Joshua 24:1-2A, 15-17, 18B
Today the Church reminds us in the readings before us that our faith is counter-cultural, that following Jesus Christ requires us to have faith in what we cannot see or easily discern, and that we face a choice. We can follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or the gods of this world and its Culture of Death. I don’t have time today to list all of the gods of this world, but we know some of them very well. The Children of Israel were given a choice: They could serve the gods of their pagan neighbors (and what this really meant was an acceptance of the pagan culture around them that did not place any value on the dignity of the human person), or they could serve the LORD, the God of their Fathers, and they said “far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods.” Sacred Scripture is very clear, however, that the Israelites did reject God over and over again.
We see a clear example of that rejection in the Gospel today, which is the concluding reading in our ongoing series of readings from Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. Many professing disciples of Jesus were at the gathering described in this chapter of the Bible, a chapter that can easily be seen as the passage of Scripture that is the most important one in the entire Deposit of Faith. After Jesus repeatedly declared himself to be the “Bread of Life” and “the Bread that is come down from Heaven” which if we receive he will raise us up on the Last Day. After telling him that “my flesh is true food, my blood is true drink,” the Gospel tells us their reaction. They said “this saying is hard, and who can accept it,” and the passage goes on to say that after Jesus said these things that many of them “returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with Him.”
An entire segment of the Christian world rejects what Jesus Himself set forth in this segment of the New Testament that we have been reading, that He really is “the Bread come down from Heaven,” and that “the Bread that I will give is my flesh for the Life of the world.” As Pope St. John Paul II pointed out so ably, the Church “draws its life from the Eucharist,” and that whenever and wherever the Eucharist is celebrated (at every Mass) the memorial of the Lord’s death and resurrection makes those events become “really present” to us and “the work of our Redemption is carried out.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 1, 11)
When we receive the true body and blood of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we are doing something more than merely proclaiming belief in that sacred Truth. We are proclaiming that we are in Communion with our Holy Mother the Church, and that to the best of our understanding we believe and profess all that the Catholic Church believes and professes to be true and to be revealed by Almighty God. Furthermore, and perhaps even most importantly, every time we approach the altar to receive Holy Communion, we are making the same declaration that the children of Israel made to Joshua in our first reading today.
We are asked anew, on a regular (if not daily) basis, who it is that we will serve… We have a choice, just like the children of Israel, we can choose to serve the gods of the Pagan society around us (and yes, our society is becoming increasingly neo-pagan), which are really represented by a spirit of worldliness, materialism, and sinfulness that is rooted primarily in self-gratification and selfishness. Paganism makes gods of things that are created, after all. The other choice we have is to serve the true God who created us and ultimately came to save us in the form of the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.
When we receive the Eucharist devoutly and with the right intention and the belief of the Church, we are saying, like Peter, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
We are presented with the choice of the Israelites each and every day of our life in some form, whether we will serve the God of Israel, or whether we will serve the gods of this world, and allow ourselves to be given over to lives of sin. People can put on a public front of faith, but they can lead a double life wherein they have made the choice not to follow God, but to follow the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. Over the last month we have learned of many more stories of the abuse and predation of both children and adults by shepherds of the Church who had been charged with their spiritual and pastoral care. Even though many of these incidents happened years ago, hearing of them has become entirely too common, so much so that some of us have grown to expect it. It should never be that way. This time, it stings those of us who truly love the Church with a particularly hard emotional and spiritual pain, because at least one of those accused has been a very high-ranking member of the Church’s hierarchy, a person whose sins and crimes were not hidden from some of his brother Bishops and other clergy close to him. Those people appeared not to have brought the situation into the clear light of day to bring about healing, but instead to have covered for him and compounded the problem, doing damage to a great many more victims in the process. This entire horrid situation should remind us anew that there is no such thing as private sin, there is no sin that can be kept only to ourselves.
Living the Christian Life, indeed living the Eucharistic life that Jesus has called us to live in the 6th chapter of John that we have read through in the preceding weeks, requires a daily effort at holiness and a real relationship with Jesus Christ. Failure to nurture that relationship will lead us away from God, away from the Church, and away from the graces of the sacraments, because even though we may receive the sacraments outwardly we have to be open to those Graces inwardly. That is true whether you are a priest, deacon, or bishop, or whether you’re just trying to be a good Catholic and make it to Mass every week.
St. Paul reminds us in our second reading that for those of us who are married, that our marriages are meant to be an image and type of the Church. The next time I’m privileged to preach on this cycle of readings, it is my intent to give a homily just on this second reading alone, but I will throw something in for you to chew on. God made men and women equal in dignity and worth, and complementary to one another. But just as we need our priests, deacons, and bishops to step up and be the spiritual leaders that God intends them to be in our Church, we need husbands and fathers to step up and be the leaders as God intends them to be of the domestic Church. Our own Bishop Stika likes to say that the first Seminary is in the home.
Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord…