Opinion

Reflections of a Mission-focused African Catholic Priest, Fr. Peter Konteh

THE QUESTION OF QUESTIONS

“But who do you say that I am?” This question resonates in the heart of a young person struggling with concupiscence and the glamour of sin. It’s a question that whispers in the minds of a couple striving to keep the right balance in their relationship. The question is pondered by the widow or single mum struggling to provide for her young children, not knowing where the next meal will come from. It is a question contemplated by the public servant faced with the challenge of serving with integrity even as everyone else seems to be stealing with impunity. The same question bothers the mind of a priest or religious struggling with the demands of his/her vocation. We all need to answer this question in our everyday decisions, if we are to have the right relationship with the Lord.

To be clear, this question is not indicative of an identity crisis on the part of Jesus, but was rather meant to check whether his closest disciples knew that he was the promised Messiah. Surely, Jesus knew who he was as Scripture tells us that even at the age of twelve, he referred to the Temple as, “my Father’s house” (Luke 2:49). Elsewhere, he asserts his divinity by saying that: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). So, there is no question about him not knowing who he was.

“But who do you say that I am?” Some of us see Jesus as a contractor, and so they cultivate a give-and-take mindset in their faith journey. When life is good they praise the Lord but when difficult moments arise, like sickness or death in the family, they start to grumble that God has let them down, and such questions arise as to why God would let them suffer. We’ve all heard statements like: “Why am I still unmarried? Why am I still without a child? Why did God let my wife die? Why am I still without a job after many years of graduation? I go to Mass every day and do a lot of good works in the parish, so why is all this happening to me? This surely calls for self-examination by everyone!

Further, some of us take Jesus to be a hit man who will help them deal with their enemies. We are familiar with expressions like: “God will punish them” or “Holy Ghost fire consume them”. Next, there are some who see Jesus as a politician that promises to build bridges where there are no rivers. When someone brings stolen money as offering to church asking for a blessing, he/she is asking for a bridge where there is no river. When we invite the priest to come and bless a house or car that was acquired fraudulently, we are asking for a bridge where there is no river. It is also a scandal when the Church knowingly accepts endowments from people of questionable character. Sure, Holy Scripture is emphatic that God cannot be deceived!

“Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers correctly that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed of God. The Lord then affirms Peter’s answer as being inspired by the heavenly Father. Jesus is Messiah and Son of God! He is not just a superhuman being; he is God – eternal, glorious, completely perfect. He is infinitely greater than we could ever imagine. His love is greater than human love multiplied a thousand times. Jesus is the perfect expression of God’s love, power and might. When we understand it that way it becomes much easier for us to stay faithful to him always, knowing that our final vindication will surely come in the fullness of time.

Reverend Father Peter Konteh, right, meets with Pope Francis in Rome

When we acknowledge Jesus for who he really is, we learn to follow him not because we want a payback from him but rather in appreciation of what he has done for us. St Paul states clearly that, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Acknowledging Jesus as the Christ implies that we keep his commands and embrace the Cross, following his example. It means we should never hide under the banner of social expediency or political correctness to deny or reject the moral imperatives of our Christian Faith. When we project a spirituality lacking in sacrifice – an Easter without a Good Friday- or when we lapse into moral relativism (denying the reality of objective moral principles), we become an obstacle in the Way of the Cross, and we are denying the identity of Christ.

Also, my dear friends, acknowledging the messianic identity of Jesus obliges us to respect, pray for, and co-operate with the successor of Peter – the Pope. When Simon gave the inspired answer, Jesus responded by proclaiming him the rock (Peter) upon which he would build his Church. And to show Peter’s authority the Lord promised him the keys to the kingdom, implying a special kind of power. When we buy or lease an apartment or car, or check into a motel, it is only when we receive the key that we have authority over the thing. Even in civil life, we normally welcome important dignitaries by giving them a big symbolic key to the city – making them honorary citizens. Thus, by offering Peter the key to his kingdom, Christ was endowing the Pope with special powers to shepherd his Church.

Therefore, it is imperative that everyone who believes that Christ founded his Church on the Rock of Peter should pay allegiance to the successor of Peter. Accordingly, we are invited to support and pray for the Pope, and our bishops, that they may mirror the image of the Good Shepherd who did “not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). We should also pray for those who struggle to accept the leadership of the Pope and the Teaching Authority of the Church; that the Lord may help them to come on board.

May the Lord help us individually with the wisdom to answer the crucial question: “Who do you say that I am?” Amen!

Globe Afrique’s Note:

Fr. Peter Konteh is executive director/CEO of Caritas Freetown, a Catholic development, humanitarian relief and social justice advocacy organization in Sierra Leone, West Africa; and vice president of Caritas Africa. Fr. Konteh, with the support and guidance of His Grace, Edward Tamba Charles, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Freetown, has been leading massive relief and rebuilding efforts of victims of the Sierra Leone’s deadly mudslide, those suffering from acute poverty, and the effects of the country’s decade long civil conflict which ended a few years ago.

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