21st Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Jesus tells the truth. And b/c they find truth shocking, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” What is this shocking truth? That to attain eternal life we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Watching those who could not accept this hard saying walk away, Jesus asks the Twelve (and us), “Do you also want to leave?” After 2,000 years of Church teaching on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist maybe this saying doesn't sound all that hard anymore. We understand what those who walk away did not. The bread and the wine of the Passover Feast become the Body and Blood of Christ, truly present in the sacrament. Not many of us these days are prepared to walk away from Christ b/c we find the idea of transubstantiation shocking. However, some might be tempted to walk away and return to their former way of life b/c they find the moral corruption eating away at the Church all too shocking and unacceptable. To these disciples Paul says, “. . .no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” We are members of Christ's body. Do not walk away from this hard truth.
As we continue to reel from revelation after revelation that Catholic clergy violated children, teens, and seminarians, and that bishops and cardinals conspired to cover-up these violations, we are tempted to look for causes and quick fixes. Mandatory celibacy is the problem! No, it's homosexuality in the clergy. Wrong. It's feminism or clericalism or communism or some other “–ism” that I find offensive. Whatever the immediate cause of this current crisis may be, the remote cause is quite easy to identify. It's been part and parcel of the human condition since Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden: that devilish desire to become god w/o God, a.k.a. pride. Pride is the cardinal sin that drives all the others. And it remains the chief strategist and overall commander of how we betray God and our restored human nature. We cannot fight pride with self-righteousness or unrighteous anger or calls for vengeance. Why? B/c these are the favored weapons of Pride. We fight with humility and mercy, undercutting the power of Pride to tempt us to betray Christ and his Church. We also fight using fidelity, following Christ faithfully, who alone has the words of eternal life.
Make no mistake about what's going on in the Church right now: this is a war, a spiritual war. And it's nothing new. It's the same war we have been fighting since the serpent tempted Eve. The principal combatants are the same. The weapons are the same. The causalities are the same. This war is fought cosmically, terrestrially, nationally; within each diocese and parish of the Church; within every family, every marriage, and within each and every one of us. And it's a war over a choice: to whom do you, do we belong? Whom do you serve? When Jesus asks the Twelve – “Do you also want to leave?” – he's asking them to choose. He's asking them to surrender themselves to the Father's living Word, or to walk away and resume their former way of life. He's asking us that same question, and the spiritual war we are fighting is about how we will answer. How we will answer as a Church, as a diocese, as a parish, and as individual members of his Body.
Jesus tells us the truth. The truth about how we are saved from our sins. How we are fed with his Body and Blood. How we are to be witnesses to the Father's mercy. He tells us the truth about how we are to live with one another so that we might grow in holiness. He himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and he asks us to choose: follow or walk away. Can you say: “Master, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life. I have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God”? If so, then your path is clear – follow Christ. Use his weapons to fight the battle: Repent. Forgive. Seek justice. Grow in holiness.
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