21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
August 26, 2018 10:00am
Mepkin Abbey, Moncks Corner, South Carolina
“This saying is hard”
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Jesus has just said – we heard it last Sunday – that “The bread I give is my flesh for the life of the world.” So, today some of the people respond, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
This response got me thinking. If we page through the gospels, we find that there are other hard sayings.
Two Specific Hard Sayings
For example, right at the beginning, an angel appears to Joseph.
The angel explains that “It is through the Holy Spirit that Mary is conceiving a child.” This is a hard saying.
It goes against all we know about how children are conceived and born. And yet, could it be so?
Would the almighty, transcendent God who is the source and creator of all that is be limited to what we know? Might the divine emerge in our humanity in a way that is beyond our imagination?
So, in the end, might we answer Jesus’ question, “Do you also want to leave?” in the same way Peter does? “Master, to whom shall we go?”
And then, in another place, Jesus says, “Whoever find their life will lose it, and whoever lose their life for my sake will find it.”
This is also a hard saying. Aren’t we supposed to find ourselves as persons and in that sense, find our lives?
Isn’t it a good thing to seek my fulfillment in life? And yet, how many persons who focus so exclusively on this end up feeling empty?
How many persons, maybe especially those who have a lot of stuff, how many still feel that something is missing? On the flip side of it, isn’t it true that many of those who give of themselves to others and in that way lose their life really find their life?
So, once again, might we answer Jesus’ question, “Do you also want to leave?” in the same way Peter does today? “Master, to whom shall we go?”
Other Hard Things
There are other hard sayings in the gospels.
But today, rather than look at more sayings, I want to focus on some hard events. The recent events in our Church have been hard for us.
The report of the Grand Jury in Pennsylvania leaves us almost speechless. It is hard to grapple with this.
The number of children who were abused over the seventy-year period is staggering. The failure of some of our bishops to protect anyone and everyone who is vulnerable is also appalling.
Last Sunday, in my homily in Maryland, I said that I felt sad and angry. I also feel disheartened – I think that is the right word – something has pierced me close to the heart.
I know that many Catholics have similar feelings. These are hard matters to hear and admit.
“Master, to whom shall we go?”
I believe that Jesus is asking me, maybe you, but certainly Jesus is asking me the question he asks today: “Do you also want to leave?”I find myself answering it in this way.
I cherish the spirituality passed on to me from people like Benedict of Nursia, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola and in my own time, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and Joan Chittister.
I cherish the theology passed on to me from people like Thomas Aquinas, Theresa of Avila and in my own time, Richard Rohr and Elizabeth Johnson.
I cherish the examples of social justice in people like Vincent de Paul, Peter Claver, Leo XXIII and in my own time, Teresa of Calcutta and Dorothy Day.
I cherish the inclusive and open spirit in my own time of people like John Courtney Murray, John XXIII, James Martin and Francis, the present bishop of Rome.
I cherish the sacramental tradition that sees the divine coming to us in the human and the ordinary, like bread and wine.
And I cherish the many, maybe thousands of women and men who have ministered with me over my forty-six years as a priest.
So, at this hard time, I am answering Jesus’ question “Do you also want to leave?”by recalling these parts of my faith and Church experience. And I end up saying: “Lord, to whom shall I go?”
I realize that not everyone can answer the question in this way. The answer may be very hard especially if you or a loved one has been hurt or abused by someone in the Church.
But, Jesus’ question today is still directed to each one of us. We all need to answer it in our own, authentic way and certainly not judge others if their answer is different from mine.