"In verbo veritatis" (2 Cor 6:7)

August 26, 2018

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Filed under: Homilies — Tags: , , , — komonchak @ 11:08 am

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 26, 2018 – St. John’s

For five Sundays now we have been engaged in a slow meditative reading of the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, whose entire theme is Christ as the Bread of Life. Jesus presents himself as that bread first of all through his words, through his teaching, and this bread is consumed when people who bring hungry hearts and minds receive it in faith. Last week we heard him speak of himself as life-giving bread in a second sense, through his presence in the eucharist when we eat his flesh and drink his blood under the sacramental signs. We will have noticed that the structure of the Mass, our weekly celebration, follows the structure of Jesus’ words, as we first listen to him through the Scriptures and in the homily and respond with the words of our faith and as from this altar table we then receive him in the eucharist.

Today we near the end of this Gospel chapter and hear that some of those who heard Jesus, even some who had been his disciples, did not believe him or the remarkable claims he was making. As they began to drift away, he asked his closest disciples whether they, too, wished to leave, and, speaking for them all, Peter makes the powerful confession of faith: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life. We have come to believe and now know that you are the Holy One of God.”

It is impossible to read or hear this exchange without relating it to the scandal many Catholics are experiencing today and which has led some of them to leave the Church and others of them to reflect on and to explain to others, and perhaps even to themselves, why they are staying. The Internet is full of both kinds of reflection.

The circumstances, of course, are very different. In today’s Gospel the crisis concerned the claims that Jesus was making about himself, which “shocked” [lit. “scandalized”] some of his disciples. In today’s Church the scandal, or shock, concerns the actions of men who were supposed to bring people to faith in Christ and to lead them on the path of discipleship. When instead they are discovered, at very high levels, to have themselves violated the demands of that path in the worst possible ways, they fulfill the very definition of a scandal. That word comes directly from the Greek [skandalon], and it means an obstacle, a stumbling-block, something that causes people to fall, that stands in the way of people coming to Christ or causes them to turn away from him. And Jesus has a very severe saying about anyone who does this: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall, it would be better for him to have a great millstone tied around his neck and to be drowned in the sea” (Mt 18:6). A friend wrote to me the other day: “Didn’t those priests and bishops ever read that passage?”
But, although for different reasons, we all may find ourselves being asked the question Jesus asked his remaining disciples: “Do you also wish to go away?” And I take your presence here today as your reply: “No, I do not wish to go away.” And I am glad and grateful that you are saying that, by being here. You are in effect ratifying, echoing, Peter’s reply to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to believe and we know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Notice the two verbs that Peter uses: “believe” and “know”. They describe what the effect has been of their walking with Jesus, of their accompanying him as he walked the dusty roads of Palestine. The Gospels do not idealize them; it shows them slow to comprehend what Jesus was saying and doing, engaging in petty quarrels over places in the Kingdom, wanting to restrict access to Jesus, displaying very little faith in the face of storms, sleeping in his moment of agony, abandoning him when he was arrested, denying him when he was on trial. (I suppose if such failings could occur even among Jesus’ closest disciples, we shouldn’t be surprised that they occur among their successors.)

But in this moment in today’s Gospel, Peter speaks of what he has come to know from this experience of walking with Jesus: “We have come to believe and we have learned that you are the Holy One of God.” “You have the words of everlasting life,” Peter says, “To whom else could we go?” When Peter speaks of “eternal life” here, he is not referring to life after death, in heaven; he is speaking of something he has already experienced, already knows, the new life that arises when people come to believe in Christ; he is talking about the distinctive life that Jesus makes possible for those who follow him. He is saying in effect, “You have shown us what true life is! Where else could we find what we have found in you? You have re-defined my life, and I will not stop accompanying you on your journey.”

That is what I hope you can yourselves say if the question arises for you as to whether to continue to journey with Christ in the company of the Catholic Church, or if you know someone who is asking that question. Your being a Catholic should revolve around Christ, not around a priest or a bishop or a pope. It is Christ whom you should wish to meet when you come to church, whom you do meet in the sacraments. It is the life that Christ has made it possible for you to live that should keep you in the Church. It is the vision of God, of the universe, of what it means to be human, the vision that makes life and death, sin and grace, freedom and responsibility and love more than just words in a catechism or memorized from a book, but realities learned, known because experienced in the company of Christ and of others who also have discovered that Jesus is the Holy One of God, that he has the words that give you genuine life.

I wish you the grace to be able to say all that. And I thank you that you have not turned away and ceased to walk with Christ.


1 Comment »

  1. Your homily, its deep relevance to the crisis that many who came to hear your homily in that beautiful Church this morning ..are perhaps, re-experiencing..

    was/ is…so welcome, a comfort…to those struggling with responses that range from numbness .. and fear .. to the deep unease, or foreboding that, perhaps. more betrayals are yet to come?

    It is a struggle now to stay grounded in the faith and trust and optimism that once-again “all will be well….” as we are made to witness… (as was the real experience of your Parishioners..) an erosion of trust from the “top-down “..

    and as in this particularly awful case .. in which McCarrick’s serial and decades-long abuse continued unchallenged by those “who had eyes to see..” “ears to hear” but so consciously chose to “look the other way”…


    Comment by Elizabeth Graykowski — August 26, 2018 @ 5:40 pm

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