21st Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Jesus loses some of his disciples b/c he tells them the truth. He tells that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. This truth confuses some of them. Some were probably outraged or disgusted or even horrified at the thought. But the truth is the truth. . .and it will set you free. . .even when it works to make you sick. . .at first. Had those disgusted disciples hung around for just a little longer they might've attended the Last Supper and come to see the fullness of the truth Jesus came to preach. But b/c they chose to hear the truth only in part rather than in its entirety, they missed out. They missed out on the mystery of the Great Thanksgiving that we know as the Eucharist. When Jesus sees some of his disciples walking away, he turns to the Twelve and asks, “Do you also want to leave?” Perhaps sensing that there was More to Come, or believing that their Master wasn't done with them yet, they answer, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” And for those who stayed true, eternal life was their reward. Looking at the mess the Church is in. . .again. . .Jesus' questions to his disciples become his questions to us: 1). Who can accept it? 2). Does this shock you? And 3). Do you also want to leave?
Obviously, these questions are asked in a very different context, so our answers will be different as well. No one should accept the corruption we've been made aware of. And anyone with a conscience is going to be shocked by it. But that last question – do you also want to leave? – this question remains the same regardless of context. I've been asked by otherwise faithful Catholics, “Father, why should I stay in the Church?” I answer, “Where else will you receive the bread of life and the chalice of salvation? Stay and fight! Don't surrender to the Enemy just b/c a few of your teammates have thrown the game.” I'd like to think that my fervent response is enough to help them hang in there, but I suspect that they will leave anyway. Maybe not formally withdraw from their parishes or renounce their baptism but leave nonetheless. While the disgusted disciples merely walked away from the truth Jesus taught, there are thousands of ways to leave the Body. And some of those ways brought us to our current crisis.
I don't want to indulge the temptation to find fault and place blame. There are enough Talking Heads out there with more than a few explanations for how the current corruption worked itself into the Church. It's celibacy's fault. It's a homosexual problem. No, it's clericalism. Wrong! It's feminism! My answer is simpler and non-ideological and therefore deeply unpopular. The Twelve say to Jesus when he asks if they too want to leave him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Corruption enters the Church every time one of us – a member of the Body – believes that he or she has found another Master, someone else to whom we can go; whenever one of us believes that someone other than Christ has the words of eternal life, and we drag that someone else into the Church as an alternative to the Real Deal. Whether that someone else is another religion's teachings, or a political ideology, or a New Age philosophy, or an old heresy warmed over for the digital age, the whole Body is corrupted when one of us makes his or her sin the foundation of the Body's salvation.
Sisters, I don't need to tell you this, but maybe you need to hear it. I don't know. Christ alone has the words of eternal life. Christ alone brings us God's mercy for our sins. Christ alone teaches us how to grow in holiness. And only the Body and Blood of Christ can feed us with what we need to see the Father face-to-face. Thank God there is nowhere else for us to go. Because we are right where we need to be.
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