Sunday, August 26, 2012

Like Christ and the Church

Readings for Sunday, August 26/ 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Joshua 24:1-2, 15-18
Psalm 34:2-3, 16-21
Ephesians 5:21-32
John 6:60-69

Today we conclude the five week series of reflections on John 6, Our Lord’s sermon on the Bread of Life in the Eucharist. As we conclude this reflection, I am always struck by this brief conversation Our Lord has with St. Peter. As he sees many of the disciples leaving Him, He turns to Peter as asks “Do you also want to leave?” I find his answer intriguing: “Master, to whom shall we go?” It’s not exactly a bold profession of faith in Christ. He says that believes the Lord is the Holy One of God and has the words of eternal life, but he never actually says he wants to stay. He simply says he doesn’t know where he would go.

That response has always consoled me. Peter knows that Jesus is the Christ and the life, and yet it seems that he doesn’t always enjoy the path. When I was in the seminary I would often reflect on the weight of the cross in the Christian life. My brother seminarians and I would sometimes talk about how it seemed that our lives were easier before we knew Christ and followed Him; we didn’t feel the sting of conscience when we sinned, we didn’t worry about the life to come or bearing others’ burdens on earth. We simply lived in a way that gave us pleasure and enjoyment. And as we reflected on this in moments when the weight of the cross bore down upon our shoulders we always came to realize in the end that while our former way of life seemed easier, it wasn’t. While it seemed better, it wasn’t. We knew that Christ was Christ. We knew that He has the words of eternal life, that He is the Holy One of God, and that He is the way to life. And yet we still struggled, a small part of us wanting to be like those others in the gospel who simply returned to their former way. It’s difficult, I think because it’s difficult to be Christian. When we follow after Christ we must walk the way of the cross. We must die to ourselves.

There are many teachings of Christ that challenge us because they go against our disordered nature. To forgive not seven times but seventy-seven times. To turn the other cheek when offended. To be perfect at our heavenly Father is perfect. These things challenge us because they force us to go against the flow of our lives and our culture. And yet the beautiful thing is that if we pick up these crosses and follow after Christ then we know that just as He was resurrected and glorified, so also will we be resurrected and glorified. We are not without hope.

The scriptures today point to two of the most difficult, but also most transformative, teachings of Our Lord. Ephesians 5 is that infamous passage quote by so many to show how the Church is out of touch with modern man and is increasingly irrelevant in the world today: “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.” Taken out of context this teaching is indeed offensive and rightly to be cast aside, but understood properly it is among the most beautiful passages of the New Testament. Why is it that a woman is called to be subordinate to her husband? Because he is called to love. St. Paul charges husbands: “Love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church.” Look at how Christ loved the Church - He went without food, without sleep, without comfort, had no place of his own, was rejected by his family, friends and nation, suffered countless other sufferings and then gave Himself up to death all so that the Church, His bride, would be able to have life and everything that is good. Every man is called to do the same - to lay down his life and to do everything out of love for his wife in imitation of Christ. Any woman who objects to that kind of love is, in my opinion, a fool because the call of St. Paul for women to be subordinate is nothing other than for wives to allow their husbands to offer everything he has, even his own life, that they might have everything that is good, both on earth and in heaven.

This mystery is what we celebrate here in the Sacrifice of the Mass; this offering of life for the bride. You likely notice that I use a veil over the chalice on the weekends as a reminder that while the Eucharistic celebration is primarily a sacrifice and partly a meal, it is also partly a marital action of the bridegroom giving himself to the bride in the flesh. He says to us “This is my body” and awaits our reception of that gift that unites us together. Over and over again He does this not for His joy or pleasure, but for ours. He shows us what it is love and calls us to love.

In the gospel this weekend the people are challenged because the Law of Moses said not to taste blood because they believed that life was in the blood and life belongs to God. And to say that we ought to the blood of God was offensive to them because it meant we were receiving the life that belongs to the Lord. And that is precisely the point. Christ took on flesh and gave us the Eucharist that we might receive His Blood and be brought into the life that He has and so generously gives to us. This is a supreme act of love and one which teaches us much. He teaches men how to give entirely of ourselves out of love for our spouses. And he teaches women how to receive the absolute love of their spouses.

These things can be hard to accept and especially hard to live. The call to give everything we have. The call to allow others to give everything for us. The call to profess faith in the Eucharist. But if we persist, if we don’t flee like so many who have gone before us, but remain like Peter, we will be greatly blessed. So let us today make our own those words of Joshua and the people he led: As for me and my household we will serve the Lord, for He has performed great miracles before our eyes and has protected, and will protect us, along our entire journey. Amen.