Gospel Reflection for Aug. 22, 2021, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In our Catholic tradition we place so little emphasis on a faith decision point, especially relative to evangelical Christians, that we seldom consider it important. While some like to refer to the Sacrament of Confirmation as such a moment that is not in fact the case. As we have seen so many adolescent and adult Catholics leave the faith over the several past decades, it is worth addressing this question on a global scale.

While there are many opinions on the reason why so many defect from the faith, most of these are grounded in already existing biases on the state of the Church, the implementation of the decrees of Vatican II, or for some, the very occurrence of the Council itself. Others either misunderstand or reject the teaching of the Church on various social, moral, or dogmatic areas.

Regardless of the causes – and there are as often as many causes as there are situations – the fact remains that many people come to a crisis of life and/or a crisis of faith that causes them to move in one direction or another.

In the First Reading the Israelites, as they are about to settle in the Promised Land, are called to make a decisive commitment to follow the Lord or to abandon him and adopt the local Canaanite religious practices. While the tribal leaders exuberantly chose to follow the Lord, the history of Israel is a cyclical series of falling in to sin and, after a period of struggle, seek repentance and find the Lord’s blessings, restoring them to their heritage.

In his dialogue with the crowd assembled after the great sign of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, Jesus calls them to a crisis point. Although we did not hear the core of the dialogue due to last week’s solemnity, Jesus teaches the crowd that eating his flesh and drinking his Blood are key to eternal life. When they push back Jesus uses boldly repeats this command. One might say that nowhere else in the Gospels is Jesus as forceful in his teaching than he is here in John 6.

After Jesus has taught them that he is indeed the eternal bread, and that to eat his flesh and drink his Blood is the food that keeps them safe for eternal life the crowd drifts away from him. John tells us that “many returned to their former way of life.” All those who remain are his disciples, and in that, primarily the Twelve. Through the rest of the Gospel Jesus teaches only his own disciples. Any exchanges he has with crowds going forward are contentious.

Noting now that they have left, and in a very important exchange with the disciples, Jesus asks them if they, too, desire to leave. This is the critical point now for the disciples. Each of those who left have made their own decision. We do not know if any of them become disciples of Jesus in the future, but at least for now they have made the critical decision to abandon the way Jesus was showing them. Peter speaks up on behalf of the twelve and it is his confession that bespeaks clearly the response that each one of us is ultimately called to utter with our own lips: “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.”

At some point in our own experience of the life of faith we are called to a decision or critical point. This moment comes at various and definitive moments throughout our lives. No single experience spurns it on for everyone, and certainly different responses prevail through the course of life. There are also many who never experience the critical moment, but rather those who merely maintain or adapt to a new habit of life without critically deciding why they are acting in such a way.

With all of the turmoil within the Church, in other Churches, and throughout the world, there remains but one response. While eternal matters are at stake now, eternal matters have always been at stake. The promise of Jesus Christ to his Church remains, and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. As distressing as some of the issues may be, we are not our own Church and cannot in truth separate ourselves from the Eucharist. Sharing in the Eucharist – partaking of the very Body and Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ – should be the preeminent decision we make in our lives. Everything else ought to be secondary to that reality. To do anything other is to walk away from the promise of eternal life.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.