To Whom Will We Have Recourse?
HOMILY From 21 Sunday in OT ... 23 Aug 09
Josh 24 :: Ps 33 :: Eph 5:21-32 :: Jn 6:61-70
St. Agnes Church, Kansas City, KS
In the Gospel today, the people are reacting to Jesus’ saying that “unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you shall not have eternal life.” They thought this was impossible; that Jesus was making outrageous demands and claims. He was asking too much from them. They would not give him the benefit of their doubt, and try to understand what he was attempting to explain to them. So they turned away and left him.
You and I know that they were very mistaken. Jesus knew exactly what he was saying, and what he was doing. After all, he was no ordinary guy. His miracles were proof of that. The people spontaneously wanted to have eternal life. They did not want death to be the final answer. Here was Jesus promising them eternal life, if they would “eat the bread come down from heaven,” which was his own body and blood. If the people had given Jesus a chance, He would have explained that the bread of the Eucharist would become his body and blood. God rained down manna from heaven on Moses and the people during their 40 year Exodus in the dessert. In the end all these people died. But Jesus was promising a new manna, his own body and blood, after eating which a person would never die. You and I understand this as the meaning of the Eucharist. And it is completely doable.
When the people rejected Jesus and left him, what was Jesus supposed to do? Change his plan so as to please them? That is not the real world. God draws up the plans. He knows what is best for us. We are to accept his plans and try to understand them. We are to commit ourselves to God, and place our full trust in him.
In the first reading, Joshua, near the end of his life, called all the people together and addressed them. He said: “Choose which God you will serve. Will you serve the gods of your ancestors, east of the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are now? As for myself, I and my family will serve only the Lord, Yahweh.” And the people promised that they would only serve the Lord, Yahweh, because of the great works that he had performed for their benefit, bringing them out of slavery to Pharaoh and then protecting and providing for them throughout the Exodus. Joshua said: “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statues and ordinances for them at Shechem.
Brothers and sisters, you and I must also make a choice. Which god will we serve? Will we serve the god of our own wishes, our convenience, or the changing whims of the secular world? Or will we serve Jesus, the Son of God, who came among us to teach us the ways of God? And if Jesus makes demands upon us that at first seem difficult and confusing, will we dismiss him, or will we react as Peter did? “To whom shall we go, Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life.”
In the second reading, from the 5th chapter of Ephesians, St. Paul explains to us how we are related to God. And he does this in terms of a marriage between a husband and a wife. Pope John Paul II has a wonderful commentary on this in his Theology of the Body. St. Paul explains: Christ is related to his Church as a husband is related to his bride. The Church is Jesus’ bride and you and I are members of that Church. As a good husband, Jesus is willing to do anything for his beloved bride. He will love her, protect her, and provide for her. If necessary, he will lay down his life for her. That is what exactly Jesus did when he suffered his Passion and Death on a cross.
Jesus’ love for his bride, the Church, becomes the model for all married people, for all husbands and wives. In an age when marriage has fallen upon very difficult times, when 50% of marriages today collapse, we need to examine again the model for marriage, and rediscover God’s plan for marriage and spousal love. Jesus is irrevocably committed to his bride. There is nothing that could force him to divorce his bride. He will never give up on her. He is irrevocably committed to her. And if Jesus will never give up on us, then we should never give up on one another. That is why divorce is to be completely shunned. A commitment is to honored and worked at. Working with our problems, instead of running from them, is part of the deal.
St. Paul teaches: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This means that both the husband and the wife are to be subject to one another, according to their respective roles in marriage. As the Church is subject to Jesus’ leadership, so also is the bride to be subject to her husband’s leadership. Husbands are to love their wives as Jesus loved his bride, the Church. How much did Jesus love his bride? To the very end, and with every fiber of his being. He laid down his life for her. It is very easy for a wife to love a husband who is willing to lay down his life for her. Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
It helps to recall that the love a husband and wife discover between them comes, not from themselves, but as a gift from God. All love comes from God. God is the source of all love; love is his very definition. This means that a couple should look to God as the source of their love for one another. They are to remain in God’s love for them, in their marriage vows, and strive to share that love more deeply with each other. They are to learn how to make the total gift of themselves to one another. Such a love can cope with any difficulty.
St. Paul teaches us: “Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ep 5:10). “Do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ep 5:17). This applies directly to God’s plan for marriage and spousal love.
God’s plan for spousal love is that spouses are to make the total gift of themselves to each other. There are to be no reservations, no conditions, nothing held back. There is a world of difference between contraception and Natural Family Planning. In fact, we call NFP “natural” precisely to highlight the fact that, unlike contraception, NFP respects the nature of human love, that is, the truth of spousal communion.
“To begin with, lovers undermine each other’s dignity as persons unless they cherish the truth of love. Second, the truth of love is revealed in love’s natural aspiration to make a total gift of self. Third, it is only when lovers receive their love as a gift from God that they are capable of this total self-giving. Fourth and finally, to receive human love as God’s gift is to respect the language of the body, in which God, the Author of this language, expresses himself and speaks his generous love.
“Unfortunately, respecting the truth about love is precisely what contraception fails to do: By suppressing the procreative meaning of sexuality the spouses refuse to listen to the language of the body, given by the Creator himself. As a consequence, contraception diminishes and distorts the totality of self-giving.
“Natural Family Planning, by contrast, changes the expression of love (the spouses abstain from sex during the woman’s fertile period), but not its essential truth: that the conjugal act is a total gift of self to the other person. For, rather than engineering sterility, spouses who use NFP respect the natural cycle of fertility. They do not suppress the procreative meaning of sexuality, but accept its presence, adapting themselves to the alternating periods of dormancy and fertility.
“The anthropological difference between NFP and contraception obviously entails a profound moral difference between the methods as well. In the case of contraception, the spouses fail to adapt their sexual behavior to the truth of love, because they experience their sexuality as a necessity that compels them with an irresistible urge. With NFP the couple is able to change the sexual expression of their love because the sexual desire does not dominate them, since it has been integrated in the true love to the other person. In this way the spouses keep sexual desire from occupying the entire space of their relationship, and are thus liberated for the maturity that flourishes within the communion of persons. In a word, NFP is a response to the call to total gift of self, an education in chastity that enables couples to shape their relationship in accord with the truth of love in whatever situation of life they find themselves in” (Carl Anderson and Fr. Josè Granados, CALLED TO LOVE, pp. 193-6).
Brothers and sisters, the people in today’s Gospel could not accept God’s plan for the Eucharist, that we should find our strength by eating the Body and drinking the Blood of Jesus. By their rejection, they deprived themselves of a priceless gift. Today many people do not accept God’s plan for marriage and spousal love. As a result there is a 50% divorce race, much pain, broken hearts and fractured families. May we pledge ourselves to follow Jesus. He has repeatedly demonstrated his great love for us. May we try to understand his wonderful plan for marriage, spousal love and family. It is the only way to real happiness, and integral human development.