Why do we stay?

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21 Ordinary Time


Throughout recent years we’ve seen many analyses and studies about the crisis of the Christian Church in modern society. This reading is needed in order to better capture some data, but it ends up insufficient for discerning what our reaction needs to be. The story narrated by John can help us to interpret and to live out this crisis with a more Gospel-oriented depth.

According to the Gospel writer, Jesus sums up the crisis that is being created in his group this way: «The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe». So true. Jesus introduces a new spirit in those who follow him; his words communicate life; the program that he proposes can generate a movement capable of orienting the world toward a more dignified and more full life.

But just being a part of his group doesn’t guarantee faith. There are those who resist accepting his spirit and his life. Their presence around Jesus is false; their faith in him isn’t real. The true crisis within Christianity is always this: do we or do we not believe in Jesus?

The narrator says that «many of his disciples went away and accompanied him no more». It is in crisis that we find revealed who are Jesus’ true followers. The decisive choice is always that: who goes away and who stays with him, identified with his spirit and his life? Who is in favor and who is opposed to his project?

The group begins to get smaller. Jesus isn’t bothered, pronounces no judgment against anyone. He only asks a question to those who have stayed at his side: «What about you, do you want to go away too?». This is the question that is made to us today, we who keep on in the Church: What do we want? Why have we stayed? Is it in order to follow Jesus, welcoming his spirit and living his way of life? Is it to work on his project?

Peter’s answer is indicative: «Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life». Those who stay have to do it because of Jesus. Only for Jesus. Nothing else. They are committed to him. The only reason to stay in his group is him. No one else.

As sad as this current crisis seems to us, it will be something positive if we who stay in the Church –many or few– go about being converted into disciples of Jesus, that is, into men and women who find life in his words of life.

José Antonio Pagola

Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time: John 6 Part 5 - The Choice Is Ours

The battles were over. The promised land was won. There were no enemies left strong enough to route the Hebrews from the land. Now, the people who had defeated Jericho and beyond needed to establish their lives. But if they were safe from the attacks of pagans, they were not safe from the culture of the pagans. Their fathers had been attracted to pagan cultures and many had followed them before the crossing of the Jordan. Those were the gods beyond the river that Joshua referred to. Right now the Hebrews were living in land conquered from the Amorites. The pagan rituals, the feasts, the immorality, all attracted them. A latter people would say, "When in Rome do like the Romans.” Should the Hebrews live like the Amorites, should they live like the people of Jericho? "The choice is yours,” Joshua says in the first reading from the final chapter of the Book of Joshua. But Joshua knows what he is going to be doing. He says something that should be the theme of every family living in a materialistic and pagan world, "As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” The long teaching on the Eucharist was over. Jesus had not covered His message in terms that could be open to interpretation. He did not say, "I am speaking symbolically here.” He did not say, "This is like my flesh.” He said, that the Bread He would give is His flesh.” His followers needed to eat His Body and drink His Blood. He even used words for eating that meant to grind up with your teeth. "This is hard to take,” some of the disciples complained. "People are leaving you,” the disciples moaned. "The choice is yours,” Jesus responds. "Will you leave too?” And then Peter, like Joshua, makes a great profession of faith. "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

We have come to believeand are convinced that you are the Holy One of God." Peter and Joshua, the Hebrews who heard Jesus speak, and the ancients who followed Joshua into the Promised Land, were certainly not the only ones facing a choice. In the early days of the Church, Christians had to choose following Christ or losing their possessions and even their lives. This continues in various areas of the world in our own time. Some of our young people wear a shirt with a cross on it and the saying, "This shirt is illegal in 53 countries.” The priests we have been graced to have here from India, Fr. Mathew and Fr. Thomas would tell us stories of Christians who would be beaten or killed by radical Hindus in various areas of India. Now Christians throughout Asia are persecuted by ISIS or its affiliates. Christians living in areas and countries where the faith is persecuted are faced with choosing the Lord daily. The choice is there, and they accept the Lord regardless of the implications of their choice. The choice is also presented to us, and presented to us daily. Are we to take the leap of faith and choose the Lord even when He asks us to believe in that which is impossible for the mind to come to, or do we leave for an easier, less challenging faith? Are we to accept living the Law of the Lord as presented by our faith, or are we to join in with the materialist lifestyle of the world?

Are we to live a moral life, or join those who mock all who are committed to the Lord? The choice is there for us. Like Peter, we have to realize that no one else has the words of eternal life. Like Joshua, we have to decide to follow the way of Lord. That means that we are called to stand apart from those elements of society that make noises as though they are the enlightened majority. They are neither, neither enlightened nor a majority. The so-called intelligentsia who see good in every evil, in every perversity, are foolish. In their deification of political correctness, they have demanded a society where all morality is subjected to the glorification of the individual. Their only morality is relativism. They admit no rules regarding right or wrong, everything depends on the person’s desires. "That which is right for one person can certainly be wrong for another,” they would assert. For them there are no values such as fidelity, honesty, and basic respect. Everything is relative. As a result they really cannot have a society. The enlightened intellectuals of this ilk are basically foolish. And they ask us to join them. Worse, they demand that we join them. It is there for us. Do we go along with what supposedly everyone is saying is now acceptable, or at least now acceptable for us, or do we choose the way of the Lord? Like Joshua, we have to hold on tight and declare, "As for me and my family, we will follow the Lord.” Many people are still asking the Lord to tone it down some. "OK, Lord,” they say, "I know abortion is wrong, I know infidelity is wrong, I know stealing is wrong, but maybe in this case, in that case, it is acceptable.”

Many times people will demand from me and other priests that we tone down the teaching of the Church. Many priests have attempted to do so, to their discredit. They have done damage to their people. For example, I have had people come to me and say that they have been living in guilt for years. They were never married in the Church, but when they went to a priest, he told them not to worry about it. He toned down the teaching of the Lord, and his people suffered from this. Parents and grandparents often do something similar regarding their children and grandchildren. "Oh, your living together. Isn’t that nice.” And another relationship is condemned to a questionable marriage if marriage is even approached. Jesus would not tone down His teaching. Who are we to tone it down for Him? We need to be committed to a following of the Lord that some would call radical, but in reality is simply authentic. Our need is based on the One who is calling us to faith. It is Jesus Christ. If we refuse to follow Him, where exactly can we go? Whom can we follow? Who else has the words of eternal life?

Are we convinced that Jesus is the Holy One of God? We say we are. But if we are really convinced, then we really have no choice. Eternal Life can only be found in Him. The conclusion of John 6 is far more than a call to believe in the Eucharist. It is this, but it is more. It is a call to trust in the Lord. It is a call to dare to be different from those who have left him and who give lip service to their Christianity. We are called to be different. We are called to be holy, for, after all, that is what holiness is, being separate for the Lord. We have a choice.....Or do we? No, we really don’t have a choice. Where else can we go? He alone has the words of eternal life.

Dimensions of the Eucharist Week 5: Freedom (August 23, 2015)

Message: I pray that your freedom will be a springboard and not become an inclined plane. We have arrived at the fifth and final homily in our series: Jesus the Bread of Life. We now have seen four dimensions of the Eucharist: Food, Faith, Forgiveness and Fission. Remember, Pope Benedict used the concept of nuclear fission to help young people understand the Eucharist: humble on the exterior, but inside - dynamic, powerful, awesome. Today we see the fifth dimension. Like the first four, it begins with the letter "f". It is a word central to the Bible: freedom! Freedom means the power to decide, to make a choice. We just heard Joshua tell the Israelites, "Decide today whom you will serve." St. Paul tells husbands they have to make a decision: Are you going to love your wife? He's not speaking so much about an emotional, romantic love.

