The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on August 27, the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.
The Gospel scene just proclaimed in our hearing took place centuries ago and yet, because the Word of God is living and present, this scene is taking place right now in our midst. Jesus has spoken "hard sayings" to us. Some among us murmur, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?"
Sadly, even some within the Church no longer accompany Jesus; they walk away and leave. Jesus turns to us and says, "Do you also want to leave?" What is our reply? With Simon Peter, will we answer, "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"?
Yes, as we listen to Christ and to the Teaching Office of the Church, the Magisterium, which echoes Christ's voice and the Truth He proclaims, we hear "hard sayings," that is, teachings that clearly challenge our own preconceptions of what the Catholic Faith is all about and challenge the contemporary culture in which we live. These teachings direct us to live in the world but to be not of the world, to live in the way Christ points out by His own example and through His Church.
For example, we are to forgive while holding on to a grudge or even taking revenge is how society would counsel us to act. We are to uphold and protect human life from conception to natural death while attacks on human life, like abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and physician-assisted suicide are judged by the culture of death surrounding us as acceptable and politically correct. We are to defend marriage as the union only of one man with one woman while the society around us would say that doing this is discriminating and unfair.
Other examples could also be cited. In the end, we are to make our own " to obey " all of Christ's teachings made clear through the Church while many in society, even within the Church, try to pick and choose only those which seem convenient to them in a "cafeteria-style" approach.
So, now, as centuries ago, Jesus is asking us, "Do you also want to leave?" What is our response this morning as we gather with the Lord Jesus in this renewal of His life-giving Death and Resurrection? With Simon Peter, we respond, do we not, "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."
Our response is rooted in a process of deepening faith in Jesus. Like Simon Peter, we too admit, "We have come to believe." This deepening faith is ongoing. It is purified by our struggles to put aside our own preconceptions, our own personal preferences, in loving obedience to Jesus, Who speaks to our hearts "words [that are] Spirit and life, words that are truly life-giving. Christ tells us that He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Christ founded the Church with the guaranteed guidance of God the Holy Spirit so that we would follow His way in safety, know His truth with certainty and live His life in union with Him. In the end, our obedience is to Christ Jesus Himself, as He speaks to us and leads us through His representatives whom He gives us, especially the pope and the bishops, who are in union with St. Peter's successor. We give to Christ our "obedience of faith." "We have come to believe and are convinced that You are the Holy One of God."
A new school year is about to begin for our young people, from pre-school through college and university. This is a privileged opportunity for them and, indeed, for all of us, to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ's truth through the official teachings of His Church. This will happen through our Catholic schools, parish catechetical programs, youth ministry, campus ministry, Theology on Tap gatherings and adult study sessions.
Not only is this new school year a privileged opportunity to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ's truth, but it is also a graced time to deepen our union with the Lord Jesus and through Him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Christian way of life is ultimately living in a deeply personal relationship with the Trinity within the community of Christ's disciples, the Church. Our constant prayer must be: "Come, Lord Jesus, live in me; transform me; unite my heart with Yours now and forever. Make my heart the dwelling place of God, Three in One."
As I conclude this homily, permit me to summarize all that we have reflected upon with a brief passage from the current issue of Magnificat, an aid to worship and prayer published monthly and familiar to many of you.
"Many murmur, 'This saying is hard; who can accept it?' If we approach Christianity from our own presuppositions, we completely miss the fact, as Pope Benedict XVI writes, that 'being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.' We are to look beyond the 'saying' to the Say-er. This is what it means to 'be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.' 'Decide today whom you will serve' " your ideas and preconceptions, or 'the Lord'" (pp 367-68).
Yes, the Gospel scene is being relived right now. Jesus is asking, "Do you also want to leave?" And, by His transforming grace, we are replying, "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." "Yes, Lord, we will stay with You each day until, by Your grace, we are with You in heaven. Amen."