Today's scripture lessons contain two of my favorite readings. One is from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians (5:21-32) where he compares marriage to the relationship between Christ and His Church. Critics love to quote just one line, as an example of the Church's supposedly misogynistic view of women: "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of his wife, just as Christ is the head of the church."
However, they neglect to consider the rest of the passage, which tells husbands to "love your wives, even as Christ loved the church." And how did Christ love the church? He died for her, giving up his very life to sanctify her. That's a tall order, and so I remind all husbands (and future husbands) that they certainly don't have the easy end of this bargain.
The most important line in this passage, I think, is the first one which simply reminds us to "be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ." This is especially true of husbands and wives, but I think if we approach all of our relationships with the same attitude, those relationships would be healthier, and we would be holier people.
That's today's second reading. But my absolute favorite passage is today's Gospel account from John 6:60-69. This passage concludes the "Bread of Life" discourse, wherein Jesus tells the gathered crowd over and over again, "I am the bread of life," and "my flesh is true food, my blood is true drink." Remember that this crowd had come to him after the miracle Jesus preformed of feeding 5000 with a few fish and loaves of bread. They had come to be fed. And Jesus kept repeating to them that he was to be their food, and unless they ate his flesh and drank his blood, they would have no life in them. For emphasis, he kept repeating the words, "Amen, amen," which means "truly, truly," or "I really mean this."
What did the crowds think of this strange man and his strange teaching? Put simply, they thought he was crazy. 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." They simply left. Notice that the gospel says "his disciples" here, not just random people in the crowd. These were not only those who had shown up lately because they heard of the miracle of the loaves and fishes (although they were there, too). But even his disciples, who had traveled with Jesus, heard his teachings, and gotten to know, respect and love him -- even they left at this point. This teaching was just too much.
And now comes my favorite scene in all the gospels. Jesus turns to his chosen twelve and asks them, "Do you also want to leave?" Now, consider this. The Apostles had no more clue what Jesus was talking about than any of the others who left Jesus at this point. They just heard their master and teacher insist that if they even wanted a chance at eternal life, they would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood. This was before the Last Supper, where they would see Jesus bless bread and wine and tell them, "This is my body... this is my blood." This was before Pentecost, when the descent of the Holy Spirit would fill them with understanding. Have no doubt about it. The Apostles had no clue what Jesus was talking about at this point.
But then Peter, speaking on behalf of all the others, looks at Christ and says these magnificent words. "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."
They had faith. Not necessarily faith in what they had just heard, not faith based on their own understanding. They had faith in a person -- Jesus Christ. And that is the heart of Christianity. We don't believe in "a teaching." We believe in a Person. And because we believe that Christ is the Son of God incarnate, we accept and have faith in whatever he tells us, even hard to understand things such as "my flesh is true food," and "my blood is true drink." We don't have to understand these things in order to believe them, because we believe in the one who said them.
I cannot tell you how often in my life I have found recourse and comfort in those words of St. Peter. "Master, to whom would we go?" That, in a nutshell, is why I became a Catholic and why I remain one to this day. To whom else would I go? What else is there that makes any kind of sense of the world, or offers any real hope, other than Christ? So when I encounter a teaching of the Church that is difficult or hard to understand, I am not tempted to leave. I have faith in Christ, faith in the Church he founded and continues to lead. That faith will, God willing, eventually lead to understanding. But one does not have to first understand in order to have faith.
Remember these words whenever you encounter a hard teaching, or are faced with a difficult experience that might fill you with doubt or uncertainty. And ask, "To whom would I go?" Indeed, who else is there? The Christian is the one who realizes the answer is, "only Christ." No one but Christ.
God bless, and have a great week!