In today’s first reading, Joshua challenges the people of Israel. Make up your minds once and for all, he tells them. “If you will not serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve.” It is decision time.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus puts a similar challenge to his followers. Because of his teaching about the living bread, many of his followers turned their backs on him. They found his teaching too hard to stomach. They walked away. So Jesus asks the Twelve, “Do you wish to go away too?”
This is not simply a question from history. Jesus puts it to each of us today also: “Do you wish to go away too? Are you sick of my teaching about the living bread? Are you fed up with my talk about forgiving your enemies? Are my statements about justice and honesty too much for you? Are you turned off when I take the side of the marginalised? Are you embarrassed by the cross? Is the command to turn the other cheek a little OTT?”
It’s decision time. It always is. Do you wish to go away, too? Or do you wish to stay? Either way, why? Before you answer, listen to the answers of the Israelites to Joshua and of the twelve apostles to Jesus. The Israelites say: “There is no way that we will forsake the Lord to serve other gods. Look at all God has done for us.” And Peter takes it on himself to answer for the apostles: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and we know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Pray for those you know who no longer go to church or no longer believe in God. Pray also for those who introduced you to the faith and brought you up in it.
It seems that every year, more and more people are walking away from the Church, and for a variety of reasons. Some, due to their sexuality or domestic situation, do not feel welcome; others feel betrayed by the long litany of church scandals; still others have been hurt by a priest or religious; some feel excluded by the Church’s clericalism and misogyny; some have simply lost faith. Today’s Gospel offers an opportunity to think about why we choose to stay when so many others have not. There are three main reasons why I choose to remain in the Church.
First, and most important, is the person of Jesus Christ. For me, Jesus is the one who gives life meaning. For me, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life – literally. For me, life makes sense only because God’s Son took on flesh like mine and died on a cross to save me from oblivion. In the difficult times, when scandals threaten to overwhelm me, I always try to distinguish between Jesus and his Church, which is made up of fallible human beings. Even when the Church lets me down, Jesus never lets me down. Even when the Church disappoints, Jesus never disappoints. We should never let the failures of the Church cut us off from Jesus.
Second, I stay because of the example of so many people who by their lives of love and service show me the meaning of Christianity. People like Fr Peter McVerry, who out of love God and neighbour, has devoted his life to caring for the young homeless of Dublin and elsewhere. People like 27-year-old American Jean Donovan who was martyred in El Salvador 40 years ago. She knew she was putting her life at risk by remaining in that war ravaged country, but she stayed there anyway. She stayed out of love of God and God’s people. She followed Jesus even to the cross.
Third, I stay because of the consoling knowledge that we are a Church of sinners. I’m not perfect. Despite my best efforts, I fail all the time. I can be moody and hard to live with. But I look around, and I see this is something we all have in common in the Church from the top down – we are all frail, fragile, broken people, who sin and fail, and sin and fail again. But I know that, even despite my failures, despite the Church’s failures, God loves me – loves us – anyway, and that God will never abandon me. God is always on my side, and with God always on my side, there is no good reason why I should walk away.
- Each Christian is called to say a personal ‘ yes’ to Jesus
- Following Jesus means having to make hard choices
Think about the faith that you profess. What does it mean to you to say you are a Catholic? Can other people see that you are?