Several years ago I spent two days in a parish in Los Angeles. The pastor (parish priest) showed me around and he was explaining how things work over there. He said that for years there was a man in the parish who used to lead the folk group. He played the guitar. Then one day he decided to start his own church. So he rented a building down the street and started his own church, just like that.
What if you could change whatever parts of the faith you wanted to? You could have women priests, married priests, divorce. You could change some of the more difficult teachings like having to love your enemies; seems a bit extreme after all. And you could tailor it just to suit your own needs. You could believe what you wanted to believe. What would you end up with? A religion of nice ideas, of wishful thinking. It would mean nothing. It might make you feel better, but it would be empty. Why? because it would be man made, not God made.
The word of God and the teaching of God can be difficult, but we believe that at least they are the teachings of God. It’s not something we made up. We are free to take it or leave it, to accept it and struggle with it, or to walk away from it.
In this Gospel passage Jesus was just after teaching about the Eucharist. He had said, ‘I am the bread of life’ and ‘unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will not have life in you’. And the people said, ‘This is crazy talk, who could accept it?’ and they walked away. But Jesus’ response is even more interesting. He didn’t go after them and say, ‘Let me explain’. He said to the disciples, ‘Are you going to go away too’? In other words he said, ‘This is the teaching, take it or leave it.’ And it says that many people stopped following him then. They couldn’t accept what he said, so they left. But he didn’t change anything he had said. How could He, if it’s the truth? And this applies to all of the teachings of Christ, handed down to us. They don’t change. They cannot change, but we are free to accept them or not.
Jesus says to us, ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’ This means putting God above everything else in your life; above your wife or husband, above your children, above your work. God must be at the center. And God assures us, if we put him first, everything else will follow.
If it were impossible for us to follow God’s teachings, God wouldn’t have given them to us. So it must be possible to follow them. Trying to do it by your own strength is impossible, but God doesn’t ask us to do it on our own. He asks us to continually turn to him and receive his help, which He gives us through prayer, through Holy Communion, Confession and all the sacraments. God knows exactly what we’re able for and He gives us all the help we need, if we ask for it.
At the best of times it can be difficult to live our faith, but the invitation is to keeping coming back with an open heart to listen to what God is saying to us? Have we already decided we know what God has to say? Could God say something new to us that we haven’t heard before? It is an ongoing struggle for us, but we believe a very worthwhile one.
‘What about you, will you go away too?’
‘Lord where else will we go, you have the message of eternal life and we believe, we know you are the holy one of God.’