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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time

It seems like we always have to make decisions about how we live out our belief in God. We have to make choices about how we act, what we say, and how public do we allow our faith to be. Those choices are pretty easy to make when life is going good, but when any difficulty arises, those choices become more of a challenge for us. Even in the most difficult of times and faced with the most challenging of teachings, we are called to make the decision to be faithful to God.

Our readings today show us two situations in which choices were presented and decisions were made. In the first reading, the Israelites finally arrive in the Promised Land after many years of wandering. One of the first decisions they had to make was whether or not to serve the God who led them through the desert while providing for them and protecting them. It would have been easier to fall back on the religious practices of earlier generations who did not know God, or follow the false gods of the Amorites, neither of which put such a strong demand on their followers. Joshua was unapologetic for his decision, saying “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,” and the people of Israel agreed.

Like the Israelites, we have the choice whether or not to serve God the Father. Do we serve Him, even that becomes difficult, or do we follow the cultural “gods” of Consumerism, Materialism, Selfishness and Greed? Just as the Israelites could have followed the gods of the Amorites, who owned the land they were living in, we are constantly challenged by our culture to turn away from God and become self-centered, seeking personal fulfillment and pleasure without consideration of the needs of others.

If we do decide to serve God, we also have the choice of how deeply do we want to follow Our Lord, a choice which was presented to the disciples in today's Gospel. Over the past five weeks, we have been reading from the Gospel of John, hearing Our Lord reveal Himself as the Bread of Life which leads to eternal life. When Jesus proclaimed that they literally had to receive His Body and Blood in order to gain eternal life, the disciples responded, as we see at the beginning of the Gospel passage today, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Many of the disciples couldn't handle what Jesus was teaching, and no longer followed Him.

How do we respond when we encounter an area of Jesus' teaching that we don't understand or find difficult to follow? Our Lord tells us that His words are “Spirit and life,” so we know that everything He says is the Truth that will lead us to eternal life, but that doesn't mean that following His teachings will be easy to do. We're not always going to agree with the Church, but we are still called to follow the teachings of Christ passed down to us through His Church.

When we do come across one of those areas of disagreement, the temptation comes to either ignore the teaching, doing our own thing, or to actively fight against it. We see this especially when looking at public figures who claim to be Catholic while publicly promoting something contrary to the moral precepts that the Church proclaims. This is a spiritually dangerous position to be in, as it makes what we think more important to us than what Our Lord has revealed to us. If we submit to this temptation, we are like the disciples who left Jesus when what He was teaching became too hard to accept.

The real struggle of Christian life is to be able to say with St. Peter, “To where shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” It's easy to say we agree with the Church's teachings on areas where those around us also agree, but it takes a lot of humility to stand up for those teachings when others might vehemently disagree with the Church's stance. When we submit to the Church's teachings, the focus becomes less about ourselves and more about following Our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we encounter those choices in our lives which challenge us when we follow the Church's teachings, may we be able to say with St. Peter, “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God,” and make the decision to follow our God, the God of Israel and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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