Skip To Main Content

Mobile Nav

President's Mass
  • Ministry
On August 27, 2023, Georgetown Prep held the President's Mass and Reception to kick off the school year. President Rev. James Van Dyke, S.J. presided and gave the following homily:

But you…who do you say that I am?
 – Matthew 16:15

It’s strange, isn’t it, that words, and particularly names, have so much power.  Just think about how hard it is to be somewhere where you know no one.  Having worked at many different schools, which means also that I have had to learn names again and again and again, I can tell you: one of the worst experiences in the world – one of the loneliest –is when you can’t quite talk with anyone because you have no idea who anyone is.

And think about how good it is when someone does know you – the isolation is shattered the moment someone addresses you by name.  Suddenly you’re not alone.  Suddenly someone knows who you are.  Or when you pick up the phone, and the person on the other end – maybe your mom or your dad, your best friend or your grandmother – you hear that person say your name in the way that only that person can say it.  How even from thousands of miles away, you feel the warmth, the love.

True story: when I was in my first year down in Charlottesville, I met a guy who was in a few of my classes and who generally ate lunch the same time as I did.  His name was Anthony Mancini, and he seemed like a nice guy.  And every time I saw him after that we chatted, frequently walking back to our dorm together.  But he always looked at me funny when I greeted him.  “Tony,” I’d say, “how’s it going?”  He get this strange look on his face, and then respond “Okay, Jim.  How about you?”  And then we’d talk.

Well, this went on for quite a while – several months I think – until a bunch of us went out one Saturday night.  It was a great evening – stories, jokes, the whole ball of wax.  Finally Tony got up to leave; “See you later, Tony,” I said.  And one of my other friends leaned over to me and said, “Jim, did you know that Tony’s name is actually Andrew?”
The really funny thing is that the next day I ran into him as I was leaving the dorm.  “Mornin’, Andrew,” I said, and he looked at me funny again.  “Geez,” he said, I was sorta getting used to being Tony.”

Funny story aside, how we name things makes all the difference in the world, and that’s partly what the reading we just heard is about.  Jesus’s disciples have been with him for quite some time.  They’ve heard him preach, watched him feed people, watched him cure sick people –even lepers, sat with him at table, seen how he treats sinners – even prostitutes and tax collectors, and walked with him along the dusty roads of the Holy Land.  He has entrusted them with his work, even sent them out on mission to cure the sick, to expel demons, and to announce the Kingdom of God.  The people say he is a rabbi, a wonderworker, a prophet, maybe even one of the prophets of old come back to life.  But then he asks them: But you…who do you say that I am?

We know the story: Peter gets it right; You are the Christ, the Son of the living God he says.  Of course he has no idea what that really means, what it will come to mean when Jesus goes to Jerusalem.  But something in his experience – all the time he has spent with Jesus, what he has seen and heard, and especially how Jesus has treated him and his friends, how Jesus treats people who are sometimes very weak and foolish – something tells him that Jesus is more than just another guy.  And he has the courage to say it: You…you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And though Peter doesn’t know the rest of the story yet, we do.  We know that the reality of who Jesus is for Peter will shape the rest of his life, from his proud brag that he will die with Jesus at the Last Supper to his humble reconciliation with Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, from his courageous preaching on the morning of Pentecost to his crucifixion in Nero’s Circus, in the shadow of what is now St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

How we name things makes all the difference in the world, perhaps not to the world, but certainly to us.  And that is why what we undertake here at Prep is so critical and why this reading is so important to what we do.  It’s not about just about knowing things, or points scored, or tests passed, or pieces played, or races won, or colleges gotten into.  If it is just that, then we are all failing miserably in our mission.  No it must be about more.  It is about having the courage to name things, about the humility to call our failures what they are and to admit that our successes are supported by all the people who love and support us, about the will to be not just out for ourselves but to try truly and with all our might to be men and women for and with others.  It is about having the audacity to be more than just a school, but rather to be a community even a family for one another, to accept the call to the brotherhood that Ignatius challenges us to.  Finally it is about the courage to recognize our God as he enters our lives through the love of our family and friends and to return that love generously.

We live in a world where sadly names are too often called not with love, but with spite and malice and hatred.  And our job – the calling we have been given by our gathering as Georgetown Prep, the vocation we have been given by our Jesuit heritage, the charge we have been given by Jesus himself, is to speak a different word into our world.  Not words of spite and malice and hatred, but a word of healing and affection, of reverence and brotherhood.  A word of gratitude.  A word of love.  

Like Peter, we are called to be rock on which Jesus continues to build his Church, solid in our faith and in our hope and especially in love even in the face of the challenges of life, even in the face of our own weakness, even in the face of our own failures.  Because when we love – when we love like the men and women we are called to be – we break the gates of the hell so many people in our world live behind – gates of isolation and loneliness, gates of poverty and sickness, gates of sadness and despair, gates of ignorance and lack of opportunity.  And we too, like Peter will finally and forever, find who Jesus is – who God really is.  

Now that all sounds lovely and inspirational, doesn’t it?  But it’s not, and here I conclude with a poem attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the former Superior General of the Society of Jesus:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, 
that is, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

My brothers and sisters, that’s what Peter knew, that’s what moved him.  And it can move us too, take us to the future that God in his love has prepared for us, for each of us, for all of us together.