Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "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.”
I have been pondering John, chapter six, a lot over the last few weeks. Jesus’ teaching in this chapter is blatant,
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. (John 6:53-56)
If you have ever wondered why we Catholics believe so firmly in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, well, here’s your answer. Jesus teaches it explicitly in John chapter six. Then, at the last supper, he shows us how. He takes the bread and the wine, and he tells the Apostles, “this is my flesh and blood, eat and drink it.” He then gives them the instruction to do what he has done “in remembrance of me.” That remembrance is important. In our modern language, we hear it and think of a reenactment, or looking back. Jews at the time of Christ understood remembrance in a different sense. To remember was to enter into the reality of something. So, in John six, Jesus tells us he is real food, and his flesh and blood are to be consumed. At the last supper, he offers himself, and he commissions the Apostles to repeat what he has done so that others may receive the offering of Christ body and blood. I could spend a lot of time just on this teaching. It’s crucial, and ordinarily, I would probably continue in this vain. However, these are not ordinary times. Today, there is another message I am pondering.
At the conclusion of John Chapter Six, it says, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life.” Let’s be clear, these are students of Jesus. It does not say, the crowds left him. It says "disciples. These are not casual spectators. You would think Jesus might somehow convince them to stay. He doesn’t. It is clear that to stay or leave is totally the choice of the disciples. Jesus doesn’t chase them. No, instead, he turns to the Apostles and says “Do you also want to leave?” Peter, speaking for the twelve, answers “Master, to whom shall we go?”
Over the last weeks, as scandal has once again embroiled the Church, I have reflected on this passage quite often. If I am honest, I have to admit there have been times over the last weeks where I I have wanted to leave. There have been moments where I have been so angry that I have considered just walking away. I know there are many reading this who have felt the same. But, I can't leave. I keep coming back to Peter’s words, “Master, to whom shall we go?”
As much as I hate the perverse criminality that has caused such scandal, I can’t leave. The Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus Christ. Jesus teaches it explicitly, and we see in scripture that he has trusted this incredible gift to the Church. That is hard to accept right now. But, can I accept that the sins and failings of men, even men in the priesthood, can diminish Christ's gift of self? No, I can't. Not even the most heinous, corrupt, perverse cleric can conquer Christ.
So, yes, I am angry. There is such a thing as righteous anger. But, righteous anger acts out righteously. So, I will not be silent and I will not be still. I will work towards the restoration of Christ's body. I will do my small part. Righteous anger does not act out of hate, but out of love. Jesus chased the money collectors fueled not by hate, but out of zeal for the house of the Lord. We need to have the same zeal, and we need to chase the corruption out of the Church. The Church needs to experience renewal. The laity, you and I, we have to speak up, we have to demand to be heard, and we must not give up until the structures that have enabled such horrific crimes have fallen.
Yes, I am angry. Yes, I am struggling. But I won’t leave. The very teaching that caused so many to leave in the Gospel is the one that is keeping me from leaving today.