Father Donald Senior, CP

Aug. 26: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

To whom shall we go?

Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Ps 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21; Eph 5:21-32 (or 5:2a, 25-32); Jn 6:60-69


A good friend of mine served for several years as a volunteer consultant, helping me navigate some thorny management issues when I was president of Catholic Theological Union. There were certain moments when it was clear the time had come for a lingering problem to be dealt with. He would say, “It’s time for a ‘come to Jesus meeting.’” I got what he meant.

The readings for this Sunday have that same kind of decisive feel. The first reading from the Book of Joshua sets a dramatic scene at the ancient Israelite shrine in Shechem (present-day Nablus).  

Joshua, the commander who had succeeded Moses as leader, gathers all the tribes of Israel and puts it to them. “Are you going to serve the Lord or serve other gods?” There was no ambiguity on the part of Joshua, who told them, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Confronted in such a direct fashion, the people fell in line, saying, “Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

There is a similar tone in the Gospel reading from John’s Bread of Life discourse. We have been listening to segments of this powerful discourse for five Sundays in a row and this is the conclusion.  

Throughout his discourse Jesus had spoken of his very person as “bread” and “wine” — vital food necessary to nourish the life of the Spirit. “It is the spirit that gives life,” Jesus acclaims, “while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.” Through faith in Jesus, the disciples would receive the life-giving Spirit of God and they would no longer “hunger” or “thirst.”

The astounding claims Jesus makes about himself (“I am the Bread of Life”) in this discourse and the vivid metaphors of the need to consume his “body” and his “blood” — his very self — prove hard for many of the disciples who have followed Jesus up to this point. The Gospel notes, “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”  

With a spirit of deep sadness, Jesus asks the Twelve, the core group of his followers, “Do you also want to leave?” It is here that Peter steps forward and speaks for generations of believers, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

There is something honest and unadorned about Peter’s confession of faith: What are our choices? Where else can we find someone more compelling than you? How can we make sense of our lives without you?

I confess when I read these words in today’s Gospel I thought about the terrible revelations that have wracked the Catholic Church over the past weeks: a cardinal leading a sordid double life apparently known to many and a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that catalogues unspeakable crimes against children by Catholic priests and the abject failure of bishops and church officials that enabled it to continue. A horror I thought we had begun to deal with years ago pops back, and now the accusing spotlight is on the leadership of the Catholic Church.  

Catholics are angry at such betrayal and have every right to be. No doubt some will understandably turn away from the church because of all this. No one should condemn them. For the rest of us, we may have to wring out of our broken hearts the words of Peter: “Master, to whom shall we go?” This time, though, it is not a question of turning away from Jesus but from the church that bears his name and is called to reflect his beauty and goodness. 

That church is a very human church, sinful in such visible ways. But at the same time, it is a church of saints who live with integrity and bring Christ’s presence to the world. Lord, to whom shall we go? 



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