gospel.  When he asks about what people are claiming about him, he gets all sorts of answers too.  The one answer that he approves of is the one provided by Simon Peter:  “You are the Messiah, the Son of God!”  But the Lord knows that what will ultimately define him is not so much what others claim about him–not even if this is revealed by his Father–but the way he actually lives his life.

I think the gospel today invites us to ask the same question that the Lord has asked his disciples: “Who do people say that we are?” And like the Lord, let’s sort through all the possible answers we can get and name the answer  that we like best.  In other words, what do we want people to say that we are?  As our Lord has shown us, however, the best way to answer these questions is the way we live our lives. More than words, it is our decisions and actions–even and especially in the ordinary everyday things we do–that will provide the enduring answer to these questions.

Last Thursday, August 21st, we remembered Ninoy Aquino, a man who defined himself and the Philippines not just through his words but through his actions.  He declared that “the Filipinos are worth dying for” and came home to do just that.

I didn’t realize it has been 25 years since that day when the news of his assassination shocked the country and sparked a furor that led to protests and marches, culminating in the 1986 People Power Revolution that overthrew a 20-year old dictatorship and installed his widow, Cory Aquino, as the President of a liberated republic.

To honor his memory, a simple but powerful campaign called “I am Ninoy” was launched last Thursday.  A short  TV commercial, which I found on YouTube, features the faces of many different young Filipinos.  With Ninoy’s signature oversized eyeglasses superimposed on their faces, one after the other they define themselves as heroes, making the following declaration:

I am a Hero.
I do what I believe is right.
I do what I believe is good.
I fight for justice.
I fight for freedom.
I am a hero.
In a big way, in a small way.
In my own way.
I am a hero
I am Ninoy.

These are moving lines–lines we need to hear and to say to ourselves especially in the midst of all the country’s troubles.  Maybe contrary to what we’re tempted to think, there will still be changes if more of us define ourselves as heroes and begin looking at our people through the eyes of Ninoy.

As the Lord has shown us, and as Ninoy has done as well, what we do with our lives will define who we are–and that beats any yearbook write-up.

Here’s a Quick Question for you:  Who do people say that you are?  What do youwant people to say that you are?  And what are you going to do about that?

Note:  Watch the “i.am.ninoy” campaign. Check out their website.

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