Many people leave the Catholic Church for a variety of reasons–in fact there are even some good ones. And that saddens me, our church, a human institution rife with flaws is sometimes not the best place.
But what saddens me more–is that people even within the church leave as well. They leave behind some of the sayings of Jesus that are too hard for them to handle. Sometimes don’t we just walk out of the church after Sunday mass and don’t pay a single bit of attention to where God has called us?
And maybe there’s something wrong with all of us regular churchgoers–because we don’t talk enough about how God is all we need. Maybe we don’t even believe that God could satisfy all our desires despite our commitment to a church community?
Can we really believe that God can be all that we need? It seems that many of the early followers had a hard time believing that.
Jesus even says that he’ll be our food, meaning that God’s boundless love for us can satisfy all our desires. It doesn’t mean that we’ll never have to eat again or that starving people only need to go to mass and that their problems will be over. What it does mean is that God always satisfies even in the face of struggle and discomfort. I saw this first hand in Nicaragua and in Kentucky where poverty is rampant. People lived in the garbage dump called Chureca, just a stone’s throw from Managua. Desperate people clinging to life and happy to get a few staples from us to tide them over. But it was our presence to them that they loved the most. After all, they are forgotten people. In Kentucky, it was more of the same. People happy to get groceries and other items from the local food pantry, but even happier to engage in conversation with those of us who worked as volunteers for the day.
The poor are often left out and Jesus understood that intimately. From a poor town Himself, Jesus took on the poor’s likeness and challenged the establishment not to forget them. In the polite society of the rich, hanging out with poor folks was akin to ritual impurity. I often say we’re not so different because many of us wouldn’t be caught dead eating with the homeless on the street–or even talking with them. So when Jesus says that all people will eat his flesh and drink his blood that was even more disgusting to them–never mind that all would be asked to do this, not merely the rich–who were often looked upon as God’s chosen people at the time. Poverty indeed was a curse.
And instead Jesus invites all. Come and eat my flesh and drink my blood. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
And it’s all too hard for many. So they do what most people do when they get overwhelmed by a challenging situation:
They give up and walk away, back to their comfy lives where these challenges do not bother them. They can’t comfort the afflicted so they choose to be the comforted themselves and hope to not be afflicted.
And when these people walk away, Jesus asks His disciples: “Do you, too wish to leave?”
And Peter has the line of the year. My loose translation is something like this:
“Where could we go? You’ve scared everyone else away! And YOU, after all, have the words of eternal life!”
I can hear the disciples laughing. And then Peter adds that in case Jesus didn’t notice it, they’ve been following Him and are convinced that He is the Messiah. So why would they go anywhere else? And even if they did it’s not like people are going to roll the rad carpet out anyway now after Jesus had some pretty hard words for them to hear. Some folks just might not have been ready to hear what God was asking of them.
And the question that remains then is for us. Do we too want to leave? Can we stand with the poor and know that God can change our hearts to help change their situation–so that desperate people will stop doing desperate things?
Where might God be calling you today–to have your heart stretch a bit farther than you think it can? We’re all challenged by time. There’s only so many hours in the day and we have so many responsibilities. Might we as Catholics, intentionally set some time apart even once a month to dedicate some time for those less fortunate than ourselves? I know sometimes I fill up my empty spaces of free time with things that are less than satisfying for me, but are still tempting nonetheless. Bad habits are hard to break.
But maybe that’s why we are here! We’re here because we know that we want just a bit more out of life than what we often think will satisfy us. And that God’s example of giving us all of Himself from this altar is the example that we need to learn from. Can we become what we receive and stretch ourselves farther than we think we can–even to the least of those in society: the hungry, the homeless, the unborn, the forgotten–or are they indeed too hard to give ourselves to?
Christ calls us to become what we receive here from this altar. And when we do others might find us just a bit odd. After all, at this university Community Service is often used as a punishment. We get to serve the poor because we got caught drinking in the dry dorm, or speeding, or violating one of 100 different campus directives.
But Jesus calls us to say that we are servants by design. Called to be with the poor always–not as punishment–but as human beings who care for each other.
May you come to believe that Jesus is calling you to somewhere or someone this semester—to become Christ for them.
And in so doing, may you not just become what you receive–but may you realize that you are satisfied by simply becoming all that God calls you to be.