Reform Takes Courage

Cowardly Lion

I tell my clients all the time when working on coping skills to not being reaction based but responding with their head and heart.  In my concepts in my head of what I want to write about today, I need to work hard on some parts to follow my own advice on this subject: The latest bishop and priests sex abuse scandals. 

I am a counselor in Phoenix, Arizona and have heard in my career disclosures of sex abuse. “Reaction” thoughts come to mind like capital punishment and castration seem like a pretty good deal for justice. 

This is also juxtaposed with the fact that five years ago I was received into the Catholic Church knowing that there were scandals in its recent past.  But I was aware of reform and in being exposed as a volunteer in my diocese I was schooled on a very tight protocol that applies to all workers in the Catholic Church here. 

And now the latest bomb drops in two ways. One is with a cardinal preying sexually on vulnerable seminarians and, in one case too many, a teenager.  Another is 300 abuse cases in Pennsylvania with much direct and enabling sin by leadership. 

I have a good friend who is a Protestant pastor who wanted to know if my priest would say anything this Sunday.  I said he would probably not mince words and he is informed by his experience as priest and as for many years a credentialed mental health professional like me.

As mass was going on today, I grew concerned that I was wrong. The lectionary readings were on John 6 which is often called the Bread of Life Discourse.  This is an important passage for Catholics so I tried too be patient when he sat down at the end of the homily after not saying a peep.  We transitioned then from Liturgy of the Word to Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Same Jesus, same faith, but still wondering if there will be a response next week.  Father John then goes through announcements at the end being just regular stuff to deal with.

Then another bomb drops but the good kind.  Father John brings out a paper and states he is about to read a letter from our bishop but he is reading it “with protest and resentment”.  The bishop calls for priests and laity of our dioceses to join with the national council of bishops in prayer and fasting for a healing in the Church.  I was now not restless in the same way but a bit confused since I did not get what was wrong. 

But Fr. John made several points.  Though he reminded the congregation that the bishop had been a good reformer on several points, the body of bishops in America had been making the majority of priests and laity to carry all the weight of someone else’s sin for 30 years.  He further stated that massive prayer, fasting and repentance to be applied to that side was completely inappropriate though it was being passed on with the authority of our local bishop.  He then promised to be writing blogs the next several weeks about that and does hope for a way forward. By the way, he was born and raised in Pennsylvania. 

This is what I call a drop the mic moment and the standing ovation spoke to that fact.  I hope that more Fr. Johns like him are rising up.  I also hope that many cardinals and bishops will do the decent thing and step aside. 

So in an odd way, I am in a good enough state for now.  The scandals do not alter by unwise decisions or egregious sin my research into the Catholic Church 5 years ago nor any of my Catholic centered blogs.  I agree with the principle used against the heretical Donatists in the 3rd century: ex opere operato.  This means that the sacramental grace is tied to the holiness of God and not the personal holiness of the minister. 

And that is where I am left.  In my heart, it is a hope in Jesus who is the author and perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12:1).  It extends from his authority who he allows to pass through a select chain of sinners in a delegated authority.  I can also insert some irony in here in that as I am writing this blog to release today, I already had a blog auto-set to release today on the Sacrament of Confession.  It was uploaded several weeks ago. I will need to give credit more to God than luck on that. 

My prayer for those in that chain from the Bishop of Rome to the Bishop of Phoenix is that they take on the prayer my local bishop says.  “Watch over – – -[his personal own name].  He might betray you.” 

For my local pastor at my parish it is different and departs from churchy wording more than any other time in my years of blogging.  “Strengthen Father John.  Continue to strengthen his heart as he continues not to take shit from anybody”.  Just like Jesus turns some tables over in the temple when it was departing faith and becoming a “den of robbers”, we need the right stimulus with boldness to give a true reformation like the Church Jesus founded deserves. 

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A Tale of Two Priesthoods

Set Free Broken Chains

Urban myths are a dangerous thing to live by; especially in the realm of faith and history. 