That kind of loves comes and goes. No, St. Paul tells husbands to love their wives like Christ loves the Church - to last drop of his blood. In the Gospel Jesus confronts us with greatest choice of all, "Do you also want to leave me?" In moment I will tell you what that choice involves, but first let's talk about freedom itself. God has given us freedom - a great gift, but also a bit scary. Pope Benedict said, "Freedom, we can say, is a springboard from which to dive into the infinite sea of divine goodness, but it can also become a tilted plane on which to slide towards the abyss of sin and evil." He spoke these words to a group whose freedom was severely restricted: the boys and girls of Rome's prison for minors. No matter how limited you feel, God has given the gift of freedom. You can use it as springboard or it can become a titled plane to slide into the abyss. Decide today. In addressing his disciples Jesus makes it clear that the decision comes down to something very concrete: The Eucharist itself. These past weeks we have been hearing Jesus say, "I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never hunger...The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world...Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you...my flesh is true food and my blood true drink." When we took the Disciple Makers Index 82% of you "strongly agree" that the "Eucharist really is the body and blood of Jesus." Thank God for your faith. As we have learned, faith is a gift. "No one can come to me," says Jesus, "unless the Father draw him." You have the gift of faith in Jesus - his true presence in the Eucharist.

Praise God, but now you have make a choice. Are you going to live that faith? Will we worship Jesus when the priest lifts his Body and Blood? Will you will approach Communion with reverence? Will you spend time before Jesus, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament? Our Saturday evening and Sunday morning Adoration got off to a good start, but people have been falling away. I do not judge anyone, but ask you to hear this question. Really, the question: "Do you also want to leave me?" As you think about that question, I would like conclude this series with an image from Pope Benedict. Have you noticed, by the way, that I have been quoting Pope Benedict a lot? For this series I received great help from his book: Heart of the Christian Life Thoughts on the Holy Mass. I recommend it to you. Anyway, he compares the Corpus Christi procession to Mary on the road to her kinswoman Elizabeth. Mary carries Jesus inside her just as we carry Jesus in the monstrance. The image appeals to me because for me on of the most beautiful sights is a young mother with her child inside her.* I realize she makes a choice about accepting her child. As does the dad. You and I perhaps do not face so dramatic a choice as the life of an unborn child. Still, the words of Joshua apply, "Decide today whom you will serve." And above all, Jesus' question: "Do you also want to leave me?" You do have a choice. I pray that your freedom will be a springboard and not become an inclined plane.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: Father Bloom, the choice is not always so clear. Well, I want to help you. Next week I begin a new series on Discernment of the spirits. I am looking forward to it. I hope you will too. For this series I will drawing from some of the insights of Pope Francis - what he says about discerning between the good spirits and the evil spirits. That's for next week. Today let's recall those five dimensions of the Eucharist: food, faith, forgiveness, fission and freedom. And we have the image of Mary with Jesus inside her. She can help us realize the true potential of our freedom. She can help us say: "Master, to who shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God." Amen.

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Classic Sunday, August 23, 2015 John 6: 60–69
Gospel Summary

This passage brings the sixth chapter of John's gospel to a climactic conclusion. Jesus has fed a large crowd with bread and fish; he has revealed his divine identity as I AM by showing his power over the sea; in the synagogue at Capernaum he has revealed that he himself is the bread of life given by the Father—as the bread of his teaching and as bread of the Eucharist. Now upon completion of his teaching, many of his followers murmured, saying, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Jesus responds that human nature alone (the "flesh”) is of no avail in coming to believe and to have life in him. This faith and life is possible only as a gift of the Father. After the exchange in the synagogue, many of his disciples left him. Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered, "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.” Life Implications Faith and life in Jesus is a gift beyond human expectation and understanding. This is the implication not only of this passage but of John's entire gospel.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3: 16). The gift of eternal life is NOW; it does not begin after we die. In faith we can live without fear: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalms 23: 4). The saints of every age witness to the reality that faith is participation in the joy, the prayer, the gratitude of Christ's life now: "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5: 16–18). Today we hear the good news that the Risen Lord is present among us sacramentally as the bread of life given by the Father—as the bread of his teaching and as bread of the Eucharist. We too may be inclined to murmur, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Our gospel passage does not tell us why many of his followers refused to believe Jesus and left him. We do know, however, the countless factors in our own culture that dissuade us from giving ourselves to the Lord in faith. Suffering is often experienced as incompatible with God's love. Our "subjective-value” culture reduces faith to no more than "religious preference.” Nobel Prize winners tell us there is no God. There are likewise moral decisions that lead to belief or away from belief.

