26 August. 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Josh 24:1-2, 15-18. When the people reach the Promised Land, will they go on serving the one true God or to “go native” and serve the gods of Canaan?
Eph 5:25-32. Paul’s image of a marriage relationship expresses the faithful love that exists between Christ and the Church.
Jn 6:60-69. When many turn away from him, Jesus’ apostles face the same choice: ” Will you also leave me?” Peter answers, “Lord, to whom can we go?
1) Married Holiness
(by Peter Briscoe)
I wonder how most of us would react to the idea that there is a crisis of holiness in the Church today. If we agree on this, how many of us would immediately associate it with the decline in vocations, the crises facing priests and religious? There is still a tendency in many parts of the Church to see holiness as some kind of professional pursuit, something for those with “vocations.” If there were such a thing as a crisis of holiness (and who could be the judge of that?) it would exist at a more fundamental level in the Church; not at the level of religious vocations – which are a minority in the Church at any time – but where such vocations are said to begin – in the family, in marriage.
We all need the reminder that marriage is the most general vocation to holiness in the Church. Every Christian who marries is called to holiness, to integrity, through and in their marriage. The idea would probably make many of our people decidedly nervous, partly because they have too strict, austere or pious a notion of what holiness means, and who consequently find it hard to see what it might mean in their marriage.
There are those who would be prepared to admit that the married can try to become holy, but they would see this as some kind of devotional or charitable activity outside their married lives. They would tend to see their striving for holiness and their marriage as two parallel lines of their lives which don’t intersect with one another. (Obviously this is an exaggerated statement of the case but it is expressive of a dichotomy which seems to underlie many attitudes in the Church, especially those which see the Christian understanding of marriage as a body of negative restrictions.)
What we have to emphasise is that the first and basic way to holiness for the married person is through their married and family life. We have to see clearly that this is not some kind of second best for those who have neither the talent nor the zeal for apostolic works. It has also to be clear that the path to holiness in marriage is not some kind of tricky and hazardous pathway through a bog of negative rules and regulations but rather the call to be holy by reflecting the love that Christ has for the Church. This call to love in Christ is realised simply by the way you love your husband or wife and children.
To love your wife, your husband and your children – it sounds banal, it sounds like what we would expect to find in most homes on our street! Is such a general expectation the ideal of holiness?
If this is a problem for us it may be that we still see holiness too much as a reality of the other world, a world that we have to enter in order to be holy. We have still to learn that holiness is really for us the perfection, the making whole of this world which is destined in Christ to become a new creation. What we have to learn is that the apparently ordinary things of this world are the medium of God’s transforming power in Christ.
So the transformation of the married Christian’s life must begin with their showing love as husband, wife, mother, father. What soon becomes clear is that to exercise this love in Christ is not so ordinary as at first appears, and where it appears in all its clarity it has the quality of the miracuIous. Consider briefly the secular reality of romantic and exotic love which appears as the basis of so many relationships of our permissive age. The statistics of breakdown suggest that such love is becoming less and less capable of sustaining a permanent relationship. In contrast to the self-concern which marks so much of modern living the Christian ideal of dedicated, unselfish faithful and life-long love, actually begins to look more and more like a holy ideal, it almost looks like a reality of another world.
Most of us have met people with the extraordinary courage and perseverance to remain faithful and loving despite the strain of the prolonged illness of their partner, separation due to conditions of employment, tremendous loneliness or poverty. These are, of course, situations of trial, hopefully they are not the only conditions where true love can appear, but they are a true test of what is involved. The commitment that is made in Christian marriage is the commitment to no longer being the sole master or mistress of your own life and destiny. The married Christian can no longer think in terms of “my life” – everything is now subject to another. This commitment is not one-sided of course, it is mutually shared but this hardly makes it less mysterious, it is the mystery of Christ’s love, laying down your life for another. It is in and through this loving relationship in the joy of giving and receiving love that the married Christian is called to holiness.
2) Not just A-La-Carte
(by Jack McArdle)
The gospels of the past few Sundays have been leading up to this point. Many of the hearers left him, while others decided to stay with him.
Fishing was one of the great passions of my childhood. The tackle was basic, and the catches were modest. One of the memories that stands out in my mind today was the way I kept running all over the place. The place where I was fishing was chosen by me, because I decided that this was the ideal place to catch fish. However, as soon as someone caught a fish further along the lake, I gathered my belongings and ran off to fish there. Within minutes, perhaps someone else had hooked a fish back at the place I had just left! With hindsight, I don’t think I had what it takes to become a good fisherman! When I read today’s gospel, I recalled those times. Stability, consistency, and “stickabiity” were not my greatest virtues!
This story contains something that is implicit in all passages of the gospel, i.e., it forces you to make a choice, to come to a decision. Jesus had the rare ability to divide a group down the middle, in so far as he offered a straight option – you were either for him, or against him. He himself was committed onto death to his mission, and to all that was best for us. In today’s gospel we are told that even his disciples complained. He was used to being in conflict with his enemies, but when he could not depend on the loyalty of his friends, it was time to call them to account.
In a way Jesus was hard on his followers, because, by the nature of what he was offering them, it could not just be some sort of an a la carte menu, from which they could choose whatever suited them. “Human effort accomplishes nothing,” he told them. This was the work of God, and they were in no position to sit in judgement on God. He spoke about belief in him, because he was inviting them to accept something now, and, perhaps, at some future time~ they might come to understand it. When he spoke of the Spirit, he spoke of a fountain of living water rising up from within a person. In other words, it began in the heart, and might, possibly, reach the head some other time.
When his followers turned around and walked away, he didn’t run after them and try to reason with them. That was not his way of doing things. Rather he turned to those who remained and challenged them. He needed to know that their decision to remain was definite, and not just a failure to make any decision, and to end with inaction. There are three groups of people in every gathering. There are those who cause things to happen; there are those who watch things happening; and there are those who haven’t a clue what is happening! Once again, Peter was the one who stepped in to fill the breach. “Lord, to whom else can we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. We know, and we believe that you are the Christ, the Holy One of God.” Losing the others was worth it, if it left him with loyal followers like Peter.
A group of Christians were gathered for a secret prayer meeting in Communist Russia, at the height of the persecution of all Christian churches. Suddenly the door was broken down by the boot of a soldier, who entered the room, and faced the people with a gun in his hand. They all feared the worst. He spoke. “If there’s any of you who doesn’t really believe in Jesus, then, get out now while you have a chance.” There was a rush to the door. A small group remained, those who had committed themselves to Jesus, and who were never prepared to run from him. The soldier closed the door after the others, and, once again, he stood in front of those who remained, gun poised. Finally, a smile appeared on his face, as he turned to leave the room, and he whispered “Actually, I believe in Jesus, too, and you’re much better off without those others!’
First Reading: Book of Joshua 24:1-2
Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors-Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor-lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.
Second Reading: Epistle to the Ephesians 5:21-32
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind-yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.
Gospel: John 6:60-69
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.”
For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”