One that I heard and then believed ad nauseam was “What about the priesthood of all believers?  The Church Jesus left was supposed to be pure and pristine.  One way those Catholics have it wrong is that only a select few are priests and thus they take away true freedom of the gospel and the priesthood of all believers.”

There is a further one that says, “anything from the Catholic Church that softens things up is a later development to make it look nice in the last 100 years.”

Below I will address both. 

To proclaim the gospel is a charge to all Christians and the Catholic Church affirms this as a natural unfolding of the great commission to make disciples and baptize them (Matthew 28:20).  It is just implied that it is not official likely because it is not in the midst of a mass where clergy read the words of one of the actual gospels of the Bible.  The calling of priesthood happens to all Christians upon initial justification.  But the empowerment for ones expression of the common priesthood is in what is called Confirmation. 

1305 This “character” [sacrament of Confirmation] perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and “the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi ex officio).”[122 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theolpgica III,72,5, ad 2]

In reference to the referred Confirmation, it is a matter of one having a connection with the divine through God the Holy Spirit that binds the baptized to a common fellowship with the Godhead and not just “my Holy Spirit experience”.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is proclaimed since no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except through the Spirit of God. 

But doesn’t the role of the priesthood take away from non-priests like a second class citizen placement?  Not at all.  I have bones and I have muscle.  I need one to keep me moving and another that fits in and supports passing on the blood flow.  This is consistent with the many passages in the New Testament where there are distinct gifts to the Body of Christ and how not everyone can say they are everything. 

1547 The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, “each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ.” While being “ordered one to another,” they differ essentially. In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace –a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit–, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders. [22 Lumen Gentium,1965 10 § 2]

So if one was to an argument that one side exists to the own detriment of the other, it is really the position of the Catholic Church that the servants are the clerical priests. 

1141 The celebrating assembly is the community of the baptized who, “by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all the works of Christian men they may offer spiritual sacrifices.” [Rev 1:6; cf. Rev 5:9-10; 1 Pet 2:5,9] This “common priesthood” is that of Christ the sole priest, in which all his members participate:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people,” [1 Peter 55-67AD] have a right and an obligation by reason of their Baptism.  (11 Sacrosanctum Concilium,1965 14; Cf. 1 Pet 2:9; 2:4-5, 55-67AD)

“Aha!  But there you have the problem of how you Catholics go about ceremony that has a  form of godliness but denies the power of God thereof. Just dry religion.”

For that I would respond that such premises are incorrect and miss the good, the true and the beautiful with the following points. 

Liturgy is a word that comes from the Greek that is liturgia meaning the work of the people.  Sounds like a non-Christ centered work?  Consider that Jesus spoke of the “work” to believe in Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3) which was the night he was betrayed and said of communion “Do this in remembrance of me”. 

As for the celebration of these two forms of priesthood?  It is the sacrifice of thanksgiving that is tied to the nearness of Jesus through the Eucharist.  This may be implied where Paul writes,  “Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Phillipians 4:5-6). The word for thanksgiving is eucharistia where we get Eucharist.  Once again, we see a participation of Christ’s priesthood who has done the direct work by suffering and death on the cross.  When we do liturgy we are doing what Jesus said with a supernatural remembrance “Do this in memory of me”.  Sacramentally, when I go to my parish in Tempe, Arizona, I do not re-sacrifice Jesus in my common priesthood but Christ lives out his sacrifice in me. 

1546 Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” [1 Peter].  The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are “consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood” [Lumen Gentium]. 

Yes, some were within the last 100 years.  The latest ones I can find are in the Catechism quoting from the Vatican II council in the 1960’s.  But one of the source quotes are from St. Thomas Aquinas from the 1200’s.  That is far before any possible “remodeling”.  Plus, for the Bible passages they are quoting that show the common priesthood, it is worth noting that such scriptures that point to  a common priesthood were approved as scripture by the Catholic Church.   If the Catholic Church is so against the priesthood of all believers, why did they call those passages as divinely inspired public revelation?  This was accomplished in the 380’s and 390’s AD with approval by popes. 

