“This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Such was the reaction of many who heard Jesus describe Himself as the Bread of Life come down from Heaven, the Bread that is His flesh given as food and drink so that all who are nourished by it might have eternal life.
Not only did the crowds “murmur” against Jesus’ words, but the Gospel tells us, “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” Jesus’ Eucharistic references provoked a crisis of faith among His followers.
Yet the Lord never retreated from His words; He never tried to explain them away or water them down. Despite the defections of many who had at first followed Him, despite even the first hint of Judas’ later betrayal (“Jesus knew from the beginning…the one who would betray him”), Jesus proclaims the truth about Himself. Indeed, He can do nothing else, because Jesus is the Truth.
All through the centuries, the Church, continuing her Master’s example, proclaims “hard sayings” teachings that unfold and illuminate the truth about God, the world and ourselves. Throughout the history of the Church, many have accepted these teachings and found in them a source of light, strength and consolation. On the other hand, there have also been many who do not accept certain of the Church’s teachings for example, the truth about the Eucharist (as in this week’s Gospel reading); the immorality of contraception or of homosexual activity; the absolute respect that is owed to innocent human life, to name just a few of the more controverted teachings today. Yet like her Lord, the Church cannot cease to proclaim and teach the truth so that all persons may have the opportunity to hear the Gospel and to be inspired to believe in it.
Faced with the departure of His own followers, Jesus turned to the Twelve, asking them, “Do you also want to leave?” No doubt, the Twelve were confused by the Lord’s “Bread of Life Discourse”; no doubt, they did not fully understand His meaning. In the name of them all, however, Peter spoke up: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” On the basis of their conviction that Jesus is the promised Messiah, “the Holy One of God,” the Twelve Apostles, through Peter, proclaim in faith that only Jesus Christ Himself, only His Gospel, offers truth, hope and ultimately life. No other words will do, no other teaching will satisfy.
In our own lives, where do we stand? Whose voice will we follow? Yes, some Church teachings are “hard sayings.” But are they hard because God fails to provide the grace and strength to accept them and to live by them? Or are they hard because they call us to embrace an objective truth that runs counter to the modern morass of moral relativism? Are they hard because Jesus and His Church invite us to continual conversion instead of simply accommodating our individual whims, likes and dislikes?
In every age, the Church has proclaimed hard sayings, whether these be truths of faith or of morals. It is no different today. Like Christ’s followers in this week’s Gospel, you and I are faced with a choice: will we leave the Lord, or will we recognize that Jesus’ words are “Spirit and life,” and remain united to Him, professing with our whole heart, mind and soul, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”
Fr. De Ladurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy, secretary for diocesan religious education, a professor of theology at Notre Dame Graduate School and in residence at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)