Msgr. Joseph Prior

Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 19)

Tom was watching his favorite television show when his young son of 6 years came into the room. “Daddy,” he said, “will you play with me?” “OK but just let me finish with my show.” The boy walked to the other room. About 10 minutes later the boy was back. “Daddy will you play with me?,” he asked again. Tom realized that this would continue so he said, “Sure, let’s do a puzzle.” He then went into the dining room and got a newspaper.

On the cover was a large photo of the world. He quickly cut out the photo, then cut it into smaller pieces. He put them on the floor and mixed them up. “Here is the puzzle son, start working on it and I’ll come and help once the show is over.” So the son went to work. Tom went back to the television.

About five minutes later the son was back. “I’m finished,” he said. The father was amazed that he finished so quickly. He walked into the dining room and there it was, the photo was put back together, the puzzle was solved. “How did you so it so fast?” Tom asked his son. “It was easy, Daddy. On the back of the world was a photo of a person so I put the person together, turned it over and the world came together.”

Sometimes our world seems to be broken and fragmented, like the pieces of the puzzle. The tragedies last week in Orlando, the divisive nature of current politics, the wars in the Middle East and the plight of the hungry and homeless in many parts of the globe, and in our own country, are some of the things that highlight the brokenness. Many people ask themselves: “How do I make sense of this?” Some question the meaning of life. Some see darkness and despair, longing for hope, asking the question: “Where do we turn for hope?”

Perhaps the story of the young boy putting the puzzle together might give us a clue. It was a person on the other side that helped him put all the pieces in the right place so he could see the world as it is supposed to be. While our lives and our world are not puzzles, they sometimes can feel like that. Jesus is the person who helps us put all the pieces into the right place so we can see the world, its beauty and value and purpose.

Jesus delivers from worldly power but not by worldly power. The messiah empties himself in love. Through love he conquers. Through mercy he triumphs.

Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do the people say that I am?” They reply: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah still others one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” Not satisfied with the answer, He then asked them: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, speaking on their behalf, replies: “The Christ of God.” To which Jesus directs them “not to tell this to anyone.” He then continues telling them that the Son of Man must face rejection, be killed and then three days later rise.

Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, who is sent from God the Father to win life for the world. He is the one in whom and through whom the Father pours out on the world “a spirit of grace and petition.” This comes through his passion, death and resurrection as was foretold by Zechariah the prophet in the first reading for Sunday’s liturgy: “they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one morns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn.”

Yet that grief will turn to rejoicing when the world realizes that through his death comes mercy: “On that day there shall be open to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.”

His instruction to the disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Christ is based on a common understanding at that time that viewed the coming Messiah, or Christ, in terms of this world. In other words, the expectation was that the Christ would deliver them from captivity to earthly powers — in that period, the Roman Empire.

Jesus delivers from worldly power but not by worldly power. The messiah empties himself in love. Through love he conquers. Through mercy he triumphs.

Jesus is the one who gives life through the forgiveness of sin. Jesus is the one who saves lives through his victory over death. Jesus is the one who gives meaning to life as he teaches his disciples how to live. This is particularly clear in his next instruction to the disciples: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

The turmoil, tension and violence of the world has been heightened this week by the Orlando shootings. Many people feel lost as a result. Questions of life and its meaning arise. Where do we look for answers? To whom do we go for wisdom? Who do we turn to for consolation and understanding? The liturgy gives us the answer: Jesus, the Christ.


Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.