One other thing about this common priesthood of the faithful are those who are later in heaven.  There is more than biblical room that the worship before God in heaven can include such intercession ongoing. 

 When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones. (Revelation 5:8).

The beauty is not that Jesus is usurped of his status as Lord, Savior and Redeemer.  The Church does not teach that.  It is that the role of the believers is one that participates in what Jesus did and does in an ongoing way.  We are “a holy priesthood”(1 Peter 2:9). It is no coincidence that Catholic means “according to the whole”.  Jesus makes it that way.     

Day 2- Right Principles as Whole People.   

Incesne with angel

I like stories of drowning people being saved by a good lifeguard.  The images that come to mind are often the flapping in the water, gasping for breath and tunnel vision right before a powerful hand swoops in to save the day.  The intervention in those stories range from the lifeguard being fully in the water to being anchored in something that floats.  The trick is that the lifeguard may not be received in full trust as a gift to be received fully and simply.

To this point of not receiving that help is a story by Watchman Nee.  There once was a man who got a cramp and was drowning in a lake.  A champion swimmer stood by fully dressed and did not move until the man began to go under.  When he did, he got out of his sweats and saved the man.  When asked what took him so long he said that the drowning man had to be at the end of himself or they both would have drowned.

When John the Baptist formally presents Jesus to the crowd he uses words for  Jesus to fulfill in several dimensions and continues to fulfill when we cooperate.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34).

Behold, the Lamb of God– – Where a lion is known to conquer, the lamb is known to be conquered and consumed.  Jesus is proclaimed as one who would give all and not take like kings of old nor exploit the resources of the people.  Jesus is counter-intuitive as a gift for our redemption that we are unable to obtain for ourselves.  So we depend on Jesus for that.   Jesus is wholly self-giving.

takes away the sin of the world– Here is indicated that the gift of self is beyond Israel but to the world (John 3:16).  The gift is not tied anymore to a temple in a certain city but is universal.  Salvation as a gift for the world is shown in the Church which Jesus founded and as early as 110 AD was called that by Ignatius- – Catholic. And before Jesus came this was foreshadowed of Jesus being re- – presented by the people of God like this.  Jesus is wholly accessible.

From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations;

Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere,

and a pure offering;

For my name is great among the nations,

says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 1:11).

he existed before me–  Here John shows Jesus to be beyond the time of a human life span.   The gift is divine.  After all, one can look at the gospel of Luke and see that John was conceived three months before Jesus if one views Jesus only according to the flesh.  John opens  a perspective  later seen more fully by Paul that, “from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16).  The gift transcends understanding.  Jesus is timeless and thus must be discerned with eyes for the eternal than the timely.

I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him– The only time before that the Holy Spirit had come down on a single direct object was the temple of Solomon.  One more reason that Jesus said,  “I say to you, something greater than the temple is here” (Matthew 12:6).  The gift is consecrated because Jesus is that gift and he is holy.

will baptize with the Holy Spirit– – Christ through His humanity and in partnership with the Holy Spirit brings in those who are His with adoption that is beyond a legal transaction.  If it was only legal, the relationship between God and the believer would be contractual in what I have is yours.  Instead it is “I am yours”.  To have a relationship with the Blessed Trinity that is covenantal is to be in synch to the original creation of humanity.  “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba [Daddy], Father” (Romans 8:15)! The gift is intimate and is forward towards oneness.

Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God– – John has already spoken that Jesus must increase and he must decrease.  By saying this officially, John steps back for Jesus to shine.  He does continue to baptize but the traffic continues to be more to Jesus.  Just as John yielded to Jesus, so in the process of conversion and formation towards Jesus there is a yielding to happen.  This yielding to Jesus as the gift is informed by how he redeems, transcends understanding, is consecrated, is universal, and is intimate. To hear John’s words right, is the beginning to getting Jesus right.  Such is the fulness of the proclamation of the gospel in the Church that Jesus wants. To yield is to be on mission in disposition.  And to be on mission is to be sent.  And to be sent is to be apostolic.    In one sense, all who have “testified” to the fulness of Jesus are apostolic.

The design for a people that are transformed and have ongoing connection to the authority of Jesus as Lord is one with the traits above.  And to water down these traits with a forgetting this kind of encounter is to move with the world that God wants to redeem through Jesus.  To hold on to these is to be the Church that instead moves the world as the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

Charged Forward

wheat barnConversion is often thought as a one time thing.  And thank God, people say, because conversion can cost a lot.  But what if conversion is an ongoing process?  James wrote in his epistle to people who were already Christians that the engrafted word can save their souls (James 1:21).  A theology term used to signify this is ongoing justification.  This is the continual and active surrender to God’s grace.   The heart must be soft for conversion to happen.  Such and approach is then ready for the proposition of change. In the preaching of John the Baptis, he spoke truth to all for change whether they were political  or religious elites or common soldiers in a corrupt system.

I am reminded of a sermon that Abraham Lincoln heard.  The congregation thought it was elegant with lots of flighty words.  When it was over he was asked what he though to which he said it was the worst sermon he had ever heard since it did not challenge him to action.  A call to action was needed for freedom for the slaves but all the more for the world in slavery to sin.  Like Jesus to come, John know that the compassionate thing to do would be to call for hard change or the softness of heart would not be there.   The hope is that among each of those groups were at least some of the soft hearted ready to be challenged.  And maybe, in some cases, the hard of heart become soft.

 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  (Matthew 3:11-12).

I am baptizing you with water, for repentance-  This could be getting a blank slate but without the understanding of what one is getting next.  A hard part is that those who went to the Jordan River knew the sins and their pleasures yet they acknowledged need for the kingdom of God.  Such humility had to come with a radical trust in God to handle what comes next.  But they had a reference to go by in the baptism of Moses.  “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

What Paul communicates about the experience of covenant in the experience of the Israelites is in part that God grants defining moments in relationship to his people through the senses like in the Red Sea.  It can be inferred that Jesus was inspired in part from this as a Jewish man who taught about how one needs to be “born again to enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) but some translations say, “born from above”.  Therefore if one is baptized through Jesus into His community rather than the symbolism of John the material and the mystery come together as “baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). To sum up, the baptism of John or any kind of honesty about ones sins is what you turn away from, which is honorable, but it is in the fulness of turning to Jesus that full salvation exists.   This baptism of John os to stop sin.  What comes in the gospel is that, the forgiveness of sin and having ones lifeline transformed by life that is eternally based.

but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I-  John minimizes his personal power but points to the power in the Messiah instead.  Repentance with Jesus is turning from acts of sin but the freedom in obedience to lift up Jesus.

He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.-  The baptized at the Jordan did not know the theology one can have on the context of those words, but what one could surmise from these words that the Messiah would be a uniter and a purifier. It is interesting the role of the Holy Spirit is described in agricultural terms.  It is because non-life objects like chaff have no seasons but just are.  They are “as is” and not respondent to the ups and downs of seasons. But Jesus indeed gathers his wheat into his barn.  In those days, barns were not seen through an LLC lens but were part of the homestead.  The repentance with John is the blank slate pointing to the need to go home in some manner with this Messiah to come. To convert is to come home.

Not only does the baptized of that day confess sins as a people but confess a hope of belonging in some way and someday with a community. One could imagine that John proclaims the hope of this wheat gathering like an employee of an orphanage helping the children to be ready to be adopted by a good Father.  Wheat grows, consumes and reproduces if gathered in the right place as the living things they are.  Chaff is dead.  The time for repentance from dead works is now so that the wheat, or living works, would be unveiled of God’s sustenance.

