“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord and each other.”
Please don’t get up and leave now!! I am beginning with that pronouncement because it is one of the most powerful directions in the liturgy — and it is one of the two lines that a Deacon gets to announce during the Mass (sometimes) — but it is also the message delivered in all three readings today:
In the first reading, Joshua’s people, proclaim: “We will serve the Lord for he is our God!”
In the second reading, Paul advises the Ephesians to be: “imitators of God… to live in love.”
And in the Gospel, Peter responds: “Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
These readings give us insight into why Joshua and his people, Paul and the Ephesians, and Peter and the disciples chose to follow the Lord. More importantly, it raises the question to each of us: Why would we choose to follow the Lord? Why are we in Church today? Why do we come back week after week? Why are so many people back in the pews after attending TV Mass became so comfortable during the pandemic?
But — people are back in church for Mass week after week — why? Does the Mass just fulfill a personal need – such as to meet friends or a family outing? Or does the need run deeper? Does the need begin and end with Jesus?
In today’s Gospel, John presented the problem of fidelity in a very straightforward way:
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you!” Because of this many of His disciples turned back and no longer went about with Him.”
These are difficult words to accept and understand. Yet only when a student has mastered all that the teacher provides can the student become a fellow teacher. That was the challenge to the disciples and that is the challenge to each of us when we are directed to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord and each other.”
What are some steps that we can take to see Jesus as the bread of life and let God write His law on our hearts?
We pray to God for a softening of our hearts. Prayer is so important to the Christian. Pray to God the words a father declared to Jesus. “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Tell God your weaknesses and your struggles.
Second: READ GOD’S WORD WITH INTENT
Mindlessly reading the scriptures will not affect the heart. Take small portions of God’s word. Read those words and reflect on what you have read. Think about how those words affect your life. Pray those words to God. We have to bring the word of God from our eyes to our hearts. This is the only way to see that Jesus has the words of eternal life. It is the only way that we will come to true, saving faith. It is the only way that we will appreciate that he is the bread of life. It is the only way to be taught by God.
Then and today, discipleship requires total commitment — total loyalty — total faith. And faith involves trust. The followers who fell away did so because they lacked trust in Jesus.
They had joined the followers of Jesus often for temporal reasons: prayer and fellowship might bring relief from a personal problem, or their reasons could have been social — friendship in a community brings social advantages.
Peter and the others remained faithful because they had found their hearts’ true desire, and there was no other place to go. The words of Christ lead to eternal life. The one who spoke to them was God’s Holy Son. No one could replace Christ or his words.
Real faith seeks understanding. That is why God gives us the help of the Holy Spirit to enlighten the eyes of our mind to understand His Truth and Wisdom. Jesus offers His life-giving Word and Spirit to those who believe and who submit to His authority.
In this era of “cafeteria Catholics”, let us remember why we are Catholic, but let us also empathize with those who have doubts. Let us lead those in a faith crisis by prayer, compassion, and honesty. Faith is a response to God’s revelation. It’s the key to seeing God work in our lives with power. Do you believe, as Simon Peter did, that Jesus can change your life because He has the words of everlasting life? Ask the Lord to increase your faith that you may grow in your relationship with Him and in the knowledge of His love for you.
Finally, let us remember that faith and faithfulness are gifts from God. We cannot impose them on others. That is why we soon will be directed to go from this Church — in the peace of Christ — to love and serve the Lord and each other.
“Lord Jesus, you have the words of everlasting life. Help me to cast aside doubt and fear and to embrace your Word with trust and joy. I surrender my life to You. Be the Lord and Captain of my heart, my will, my thoughts, and my actions. May there be nothing which keeps me from You and Your Love.” Amen.
-Dcn. Terry Murphy