21st Sun [B] 2006

Fr. Charles Irvin

Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69

For the past four Sundays the gospel accounts we have heard in our weekend liturgies have centered on the unique presence of God for us. As Catholics we have a particular awareness of God’s Presence. In our churches we experience flickering candles, the smell of candle wax and incense, along with stained glass windows presenting beautiful colored images of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the saints. We have statues and icons, banners and all manner of rich symbols that are literally out of this world. When we enter our churches we enter space that is in this world but yet not of this world.

Above all we are confronted with the crucifix. At the same time we are also aware of the living Presence of the risen Christ. Our eyes are led to the tabernacle, that sacred space in which the risen Christ is present to us in the Blessed Sacrament, in the Living Bread come down from heaven.

All of this enfolds us in the Mystery, the mysterious, spiritual presence of God who comes to us in His Son, Christ Jesus, a presence made tangible to us in all that we experience in a Catholic church in which the Blessed Sacrament resides. For when we encounter God, we are entering into His mysteries to be lived, not problems to be solved.

Every priest will tell you of people who have expressed their awareness of this unique presence of God. Candidates in the Rite of Christian Initiation classes talk about it. Catholics who have left the Church and then returned talk about it. Catholics who are no longer with us will tell you about the haunting tug they feel within them … that unfulfilled awareness that they no longer experience God’s closeness as they once did when they received Him in Holy Communion in days gone by.

There are those who defiantly declare that they don’t need Holy Communion because, they assert, God is everywhere. Those who hardly ever celebrate Mass join them. They claim they don’t get anything out of Mass and can experience God in nature or in other special places.

Well, they are correct in asserting that God is everywhere. That’s quite true. But it isn’t the whole truth. God is uniquely and particularly present within us in the Blessed Sacrament. For while God is present to us and near us in other places in this world, God lives in us in Christ’s flesh and blood, in the Blessed Sacrament we receive in Holy Communion.

It is true that God is everywhere in general. It is a deeper truth to accept the reality that God is particularly present in the Eucharist and is uniquely living within us in Holy Communion. To say that God is everywhere is to say that God surrounds us, and is even near to us. But He wants more. He wants not only to be near us but also to live within us. Jesus declared that unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have God’s life within you.

He taught this at Capernaum, in the synagogue. After hearing it, many of his followers said, “This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?” Thereupon they left him. And many, down to this very day, have done and are doing the same.

Those who do not understand Catholicism charge that the Catholic Church is against freedom of choice. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that the Catholic Church is very much in favor of freedom of choice. After all, if there is no choice to love, then there is no love at all. The very essence of love is found in choices, in decisions, not just in emotional urges and feelings. Affection is a feeling — love is a choice. And the harder the choices the deeper the love that is given.

The question, then, is not whether we can freely choose. The question rather is about what we freely choose to do. It’s what we choose, not the fact that we choose, that is the question. For what we choose to do can have enormous consequences for ourselves and for others.

Today’s first reading tells us of one of the greatest moments in Jewish history, that moment in which Joshua had assembled all of the Israelites and put the question to them: Decide whom you wish to serve. Do you want to serve other gods, or do you want to serve the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? “As for me and my House,” declared Joshua, “we will serve Yahweh.”

The history of the bible is a history of human choices, the chosen responses of humans to the God who offers Himself to us. Those biblical choices have been momentous, their consequences stupendous.

What is before us is the fact that God presents each of us with the opportunity to make momentous decisions, decisions not presented to biblical heroes alone. Each one of us, no matter how great or small, no matter how famous or unknown, is presented with the choice we found in today’s Gospel account. Will we accept the living God into our own bodies? Will we accept the God who wants to live within us in our bodies and in our blood?

What God is giving us in the Blessed Sacrament is more awesome than all of our other choices summed up together. What God is offering us in Holy Communion is not only His love, but also His very life! What Jesus is presenting to us is God’s presence not only to us, or near to us, but more importantly within us. 

As for me, I will accept what God offers in wonder and in awe. What about you?

Join with me now in St. Peter’s response. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we believe.”

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”