This leads me to point to Hebrews 6:2 again on the reference of “repentance from dead works and faith in God”.  The opposite that can hold one back is a false sense of piety and overemphasis on individuality. Furthermore, it would be dependence in ones dead works and faith in self. In other words, ones “chaff”.  The best that could look like would be a form of godliness but not living it and thus denying the fully intended power.

Going forward, much can be attained in living out the knowledge of the difference by leaning on the grace of God as one can also see in Hebrews 6:2 with then “instruction of baptisms and laying on of hands”. These normative steps are the fuller expression of conversion in baptism and being confirmed by the Church in the laying on of hands.   The early Church and the ongoing Church are the wheat barn.  Gathered together  in the Holy Spirit and purified by Christ, we can walk fully in the life of Jesus and know Him by the power of the Holy Spirit in history, mystery and majesty.

Called to Conversion And Unity

161

Tomorrow is going to be my fifth Easter as a Catholic.  These years, from when I first investigated into the claims of the Catholic Church to my entering it, then my wife and now nearly two years of college level formation has been a whirlwind.  It has been a great ride and I am excited for what the Lord is going to do in the years to come for my family and I.  I see conversion as a continual call as a Christian to take up ones cross and follow Jesus wherever He leads.

I would like to address my anniversary as a Catholic with a different reflection for a moment.  Yes, I have a bias that the Catholic Church is awesome but I am also aware that for many Christians who are not in communion with Rome they have not yet discerned that this is their spiritual home.  So what is the meeting place I should have with Christians of good conscience that are tied to the same basics of the historic Christian faith?

I like Nicea as a meeting point.  What that is for theologians of both the Catholic and Protestant persuasions is where a council took place that elaborated on the Apostles’ Creed.  This was especially a referendum on the theology of who Christ is.

God from God, light from light, True God and True Man begotten not made.  Consubstantial with the Father He came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary He became man

As Rich Mullins said about this creed, “I did not make it.  No it is making me”.

There could be a reader of what I am writing that still is persuaded that Catholicism is not true Christianity.  For me, that is sad.  I would suggest to all of my Protestant brothers and sisters two points: I have grown closer in my relationship to Jesus Christ in these last several years and that there is more that unites us than divides us.  My love for Jesus and my neighbor has only increased.  My prayer time is better and I have a renewed love for the scriptures in engaging my faith with a good breadth of what the Catholic Church teaches.

Now more than ever, it is important that Christians learn to stand together as we consider the growing wave of persecution against Christianity across the globe.  In fact, last year there was a crucial meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kiril in Cuba about how to find a defense for their flocks mutually.  This is a good development  when I consider how the one unanswered prayer of Jesus is “that they all be one” (John 17:21). Or in the words of Peter Kraft about ecumenism “Brothers tend to stop fighting when there is a mad man at the door”.

The Nicene Creed addresses four marks of the Church.  These are applicable for discussion whether one sees Church of church in it.  The first is “one” which I addressed above.

The second is “holy”.  This has many facets to it and in light of a recent event it worth exploring particularly with the sacramental point of view.  Recently a lifelong Protestant known as the Bible Answer Man, Hank Hennegraff, was received into the Greek Orthodox Church. Some are editorializing that he has left biblical Christianity.  For me, I admire his courage even though I am a Catholic.  Some may object to my wording but at some point he must have thought , “Here I stand, I can do no other”.  He speaks of theosis which is where Christians partake of the divine nature through communion with Christ.  He connects that in context with the Eucharist particularly.  The sacramental perspective can be verified with an open mind by reading the early church fathers and their interpretation of the New Testament which was written closer to their time than that of the reformers.

There is Catholic and then there is catholic.  Either way, I hope that Christians of good conscience can see that there is a universality to the gospel, how universally it should be proclaimed and universally experienced.

