Tonight we finish our five week journey through John’s Bread of Life Discourse. First we saw many people drawn to him, and then many people puzzled at his words that one must eat his flesh and drink his blood should they desire to have life within them; and then we saw the people murmuring, then quarreling, among themselves about what he could possibly mean when claims that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink.
I think part of me is always hoping that this chapter would end with Jesus being able to convince everyone of the truth of his claims, and that everyone would finally come to him and believe in him. I’m always hoping that this chapter ends with people drawing closer to Jesus, that despite their doubts and fears and trembling and disbelief, they would see the truth in him and give up everything to follow him.
But then I remembered the life of a young man who, when presented with the same Jesus and the same miracles and the same Spirit and Life as the disciples, still doubted and hesitated to give everything to Jesus. I remembered how it was possible for that young man to believe in Christ and to be confused by Christ; to be attracted to Christ and to be fearful of Christ.
My judgments of those early disciples went away when I remembered the trials of the way that young man came to faith in Jesus, and how, through the goodness of Jesus, that same young man stands before you now as a priest.
Certainly, the last number of weeks have given every Catholic reason to stop, gather himself or herself, and really take stock of why he or she remains a Catholic. Further, each of us have been given reason to stop, and evaluate what kind of Catholic we’d like to be. Not the kind we are, necessarily, but to ask ourselves: what do we ultimately desire in our lives, and from whom do we ultimately believe we can receive it?
The current western mindset teaches us that unless something can be empirically proven by the scientific method, we cannot presume it is true. The funny thing, of course, is that this very statement cannot be proven by the scientific method, and so the entire argument is undone in a matter of moments. Nonetheless, this “pics or it didn’t happen” mindset informs rather a lot of what we undertake, and so it might seem strange for me or any of us to admit that on the one hand we really do believe in the Church, in what she teaches, and in what she proposes to us as revealed by Jesus Christ…and on the other hand admit that, while we believe it is true, at times we still doubt, still wonder, still ponder, still investigate what these mysteries reveal to us and what they ultimately propose about our lives on this earth, about life in union with God forever in the next, and about what it means to be human, in the truest and purest sense.
And that is faith: the decision to stay, the decision remain engaged, to lean in further and investigate in the face of doubts and of uncertainties.
Christianity, as we’ve said so many times, is not a the result of a lofty decision or the gathering together of people who share common Judeo-Christian ethical values.
Christianity comes into our lives in the exact same way that it first came into the world: as an encounter, a shock of grace, a tiny baby, a light in the darkness that satisfies even our deepest desires.
Christianity remains for us now, as it was at the beginning, an encounter with a person. A person named Jesus, whom perhaps we have never met but upon meeting him, upon seeing him for the first time, however and wherever that first moment of meeting happens, we look at him and our hearts ask a question they’ve asked perhaps a million times. But the heart asks the question only as a formality, for when faced with Jesus, the one who himself is the fulfillment of every desire, the heart already knows the answer.
The question, “Are you the One?” Are you the One who has come at last? Are you the One for whom my heart, my mind, my body, my very being is yearning? Are you the One?
And he answers, as he answers so many times, “I AM. I am the bread of life; I am the resurrection; I am the way and truth and life; I am the light of the world; I am the narrow gate; I am the vine; I am the good shepherd.”
Jesus came to save all of us, it’s true, but he’s doing it by saving each of us. One little heart at a time. True conversion requires so much vulnerability with Jesus, so much courage to stand naked before him, that it often seems intimidating or like the pain will not be worth it. To this, I simply advise, look at the cross. The pain borne as a means of witness, of encountering the Truth, the truth of Jesus, and the truth about ourselves, will always be worth it.
He has come to reveal me to myself.
Lately I have been reading the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. In the second book, The Horse and his Boy, the main character Shasta is lost and alone in the mountains as he tries to carry out his mission of warning the people of Archenland that the Calormenes are coming to attack them. As he walks through the night in thick fog, he senses there is a presence near him. He immediately becomes afraid thinking it is a ghost or someone to kidnap him from the trail.
Afraid, Shasta asks, “who are you?” And the Thing says, “‘I am One who has waited long for you to speak.’ Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.”
The Thing revealed himself as “The Lion.” In Narnia, of course, the Lion always refers to Aslan, the Son of the Emperor-beyond-the Sea. In the writing of C.S. Lewis, Aslan is a figure of Christ.
The Lion says, “I was the lion who forced you to join Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead.I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
Shasta asks, “It was you wounded [my friend] Aravis?…But what for?”
The Lion replies, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”
If you give him the chance, Jesus will tell you your own story from the perspective of reality and truth. He is the one who has been a part of it from the very beginning, even when we existed merely as a though in the mind of the Father.
Those who choose to remain in the darkness, to choose every means of self-fulfillment and pleasure, who do not act on their desire to meet and stay with the One who knows them and will fulfill them, they are the ones who return to their former way of life and no longer accompany the Lord and his band of disciples.
But the heart knows infallibly what corresponds to its longing, even before the brain does! The people who seek the light, who seek the truth, who are nourished by the sacraments, who maintain a life of intimate prayer in which Jesus reveals himself and, in the process, reveals myself…these are the ones are the saints, who are the light in the darkness for those around them.
Jesus asks us so simply, humbly, quietly: Do you also want to leave?
Once posed with that question, perhaps the many obstacles to our faith appear in our mind’s eye; we see the doubts, the ridicule, the pleasure in sin, the appeal of rebellion; we hear our friends as they mock us for going to Mass, we see their lives which on the outside look so joyful.
At the end of the day, once all is said and done, and we’ve seen so many options for happiness and truth and joy and beauty exhausted in vain, there is for the disciple only one response:
“Master, to whom shall we go?…We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” We believe and are convinced that you reveal man to himself, that you are the only real arbiter of truth and grace and beauty and justice and joy in this world; We believe and are convinced that suffering in a life with you is far better for us than all of the joys the world can give.
The heart asks, “Are you the One?”
We have come to believe and are convinced that, yes, Jesus, you are the One.
Decide today whom you will serve.