Phew, there’s a lot of mess in the Church right now.
The only answer has to be, not lay review boards, not “transparency,” not blog posts–those things might help, but they aren’t the real solution–but Peter’s words in this Sunday’s gospel: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” And we have to realize that, as at the end of the Bread of Life discourse in John 6, “Many of Jesus’s disciples who [are] listening [say], This saying is hard, who can accept it?” and “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”
Having once pledged our life to Jesus is not enough. Having been in the past “a good Catholic” (whatever that means) does not mean we will stay–in fact, the Council of Trent said it is a heresy to believe that no one falls away, and Jesus “knew from the beginning” that some who were following him at the time would later not believe, and even betray him. The further we follow Jesus, the harder and the more mystifying it will be. We have to turn and turn again, always to accompany, not some favorite public figure or ideology or “culture” (whatever that means), but “him.”
Our first two readings brilliantly lead us into this dynamic. Joshua says, “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve. . . . As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” We need to say that every day.
The good news is that “the people answered” by looking back on all the Lord had done for them, and returning to him. The Psalm response sums that up: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” Why do we follow Jesus? Because he is good, and we have been blessed to taste and see his goodness–and all that tasting and seeing culminates in the Eucharist.
Ephesians 5 gives us one amazing application. (I tried to write a separate post on it, but I am on vacation with my family, and even my main Sunday post is getting finished late.) The reading is a little subtle. We might be tempted to read the Jesus part out and make things really practical: wives are supposed to submit, husbands are supposed to lay down their lives. Alright, but:
Something that’s been striking me recently about St. Paul is that he always talks about Jesus. We can talk for hours about Church politics (see above, on “lay review boards,” etc.–but consider any other conversation) without ever uttering the name of Jesus, or even making oblique reference to him. But once you pay attention to it, it’s amazing, wonderful, how Paul never says anything without talking about Jesus.
Is he talking about marriage, or about Jesus? Of course he is talking about marriage–but his deeper point is to say, whatever you do, do it in the name of the Lord. Relate everything to Jesus. He’s not just saying, Jesus is one nice example of what self-giving love means–now go and be self-giving. He’s saying, whenever you think about being a husband, a wife, or anything else, think nothing but Jesus. WWJD is a bit over-simplified compared to Ephesians 5, but it’s on the right track: nothing but Jesus. “This a great mystery: but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.”
And so we come to the conclusion of John 6. Yet again, John is bringing other things into the context of the Eucharist. In this chapter, he turns the feeding of the 5,000, (then, more subtle, a rereading of the Exodus and what it means to do God’s work and receive his help), “isn’t this the son of the carpenter?”, the Last Supper, and now Peter’s confession of faith–all things in the other three Gospels–and he spins all of them into the context of Eucharistic adoration.
There is a direction to this narrative. The miracles proclaim his divinity, “isn’t this the son of the carpenter” proclaims the Incarnation, last week’s section focused directly on the Eucharist–and now we hear what it means to follow him. All summed up in the Eucharist. We learn who he is, we encounter him in the Eucharist–and he says, whenever we go to Mass or adoration, “Do you also want to leave?” And so the Eucharist is our Fiat, our “Thy will be done,” our embrace of his word and his plan–and his Church, built on Peter’s profession of faith. When we go to the Eucharist, we say, yes, Lord, I accept the Bible, I accept faith, I embrace my membership in the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church–and I embrace the call to think about marriage, and everything else, in terms of, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
And we realize the source of all our strength, our only possibility, is in the Son of God–”We have come to believe and are convinced,” the chapter ends, “that you are the Holy One of God”–the one who ascends and descends, the one who alone unites humanity to the Father. There is no other way.
Where are you looking for solutions outside the Eucharist?