(Audio was not captured this week)
Fr. Paul's Homily
A mother is home with her three children, one being a newborn, only a few months old. Each day is filled with constant needs coming from the children and limited energy because of the lack of sleep. Her husband is sympathetic but his work is demanding 12 hour days and he comes home exhausted with little early to offer to the family. One day the young mother sits down in the kitchen and begins to cry. She is overwhelmed with her responsibilities and does not know if she can handle all of them: “This is so hard; who can carry all this?”
Have you experienced this, or something close to it? Those moments in the midst of our lives when the commitments are too many, too large, too painful, and you do not know if you can carry on? If so, then you might understand the struggle occurring in the Gospel today when many of the disciples say to Jesus, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” For those early disciples, it was not the amount of work being asked of them, but the nature of the belief and the call to total commitment that was so difficult. Let’s talk about this.
For several weeks we have been reading from Chapter six in John’s Gospel, the Bread of Life chapter. Over and over, Jesus has said, “I am the Bread of Life, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you shall not have life within you.” These are very difficult words to hear and to understand, much less to follow. Jesus is asking for a commitment that is based, not upon his miracles and his fascinating preaching, but upon Him, as the Son of God and the Bread of Life. Remember the disciples do not have our clear theology of the Eucharist, so Jesus’ words seem horrific and totally unreasonable.
Jesus is also using many “I AM” statements when he makes repeated statements that, “I am the Bread of Life.” The Jewish ear would have picked up on this immediately, recognizing the ancient definition of God as “I AM.” Jesus is aligning himself closer and closer to God as being one with God, even saying in the beginning of this gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus is the Word who became flesh. So, the early disciples were being asked to make a commitment to Jesus as the Son of God!! Can they do this? Could we do this??
Any life commitment will reach a point where a person says, “This is too hard” and we just want to quit. We are all good starters, heading into commitments with enthusiasm and energy. The challenge comes down the road, after five, ten years when the youthful enthusiasm has disappeared and we are facing the daily grind. Life can get more difficult and the questions can become more complex.
Olympic champion Jesse Owens once put it like this: "There is something that can happen to every athlete, every human being…it's the instinct to slack off, to give in to the pain, to give less than your best...the instinct to hope to win through luck or your opponents not doing their best, instead of going to the limit and past your limit, where victory is always to be found. Defeating those negative instincts that are out to defeat us is the difference between winning and losing, and we face that battle every day of our lives." Life is a marathon. Finishing is what it is all about.
At the end of the Gospel, Jesus turns to the 12 apostles and ask them, “Do you also want to leave?” since most of the other disciples have already walked away. It is Peter who speaks out, “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.”
Notice that Peter does not give a theological statement of the Eucharist and the meaning of the Bread of Life? Peter was probably filled with as many questions about Jesus’ words as anyone else. Yet, Peter has come to see something deeper in Jesus and his words have affected his heart. There is nowhere else he can go for this. Jesus gives life and Peter will not walk away from this gift.
So often we don’t understand what is going on. So, often we don’t know if we have the strength to carry on. As Jesse Owens says, we are tempted to surrender to the negative instincts that fill our hearts. We want to walk away from our marriages, our troubled children, our jobs, our priesthood, our faith. “This is hard. Who can accept it?”
Peter didn’t understand. Peter didn’t know if he could carry the responsibility of faith, but he knew Jesus had the words of eternal life, and he wasn’t going to walk away from him.
To be faithful in the long haul, we need Christ with us. Christianity is not about being a sprinter, running a fast 100 meter dash. No, Christianity is a marathon, and for that we have to push through the negativity; those moments of being overwhelmed, and rely upon the love and Grace of Christ working in us.
The challenge of running the Christian marathon is especially real in the living out of our lifelong commitments of marriage, or in my case, priesthood. Our second reading today speaks about marriage and I would like to say a few things about this reading. When we read or hear this reading from St. Paul to the Ephesians, about the only words that we remember are, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands.” These words often create powerful reactions in people, especially wives!! Seldom do we remember the corresponding line about husbands: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church…” How did Christ love the church? He gave his life for the church! He died for the church!
It is important in reading a Scripture, that we try to understand whether St. Paul is teaching a theological truth or whether he is simply using the cultural/political situation of his day as a way of explaining another theological truth, in this case, the relationship between Christ and the Church. In St. Paul’s day, wives WERE subordinate to their spouses. It was the lived reality of marriage and St. Paul is giving a spiritual understanding to it.
The guiding sentence in this reading is actually the first one: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In this phrase, St. Paul is calling husbands and wives to be subordinate, that is to be one who cares for the other even when it demands something of ourselves. It is interesting to note that the Ephesians who first heard this reading, including the women, would not have raised an eyebrow to the phrase, “Wives be subordinate to your husbands,” but they would have been shocked to hear, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church.” In a society at the time where women had few, if any rights, St .Paul is addressing them as mutual companions, giving and receiving from each other. He is encouraging what he says earlier that we are to bear with one another in love, humility, gentleness and patience (4:2).
I don’t believe that St. Paul is demanding of all married couples a certain requirement for decision making. I do believe that he is emphasizing the mutual requirement in marriage the involves surrender, trust, and at times, obedience.
Sometimes we become tired; sometimes it just feels like too much. It is then that we are pushed to go to the Lord and allow the Lord’s strength to lead and enable us.