Apostolic can seem like a scary word.  Really, it does not have to be.  When the Pharisees asked Jesus by what authority he said or did things, one could say that this was healthy skepticism.  Who really wants to follow someone who made himself pastor and has a close circle of fans?  How far is that from a cult?  Apostolic succession simply means that one can trace in the authority that hands were laid on them with a sacred imparting of an anointing that started in the upper room when Jesus breathed on his apostles the Holy Spirit to represent the redemptive aspect of Him.  With the Bible Answer Man, he is going to a source that I as a Catholic would affirm has a history of guarding the deposit of faith including in the sacramental expression of Christianity.

But this is not to put down my Protestant history.  It is from my Protestant experiences I can talk about my love for bible memorization, my first zeal in pointing to Jesus and time in prayer.  I am thankful for the pastors and other loved ones that invested into me so much that I am an evangelical still albeit I believe fulfilled in that in the Catholic Church.  With a renewed fervor, I hope that increasingly my Protestant and Orthodox brothers can join me in loving each other as Jesus prayed and telling the world He is risen indeed!

Feeding Line, Dividing Line PART V: One Proposal, Two Answers

Marriage-proposalThe conversion of the heart and a paradigm shift is no small thing.  Changes converts make are radical to the core of how they live, love and hope which happen only in total surrender.  The preceding moments of  tension may be a setting of ones choosing, God’s choosing or a bit of both.  When one is about to convert, the tension comes in the understanding of life as we have known and not knowing the details of what we are getting.  When Jesus told the Jews one day that to have eternal life they had to eat his flesh it was time to leap forward or backwards.

Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.   But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. 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.” (  John 6:59-69).

Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever—  This could be the payoff if they get it.  The people in the time of Moses had manna from heaven which was the word for “What is it?”  Jesus comes as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) in a visible, sacramental context.

These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum— This is not an incidental statement by John.  John made a point here that the very scene where the Law is read is where teaching happens that brings interpretation of the first five books of the Bible.

This saying is hard; who can accept it?— In my experience as a Christian in post-modern America moral relativism has often sneaked into how people make decisions on truth.  If they are grounded in the divine, truth is discovered and obeyed.  If they are grounded by the wisdom of this age then it is up for a subjective vote and the pope is in the mirror.

Does this shock you?-  This is like a spiritual soundcheck.  He then asks if they would be ready to know the big picture.  This may have been rhetorical.  The answer was no for most but Jesus is out to propose and not to impose.

It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.— For those that read this verse and say it proves the Eucharist is not efficacious then they misunderstand what is being said.  Notice Jesus said here “the flesh” not “my flesh”.  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus sees the disciples sleeping when they were supposed to pray.  He says there that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).  The flesh is weak for the disciples in the garden because they were not engaging their flesh in obedience to the Holy Spirit in their hearts.  His flesh is spiritual life for the world because Jesus was 100% divine and 100% human.

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him— This is the moment of decision.  They declined the invitation of Jesus for a communion that is oneness with God: a divine proposal.  They were along for a great ride and got free bread the day before.  Jesus proposed more.  As an addictions counselor working with clients in treatment I tell them their “addiction is outside that door doing pushups”.   In the same way the former life for even those that are complete converts is always wanting reunion.  To leave Jesus is to look at truth in the eye and say “No. Not going to do it”.

“Do you also want to leave?—  When I became a Catholic I had much joy but I still knew that following Christ still is a continual process.  At Easter Vigil the congregation reaffirms the faith that is “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic” (Nicene Creed 325).  Even for those that are baptized and confirmed there is an annual decision to make where one reaffirms the Catholic Christian faith.  And for my Protestant brothers and sisters, to leave the same Lord, faith and meaning of baptism is always up to you as well. We all have free will.

Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.—  The disciples are humble and thus tied to the wisdom of eternity rather than the wisdom of that age.  There is an objective truth, and they know Him as the all consuming reality (alethia).

