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This Saying Is Hard - Try: This Homily Is Hard

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Aug. 27, 2012

Written by: Father Jim Chern
Montclair State University

This Gospel strikes me as one of the saddest encounters we read.  That might sound overly dramatic, but think about it, as terrifying and horrific as the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ figures into our hearts and minds whenever those passages are proclaimed - as believers we know what comes next - the resurrection, the ascension… and the great Hope and Love of our God that is contained in that for those of us who lovingly follow Christ. 

What is so sad is that today we hear of outright rejection of Jesus Christ by some of his disciples.  Quick flashback - for the last few weeks we’ve been hearing from this one section of the Gospel of St. John.  It started with the loaves and fishes.  Remember that - we heard that what 3 weeks ago?   And what had happened up until then?

Well Jesus had been preaching and teaching and the people’s minds and hearts had been captivated by his words that in the excitement, they had not brought any provisions, hadn’t even thought about the fact they were hungry.  At the end of the day, as they realize they’re hungry, and they’re still far away from home, Jesus performs that incredible miracle that blew there minds.  5 loaves and 2 fish feed more than 5,000. 

Nobody had a problem with the free meal!  Quite the opposite in fact.  They enjoyed the feast so much, that the next day when Jesus had already left to go to the other side of the lake, they went after him.  (It was breakfast, so they were hungry again!)   Jesus used that opportunity to point out to them that they had physical hungers that he had fulfilled in an unprecedented, amazing, miraculous way that was in abundance.  How would they like their spiritual hungers to be surpassed in even more abundant, miraculous ways?  How would they like to have the nourishment that would transform their life and existence now.  Even better, how would they like to have the food that would cause them to live forever.

As Jesus explains to them they would need to feast on Him - they would have to Eat his flesh and Drink His blood - something he says at least 7 times in this one section alone… making clear that he’s not offering a parable, he’s not speaking metaphorically, he’s not offering them a symbol (or any other theological nonsense that so many continue to promote… slight aside here, I find it remarkable that some who read the bible literally to a fault so reject Jesus when he actually was being literal…anyway…)  It is now when they say “This saying is hard, who can accept it?”

And to underscore the point, had Jesus been speaking in any other terms; had he meant that he was speaking symbolically, or metaphorically or that this was some type of parable that needed an explanation, this would have been the moment to correct it.  Yet what does he say?

“Does this shock you?  What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avial.  The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.”  At that, we hear “as a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life…” and the saddest line “and no longer accompanied him.”

To be sure, being a Christian is hard.  But I think we as Catholic-Christians in America are really wimps in our faith and wonder how full-hearted our “accompanying” of Christ truly is.

Just consider - throughout the Middle-East and areas of Africa, Christians are being slaughtered by militant Islamists.  1,000s are being killed in their homes and Churches.  This is going on right now not just in countries that are under oppressive dictatorships like Iran, but even those we’ve “freed” like Iraq and others that had experienced so-called “Arab springtimes” like Egypt (which has basically been taken over by the Muslim brotherhood who bring intolerance to Christianity to a whole new level) Not two years ago priests and their people who had gathered to celebrate Mass, to feast of Jesus’ body and blood were all killed at the Mass, yet where was there an outcry?  ( Sure the Holy Father condemned the violence, but most of the press ignored that and want to change the topic and bash the Church on other issues.  If people could just do a google search themselves of “Christians being killed” rather than searching “Kim Kardashian” and take a look at legitimate new stories and commentaries (mostly from the foreign press… wonder why our American media doesn’t care?   Another question for another day)

But my point is, there are people in nations around the world where being a Christian does truly endanger your physical life.   There are some of our brothers and sisters who know that coming to Mass, receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist may very well be the last thing they do, or could be the grounds for them receiving the death penalty.  And they continue to face that threat knowing they do accompany Christ and that He has promised them eternal life.

Yet here in our “free” United States of America?  We as Catholics moan when Mass is 60 minutes long (those of us who attend) When our bishops point out how our religious liberties are being attacked by the Obama Administration’s Healthcare act which has left us with the option to comply and violate our beliefs and teachings on the dignity of sexuality and human life or to shut down - there’s a large percentage of our own people who tune out and think it’s just “politics” or say something like “religion is a private matter” (as if that makes any sense at all).

I’m sure for many hearing all of this, it’s easy to relate with the disciples in the Gospel who to Jesus said “this saying is hard.”  It is hard.  But when the world has stopped listening to the Lord, stopped being led by his commandments, stopped accompanying Christ, then the culture has proven itself to be wrong.  Then it and it’s leaders shouldn’t be followed.”

This is a pivotal time for us as Catholic Christians.  There are unprecedented assaults being leveled at us in amazingly, arrogant, brazen ways than ever before.  Jesus asks us as He did the 12–  do you also want to leave? 

Are we willing to give up?  Do we wish to simply conform with the rest of the culture?  Go along with the whims of a society that seems hell-bent (pun intended) on doing whatever it wants no matter what the extreme?   Because we have to realize, we’re not receiving bread and wine.  Just like those disciples who left - they had no problem with loaves and fishes and were willing to feast with Jesus at that point.

To follow him, to consume Him - eating his Body, drinking his Blood - demands that we are changed and are no longer living following the whims and demands of this world.  May we find the truth of St. Peter’s words, our first Pope echoing in our hearts, and souls, and even more, being spoken by our words and actions 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.”