The Catholic Liturgy for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, August 26, 2018. Gospel – John 6:60-69. Theme: Do You Also Want to Leave?
The great St. Augustine of Hippo never tired of teaching that the phrase, Body of Christ, referred to two awesome realities. First, it described the reality the flesh & blood of Jesus Christ, given to us under the appearances of the consecrated Eucharist. Secondly, it described the Church, the community of believers who make-up the Body of Christ on earth. And so, he taught that at Holy Communion when we hear the words, “the Body of Christ”, our “Amen” should mean that we firmly believe that the Eucharist is the very flesh and blood of Jesus AND that we believe the Church, the community of Jesus’ disciples, is the expression of his Risen Presence of earth.
The Sunday Gospels for the past several weeks have all been from John 6, revealing to us, bit by bit, the wonderful gift of the Eucharist. At the very same time that we have been hearing these Gospels, the news over the past several weeks has been informing us, bit by bit, of the horrible revelations of abuse by some priests and the scandalous cover-up of this abuse by some bishops of our Church. I think it is extremely important as we ponder these two things to keep in mind that double definition of the Body of Christ from St. Augustine.
Why do I say that? Because just as some disciples in Jesus’ day became scandalized over the reality of the Eucharistic-Body of Christ and left his company, so today because of the reality of scandals within the Church-Body of Christ, some disciples are again finding it too hard to accept and are tempted to leave His company. You know, it’s hard to fault either group of disciples, whether they be the ones 2,000 years ago scandalized by the teaching on the Eucharist or the ones of today scandalized by the revelations of corruption and crime, because in both cases it takes faith to stay, faith to believe what you cannot see. But in both cases – be it the Body of the Eucharist or the Body of the Church – we need to trust in the word and person of Jesus.
Just as we need to trust to believe that the Eucharist is Christ’s very flesh and blood, so we also need to trust in what He has said about His Church, especially in these times when the heinous crimes and scandalous sins of some of its leaders are being revealed. Jesus said that He would be present and act through His Body of baptized people, the Church. Through them, through us, He would continue to preach His Gospel, celebrate His sacraments, and carry on His ministry especially among the poor and needy.
And throughout the history of the Church, the members of the Body of Christ have had to deal with false shepherds and fake Christians. When you read the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, you see that right from the beginning that there were some rascals, liars, power-grabbers and trouble-makers among them. But the faithful disciples refused to abandon the Body of Christ. They had confidence in Jesus’ promise to be with His Church always. Their trust was never in the leadership of the Church, but always and only in Jesus of Nazareth, God-come-in-the-flesh, crucified for our sins and risen from the dead.
In the midst of all the horrible news about Church leadership these days, perhaps some Catholics hear Jesus asking them the same question that He put before the Apostles in today’s Gospel: "Do you also want to leave?" I pray that everyone’s reply is the same as we heard from St. Peter, who realized that there was no better option than Jesus Christ: “Master, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”