So I knew a priest once who when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks happened decided he would like to serve in the military for a while and so he became an Air Force Chaplain. He soon found himself being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. On one of these deployments, there was a group of Special Forces soldiers who were going on a dangerous mission. They asked if a priest would come to the base and say mass and offer the sacraments for them before they went on the mission. So the priest jumps in a helicopter and is taken out to this forward base in the middle of nowhere and finds a little room and begins to say mass for these soldiers.
In the middle of mass, the base comes under attack-mortars, rockets, the sirens of the base going off. Everyone is scrambling and running around trying to get to their post. Hearing this commotion the priest looks at the people in the chapel and asks, “What do we do? Do we stop? Where are we supposed to be?” The Special Forces guys are totally unfazed. One of them looks at the priest and says, “No, press on Padre, press on.” I love that moment and I love that response- that moment of “should we keep going?”, “this is not what we signed up for!”, or “should we stop and quit?” the calm response of “no let’s keep going, it will be alright.”
I think we can hit those moments in our faith life, in our relationship with the Lord. My first pastor used to say- a disciple is someone who meets Jesus, gets to know Jesus, who loves Jesus, who decides to follow Him, and then who makes other disciples. That is like the track for following Jesus Christ, for becoming a disciple. As you grow to love Him then you make that choice I’m going to follow Him no matter what. Then you go and you spread the gospel.
While I think that is a good framework for somebody who is first converting, it is also something for those of us who are His disciples. We find ourselves bouncing between these stages in different points in our lives. There are still moments that we meet Jesus in a new way. There are things we get to know about Jesus that we didn’t know before. There are still new ways that we encounter Him where we love Him in a new way.
We still are presented day by day with that choice to follow Him. It’s the same as within marriage. You say I do the day that you are married, but every day you are still making that choice. You are still making that choice to love, to give everything. That is our relationship with the Lord. Every day I am saying I’m following you, I’m going to keep going, I’m going to press on.
In this gospel today there are a lot of people who are presented with that choice. A lot of people who have been following Christ, who have gotten to know him, who are listening to his words and in this moment wondering do I keep going, do I hold on, do I hold fast?
The Lord starts telling them, “ I am the living bread that came down from heaven. the bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world.” And it says they quarreled among themselves saying “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Our Lord, in response to this, doubles down. He starts using some pretty graphic language.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, my flesh is true food my blood is true drink (and my favorite one) the one who feeds on me will have life.” Who feeds on me. It is pretty graphic, pretty extreme.
I had some friends growing up who were mainline Protestant and I remember explaining to them what we as Catholics believe – that it actually becomes His body and blood and they accused me of being a cannibal. Because it is extreme.
And for these guys who were first exposed to it, it was difficult. The Church fathers say even some of the 72 whom the Lord sent out to evangelize, even some of his most devout followers leave because of this. They can’t keep going. They can’t choose to keep following Jesus.
I know this week the Pennsylvania grand jury report came out. If any of you read it, the proper response to it is disgust. The proper response is outrage. What is contained in that report is revolting. It is hard to read that and still have that enthusiasm and faith for the Church.
There are a lot of people throughout the Church’s history, in our very lives, and especially contained in that report, who chose to stop following Jesus. People who when presented with that choice- do I hold fast to what I believe or do I choose to do something else, – abandoned Christ. They abandoned Christ and hurt a lot of people immensely. It is entirely your choice whether you want to read the report or not, but if you do, it is a gut check. In fact, it puts us in the same position – it puts us in that same choice.
Can I keep going to a church where this sort of thing would be allowed to happen? Can I keep going to a church where this sort of thing would be covered up? Because I think a lot of us since it first came out in 1993 we have been aware of it for a long time. A lot of folks hear this and say the press is just picking on the Church again.
But reading the Pennsylvania report, the new aspect of it is seeing how much it was covered up and how much was hidden and how much people who should have stood up for the innocent didn’t. How much people chose not to follow the Church and not to follow our Lord.
And now it is our choice. Now we are presented with the difficulty. Now we face that choice of – do I hold fast, do I press on, or do I walk away.
I would imagine every single person in here has at some point in their life been looking for Jesus Christ and has been turned away by someone who should have been a disciple. We’ve probably all had the experience where we didn’t feel welcome. The experience where we have been hurt by a parishioner, by a priest, or maybe a bishop. I think we have all been at some place hurt within the Church, but I think it is important to remember we have never been hurt by the Church.
Brothers and sisters, we are the Church here right now. We’re here united again this Sunday in these very pews united in the fact that we have chosen to continue to follow Jesus Christ.
It is important to remember that the Church will never abandon us and Jesus Christ will never abandon us. We can make the choice to leave, we can make the choice to walk away, we can make the choice to quit, but He will never quit. He will always love us and always welcome us.
So, today is a good time, as we read about this choice that His disciples were faced with, as we think about our own choices that we are faced with every day, I think this is a unique time to offer ourselves totally to the Lord again.
To offer to the Lord that we will stand up against injustice.
To offer to the Lord that we will help those who have been hurt.
To offer to the Lord that we will continue to strive always to bring others closer to Him and not drive others away.
To bring to the Lord all of our own failings, all of our own shortcomings, all the times which we know we have probably failed our brothers and sisters.
To give to the Lord ourselves, our parish, our Archdiocese, our Church.
Hand it all over to Him and say Lord I’m yours, I will press on.
I will hold the true faith, I will love the true Church
and I give you everything that I am.