We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God-  They have come to a conversion point and for each of them it has come gradually in how they came,  saw and were conquered. This is the nature of discipleship.

Each disciple of Jesus has a DNA in the church that Jesus started.  Together the Body of Christ is meant to be a bride to whom Jesus is returning. Jesus is The Bridegroom proposing marriage in the context of faith and reason sacramentally.

The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. “Will you also go away?”: the Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has “the words of eternal life” and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1336).  

Feeding Line, Dividing Line Part III : From Mystery to Scandal

Jesus Holding The Bread

Often religion gets a bad rap and often for undeserved.  One example is being ethnocentric on God’s the favor. But the message of Christianity is a universal in design and meant to be expressed that way.  To be a Christian is to grow in holiness while being holy.  Christians have fallen short at times in keeping Christianity moved by the world rather than moving the world.

It is worth noticing how the gospel’s proposal is unfolded with universality, mystery and challenge.  Unfortunately the proposal is met with unbelief and cynicism.

Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. But I told you that although you have seen [me], you do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,  because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.” The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets:

‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  (John 6:31-51).

It was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven—  Jesus begins to challenge them to the transcendent.  If the manna, which means “What is it?”,  is drawn back only to Moses and the past then the faith is only a subjective religious experience.  Instead Jesus draws their attention to God the Father in the context of the present.

For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world— The distinction here is that this sustenance, coming only come from God, is for the world.  This revisits John 3:16 in that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son….”  Jesus is to be consumed and it is from divine love that resurrection life touches those from everywhere.

Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said… “whoever comes…whoever believes ….Everything that the Father gives me will come to me—  They have a hard time discerning how serious Jesus is about the nature of offering himself.  Jesus speaks to them with a qualifier about the “whoever”  and points to the heavenly Father.  To speak of this kingdom is by a family table and in mystery.  Also one can see the conversion is “both/and” in coming to Jesus by destiny and choice at the same time.

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life— But the context is in coming and believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  If it is just by a worldly point of view that he is just a carpenter, good teacher, great prophet or nice guy then there is little redemptive.  Such a perspective of all that Jesus is has  much emptiness.

Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’? —-  Paul addressed this to early believers who could have, and likely were, swayed by the philosophies of their day. Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16).  However, in the context of this whole passage it is worth considering the same for the Eucharist.  To the eyes of the flesh when Jesus died not he cross it was just a Roman execution.  Likewise, to the eyes of the flesh now one could just see a wafer at an altar of Catholic, Orthodox or Coptic parish and wonder what thus fuss is about.  But with eyes of faith the perspective changes when a priest hold up the Eucharist and says.  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”.

I will give is my flesh for the life of the world— A beautiful thing happens in the path of conversion to Jesus.  One does get that introduction through evangelization  like what happened with the first two disciples by John the Baptist.  Then the disciples on that day by the river ask where Jesus is staying.  He said, “come and see” (John 1:39).   The measure of God’s love for the world of John 3:16 is  infinite.  The most normative way for us to respond is repentance, faith, obedience and with the greatest virtue of love.  From this we thank God for sending Jesus.  This is what early church communion was in Greek using the term for communion: eucharistia.

The Eucharist has been present since Jesus ascended and is an extension of The Sacrifice of Jesus who said he would be with us “To the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). This is not a later interpretation.  A eucharistic  interpretation was noted by St. Justin Martyr in 155 in his Dialogue with Trypho.

“And this food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” – (First Apology, 66. 155 AD)

St. Ireneaeus of Lyon agreed with this interpretation in 189 in Against All Heresies.

Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from the things mentioned. But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the of the resurrection to eternity. (St. Ireneaeus  Against All Heresies Book IV, Chapter 18).

One interpretation is right and one is wrong. One embraces Jesus today for all he presented himself and the other has limitations. Such is the dichotomy of scandal or mere symbolism as I will address next.