After her lecture at a university, a student asked Flannery O'Connor how he could be certain that God exists. She replied, "Give alms.” Jesus himself said, "How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God” (John 5: 44)? Today's gospel passage alerts us to the fact that faith is not primarily assent to a creed about God but a personal covenant with God. Like friendship, faith is mutual self-giving; it can become stronger or become weaker; it can begin and it can end. Jesus emphasizes the radically personal nature of faith by using the word "betray” and by asking whether the Twelve will also decide "to leave” him. Jesus knows that the human commitment of faith is not so steadfast as God's commitment. He knows that his refusal to let the people make him king (John 6: 15) and Judas' love of money (John 12: 6) will lead to a loss of faith in him and to betrayal. In the Last Supper Discourse Jesus knows that the faith of his followers will be tested again, not by his teaching as in the synagogue at Capernaum but by his death on a cross.

"Do you believe now? Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone” (John 16: 31–32). His followers of weak faith did leave him—Judas betrayed him, Peter denied that he had ever known him. The story of Judas and Peter is both a warning and a source of hope. Like Judas, we too can finally choose to place ultimate, suicidal trust in something other than God. Like Peter, we too may grievously sin; yet trust that if we return, the Lord will welcome us with the joy of steadfast love.

TWENTY-FIRST Sunday Joshua 24, 1-2. 15-17. 18; Psalm 34; Ephesians 5, 21-32; St. John 6, 60-69

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

"Hocus pocus" is a popular expression in our culture to indicate magic powers and to enthrall an audience. We've all said the words and laughed in fun as we watch magic "tricks" and sleight of hand in entertainment. These words, unbeknownst to many people, actually come from a mocking phrase used in sacrilegious attack upon the holiest gift: the Mass. The saying originally went along these lines: "hocus pocus dominocus." Ring any bells? This is a mocking spoof of the Latin words for the consecration of the Mass: "Hoc est enim corpus meum. (This is my body.)"

This is one of the many ways in which we can see that our culture is deeply imbued with anti-Catholic and anti-sacred sentiment. In today's Gospel we read that, when Christ taught that he gave his flesh for the life of the world, "Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, 'This is a hard saying; who can endure it?' " (John 6, 60) Our Lord, the Gospel relates, "knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that should betray him." (John 6, 64) And what does he do as a result? Does he change his teaching in order to show his compassion? Instead he demonstrates authentic love by repeating the truth, realizing that doing so would shake the faith of many who had followed him. And the scriptures testify that "After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him." (John 6, 66)

Rather than changing his teaching, which is the truth and therefore can never be changed, Christ turns to those upon whom the fate of the infant Church will rest and asks them, "Will you also go away?" (John 6, 67) The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" (John 6:60) The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. "Will you also go away?" : (John 6: 67) the Lord's question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has "the words of eternal life" (John 6:68) and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself. (CCC 1336) The Eucharist is indeed the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ and this truth can never change. Today many find this stupendous reality a "stumbling block" and so reject Christ's teaching.

The Lord is fully aware that many "murmur in protest" against his teaching and he leaves them free to do so. Let us pray that all mankind will receive the grace to become aware of the Lord's presence and to fall down in worship and awe in his presence. Just as Peter let the whole world echo: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the holy one of God." (John 6, 68-69) I look forward to meeting you here again next week as, together, we "meet Christ in the liturgy".

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