Many of Jesus’s disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “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 avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered him, “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.”
~ John 6:60-69
The gripping Old Testament reading from Joshua captures the choice we all have between life and death. We are each asked if we would rather serve the gods of strange religions and modern philosophies- or the God who brought us out from slavery. In verse 24:15, Joshua says: “As for me and my house. We shall serve the Lord”. I believe that this declaration ties in powerfully with today’s Gospel reading. The people around Jesus are murmuring. Some left Jesus and returned to their former ways of life.
After having entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ, the greatest tragedy is to turn away from him. As Israel has only one God, so the Church only has one husband. She has only one head of the body. This is why the Old Testament frequently refers to the worship of idols as adultery. The prophet Hosea, proclaims: “My people have been untrue to me, openly committing adultery against the LORD by worshiping other gods (Hosea 1:2). The psalmist says: “They defiled themselves by their evil deeds, and their love of idols was adultery in the LORD’s sight” (Psalm 106:39). The heart of God is deeply wounded by infidelity because we are his own people, his chosen bride.
Jesus invites the people to consummate their covenant relationship with him through the Eucharist. While some who disbelieve walk away. Others recognize that they cannot live outside of this relationship. Faith is often a fierce battle. We engage our weaknesses and preconceptions so we may climb up and embrace the Divinity. And this does not at all come natural to us. Peter, amidst his own wrestling with God, says “To whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life” Thus the sheep know the Shepherd’s voice. In this way a devout Catholic is attuned to Our Lord’s real presence in the Eucharist. They know despite the Church’s malfunctions and the flaws of her priests, that the Eucharist is the way of life.
The culture we live in is rightly called “The culture of death”. It is anti-Eucharistic. While Jesus gives his own life for us, the culture of death says others must die so we can live as we want. Abortion takes the words “This is my body” and twists them to make the opposite of self-sacrifice. Euthanasia also culls weak and unwanted members of the human family. The genocidal madness that has taken hold of our dominant culture exactly opposes the Eucharist in which the strong nourish the weak.
Heresy also robs us of life by concealing the whole truth. By saying Jesus is not God come in the flesh, humanity is assigned a low meaning. To say we must have Jesus but not his church is to decapitate the head from the body and to split the husband from the wife. The culture of death and embracing of heresy feeds into our confusion, distraction and the cycle of hopelessness. These are the “other gods” we are tempted to follow. We face the same decision as the crowds who heard Jesus teach. Do we follow God, who speaks life, or the way of death?
“Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51). In the beginning, man ate from the tree which causes death. “If you eat of it, you will die.” (Genesis 2:17). By giving the Eucharist, Jesus asks us to eat that which brings life. He cancels out the effects of our first parents’ sin and brings us to a foretaste of paradise. This is why the Sacred Liturgy is always held to be a participation of the heavenly worship. We sing and pray and bow down before the altar with multitudes of angels and saints. Every Catholic has a duty to tell others about this gift of life. Jesus spelled out that the Eucharist is a condition for believing in and following him. It is a hard saying that stretches the limits of faith. This is because God always calls us to grow. The Eucharist is a sign of God’s “peculiar people”.
The source and summit of our lives is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And it isn’t just something we do on Sunday mornings but an entire way of life that speaks of life for all, especially the weak and unwanted. A self-sacrificial attitude is cultivated wherever the Holy Eucharist is loved and adored. In some places, Catholics risk their lives to attend Mass or must travel long distances. Throughout history priests have been imprisoned or even killed for offering the Mass. St. Tarcisius was one of the earliest martyrs for the Eucharist. He let himself be killed rather than hand over one sacred host to a hostile crowd of unbelievers. His own body had been nourished and strengthened by Christ’s sacrifice to the point where he himself became sacrifice. This shows the iron-clad tenacity of love. For: “love is stronger than death” (Song 8:6). The bride relentlessly seeks her Beloved. Love and life dwell together as do hatred and death. What choice will you make?