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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Have I walked away from Christ?

Have I walked away? (21st Sunday Year B)

My name is Deacon Pat and I am visiting your parish from Idaho.

Some of you might know that we had a Men’s Retreat today where a large group of men spent the day learning and reflecting on their spirituality and their relationship with God.

In the retreat we discussed:

  • how to develop and maintain a masculine prayer life,
  • how to navigate our spiritual journeys, and
  • how to hear God’s voice and know how and when to act upon it.
Many in the group shared that they struggle with the distractions of the world, with temptations, and at times find themselves drawn away from God and spiritual things.

I believe that today’s gospel speaks to some of what the men shared at the retreat, and I believe it has a strong message for many of us here today.
But to understand the depth of the message we must first recall what Jesus said last week.

Jesus stated to a large group of his followers and disciples the following:

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world."

And then he said:

"Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you. 
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day. 
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink."

And in today’s gospel when Jesus finishes speaking about himself as the “living bread that came down from heaven,” many people reacted with disbelief and disapproval.

They said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
While we might have expected those who were critical of Jesus to respond in that way, we would have never assumed that his followers, those who had just seen Jesus feed thousands with a few loaves and fish, wouldn’t have accepted his teaching.

Instead we are told that many of the disciples of Jesus reacted negatively as well.

Instead of applauding their teacher, they were murmuring about his message.

“Who can accept it?”

As a result of the words that Jesus spoke “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

Jesus was abandoned by a good number of his disciples on that day.
That may have been a surprise to his apostles, yet apparently not to Jesus.

He knew that his message would be rejected by many.
As John tells us in his Gospel, “Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe.”

Is it any different for us today?

I don’t think so, even today many of his disciples, those that have called themselves Christian walk away from him.

They no longer gather with their fellow Christians to hear his word proclaimed and preached.

They consider his voice just one voice among many vying for attention.
They see the Eucharist as something far less than his very Body and Blood and not worth their attendance at Mass.

They allow their moral standards to be set by a changing society with fluid definitions of right and wrong.

They forget that the Cross of Jesus calls us to sacrifice for others and to put the will of God before our own.

Many Christians are walking away from Jesus since they find his teachings increasingly hard to accept and to live out in a society that keeps sinking deeper into sin, self-centeredness, consumerism, and immorality.

A society that Pope Francis describes as having a “throwaway culture” where all things are considered disposable even the unborn, the poor, the powerless, the elderly, and the sick.

The more our society becomes post-Christian, the more it becomes secular, materialistic, narcissistic, and addicted to sensual pleasure, and the more the teachings of Jesus and of his Church seem out of step and suited for another age.

As this happens, more and more people who claim to be Christians do the unexpected.

Like many of the disciples of Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel, they will walk away.

They no longer accompany Jesus.

They decide to embrace the values of the society around them and reject those of Jesus Christ.

You and I might say “Well, I am not one of them, I am in church aren’t I.”
Well, I can remember some time ago a wise man sharing some advice with me.

He said, “Sitting in my garage an hour a week doesn’t make me a car, and so is it with sitting in a church one hour a week, it doesn’t magically make me Christian.”

The serious questions we need to ask ourselves are:
Am I a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ?
  • Am I fervent in my prayer life? Do I even know who Christ is?
  • Do I serve those around me or do I only serve myself?
  • Am I here today cleansed of sin by the use of regular confession?
  • Can others see the love of Christ in my actions and behaviors?
  • Do I turn to the Church for guidance in my life, or do I let the world guide me?
  • Do I believe in all that the Church teaches, or just some of it?

For many of us the answers will be less than a resounding “Yes.”

Maybe some of us are at best Luke-warm in our faith and we are now just beginning to realize it.

So, what do we do about it?

The first thing is to realize that God is working in you right now with his grace.

Recognizing our faults, our limitations, our “Luke-warmness” is purely a gift from God.

It is with this gift that he is asking for us to respond.

Recognizing that our life is less than full provides an opportunity to turn toward the one, the only one, who can fill us and make us complete.

Maybe Jesus is asking us right now to make a choice just as he asked Peter when Christ asked if he would also leave.

And what did Peter share when asked such a question, “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.”

God has given us a free will and he will allow us to make our own decisions in life, just as he allowed all those disciples to say:

“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
“Who can accept this?”

He also allows us to question our faith and our Church as some do?

“But why can’t I have premarital sex?”
“What is so wrong with living an active homosexual life?”
“Why can’t women be ordained?”
“Why can’t I use birth control?
“Why can’t I pick and choose what I want to believe?”

The Church is very clear on her teachings, and anyone who desires an answer can pick up the catechism to see why the Church believes what she believes.

Yet, many will struggle and reject the teachings of Christ’s church, often without any effort to see why the church teaches what she does, and many will walk away, some physically, and some mentally.

They might be present in Church, but their hearts are not.

So what is the point that I am trying to share?

Being Christian is more that claiming to be a Christian.

It isn’t as much a title as it is a way of life, fully committed, and fully engaged.

It has a lot to do with self-reflection and being humble and honest enough to see yourself in the truth and light of God, to see yourself as God might see you.

Let us begin today to sincerely reflect upon our relationship with God, with Christ, and with the Holy Spirit.

Let us each reflect upon just how engaged we are with being a Christian and better yet, with living a Catholic way of life.

Let’s God’s voice speak to you in the quiet of your heart and be ready for what he will say.

Spend time in holy adoration in the presence of God.

Speak to him daily and throughout the day, and most importantly listen.

Listen to him in the quiet of your soul.
Listen to him in the people and events he places in your life.
Listen to him in your celebrations and also in your sufferings.
Listen to him as you receive him today in the holy Eucharist.
Listen to him as he asks “Have you left me too?”

I hope and pray your response will be:

“Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
You are the Holy One of God.”

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