21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Joshua 24: 1 – 2a, 15 – 18b; Ps 34; Ephesians 5: 21 – 32; John 6: 60 – 69
In the previous section of John’s Gospel Jesus said, “Amen, amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life in you…For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” Today’s Gospel reports the reaction to His words – the sentence is telling: “As a result of this, many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.”
As Catholics who celebrate the Holy Eucharist, who receive the body and Blood of the Lord in Holy Communion, who believe in the Real Presence find no problem in Jesus’ words – because it is through the consecrated bread and wine that the Lord comes to us – we truly eat and we truly drink the Lord Himself.
Imagine, if we can, that we are among those who heard Him and notice that Jesus does not explain the way He will come to them – they were horrified, scandalized and He lost credibility. His Twelve were hearing this – what did they feel, could they believe their ears, were they tempted to walk off and leave Him? The evangelist makes no mention of this.
But he does record this: “Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave’?” There is an understandable sadness in that question; Jesus experienced rejection from the leaders and now He experiences rejection, perhaps even insult from some who were believers. Simon Peter’s response goes beyond whatever he was feeling and is immediate – there is no pause – “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that You are the Holy One of God.” That belief, that conviction came from Peter’s depth – it was the working presence of the Holy Spirit – Peter heard what Jesus said, he saw the people leaving, surely he and the other Apostles were shaken but his trust in the Lord was deep, deeper than his feelings.
I believe we can use this Sacred Scripture as a jumping off point to teach us something about the crisis in our church; I believe it holds truth for each of us as Catholics in the face of a great scandal – Pope Francis has used the word “outrage”. Our church, the church we love, is being shaken from within and hence, the feelings of shame, betrayal, anger are strong and understandable. Because the Church is not just a collection of do-gooders but truly the Body of the Lord Jesus Christ, it will not, cannot fall, it will not cease to exist and will continue to lead us into Eternal Life – no matter what others say or predict or want to see happen.
Remember Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Peter’s response is the only response, “To whom shall we go?” Peter’s sight into Jesus, his awareness of Jesus’ truth, his love for Him gave him trust and hope. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, Peter experienced the otherness of Jesus, the divinity of Jesus – an experience he surely could not put into words at that time but would after the Resurrection – suffice to say for now, Peter had the strength to remain faithful, trusting, remaining a loving companion of the Lord even with questions – surely, it was his conviction that strengthened the others.
What am I saying to myself and to you? The Church we love is greater than any pope, cardinal, bishop, priest – the Church is all of us – the Body of Christ. Jesus Christ is our strength, our conviction, our only all. And I speak for myself, and perhaps for you, I will never allow anyone, no matter who they are, no matter what they have done, take away my faith, draw me away from the Church that has nourished me, embraced me, held me in love and has been a mother to me.
In time good will come from all this – in time – God makes all things work for the good of those who love Him – in the meantime for the grace to bear the darkness because it is dark – for the grace to have hope, faith in the midst of this trial.
In the reading from the Book of Joshua, Joshua calls the people to make a decision – to renew their commitment to God and they do, “We will serve the Lord our God.” Let us take this time of darkness – it is also a time of grace – to renew our own commitment to the church we love. In doing this we lift up the Body of Christ – wounded but not mortally wounded – and we give to one another hope, light, the strength of faithfulness.
We, the Body of Christ, must come to the aid of the wounded Body of Christ. This is what it means to love!