What does it mean to be a person of commitment? I suppose most of us would describe such an individual as one who is willing to take a stand in life. A person of commitment is one that makes choices out of deeply held principles. A person of commitment is one who is willing to shape his or her life on the solid ground of conviction. A person of commitment is one who understands well the importance of courage in life. For in a world and society where what is convenient plays such an important role in determining our choices, to go against what is popular, to challenge the status quo often takes a great deal of courage, commitment, personal principle and integrity. To live our lives out of commitment and to be a person of moral integrity has never been easy. For to do so will often require the courage to be prophetic in a world and society that is uneasy in the presence of prophets. For a prophet is one that has the uncanny ability to see through the lies that can so often motivate a person, a society or a nation.
St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians presents a vision of relationship between a husband and wife that in many ways goes against the grain of what we see so often in our world today - marriages of convenience rather than marriages built on principle, commitment and courage. While St. Paul reflects the prevalent bias of his age which failed to see the radical equality between a husband and wife, it would be a tragedy if we failed to hear the most important and radically prophetic message that Paul is setting before us. In a society that viewed women as the property of husbands and possessing no legal rights whatsoever, Paul speaks of the indispensable reality of love that must bind a husband and wife together in a communion of mind and heart that reflects to the world the way the Lord himself loves the Church - the community of believers - a love that is permanent, faithful and life-giving.
That love for the Church is signed and sealed in the greatest gift that Christ left as a lasting remembrance of his presence among us - the gift of the Holy Eucharist. For the past few Sundays, we have been reflecting on the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, which scripture scholars refer to as the “Bread of Life Discourse”. In the life of the Church, the Eucharist remains the holy meal which celebrates the sacrificial love of the one whose presence continues to give life to us all - for love is indeed stronger than death.
Yet, paradoxically, this fundamental dogma of Catholic belief and practice, which was the cause of scandal and rejection for the followers of the Lord in today’s Gospel, continues to be a stumbling block and point of contention for latter day Christians. Recent surveys of Catholic belief and practice have surfaced an unsettling large number of Catholics who no longer believe in the Real Presence of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Some see it as merely a pious remembrance of what took place at the Last Supper - rather than the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of the Risen Lord - a position which was the occasion for a Reformation in the Church that split the unity and harmony of the Body of Christ for Centuries.
Sadly, the skeptical continue to join their voices with those who said to Jesus, “This sort of talk is hard to endure! How can anyone take it seriously?” Yet, it was Peter who continues to confirm the faith of the Church when he courageously raised his voice in faith and conviction to say to Christ, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
My brothers and sisters, to be Catholic is to have the courage to believe with integrity the faith of the Church. To be Catholic is to go beyond “picking and choosing” what may be convenient to believe and with courage take a stand to believe that which has sustained, saints and sinners, down through the centuries. To be Catholic is live the mystery we celebrate at this holy table and to be what we receive this day, the Body of Christ for the life of the world.
In the wake of the recent damning Pennsylvania grand jury report regarding the sexual exploitation and abuse of over 1000 minors over the course of 70 years by over 300 priests, together with the tacit complicity and ‘cover-up’ by bishops and religious superiors, the message of ‘courage’ in today’s Gospel is all the more important. Our ultimate loyalty as Catholics must never be to a priest, bishop or even to the Holy Father. The source of our courage and the focus of our loyalty must always be to Christ, whose unfailing and searing light must continually be shed on the darkness wherever it may be found. It has often been said that, “God writes straight with crooked lines!” This catastrophic moment for the Church that has understandably thrown into doubt the moral voice of her leaders, could very well be the opportunity for a new inner reformation, challenging the Church and her leaders to a courageous honesty as well as a humbling acknowledgement of its complicity in so great a betrayal of trust of God’s holy people. We pray that a courageous new group of leaders, both lay and clergy, will be like the phoenix of old, rising with new life and vigor out of the ashes of death and destruction.
Joshua challenged the Israelites to ‘make a decision’ as to whom they would serve - the gods of their ancestors or the Lord of the Covenant. Let us join Joshua in being a people who have made the choice to serve the Lord. For he is our God who gives unending life through His Son, the food of eternity.