Our first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Joshua. The Book of Joshua details how the Israelites reclaimed their ancestral lands after suffering as slaves to the gods of Egypt and wandering for years as nomads in the wilderness.
After many trials and tribulations, the Israelites have been tempered like steel in a crucible, and they are now ready to go home. But first, they must make a decision- will they give their lives over to God or serve false gods? The Israelites must decide. There is no possibility of evasion or equivocation. It’s God or the false gods.
Idolatry, the worship of false gods, is the capital sin of the Bible. All other sin originates in idolatry. Idolatry happens when we elevate a finite reality, even a good thing, to our ultimate concern, and making some thing our ultimate concern, we make it into a god.
So, you need not worship mythological beings to be an idolater or participate in bizarre rituals. False gods can be constructed out of nearly anything and are most often constructed out of our desires for wealth, pleasure, power and honors.
The Bible insists that all those who would profess faith in the true God must abandon service to false gods. This is not just a matter for ancient Israelites, it is a matter of pressing urgency for all Christians.
The challenge laid down before the Israelites by Joshua is a challenge laid down before all of us- there is no possibility of evasion or equivocation. It’s Christ or the false gods. Whom do we serve? Whom will we serve?
Our second scripture is an excerpt from Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
The Letter to the Ephesians is St. Paul’s testimony about the relationship of Christ to his Church and the Church to Christ and our relationship to both.
Today’s excerpt from the Letter to the Ephesians likens the relationship of Christ to the Church as akin to that of a marriage, in which the love of spouses is manifested in self-sacrificial love. Christ gives his life over as a sacrifice for his Bride, the Church and she in turn gives her life over to Christ, her Groom, as a sacrifice.
It is this mutual, self-giving, sacrificial love that expresses itself in the life of that the Church generates in the world. All the works of the Church are meant to be understood as expressions of the self-sacrificial love of Christ for the Church and the Church for Christ.
Without this self-sacrifice, there is no potential for creativity and life and the mission of the Church falters and fails. The conditions for the possibility of life in the Church are a disposition of love and willingness to make sacrifices.
St. Paul understood that that it was the mission of Christ to love the Church and the Church to love Christ and this love would demand sacrifice- each would mutually give their lives for the other.
If we think of Christ in impersonal ways, merely a figure of historical significance, lacking a relationship to him which manifests itself in genuine acts of faith, hope and love; and if we think of the Church as merely an corporation that provides services in exchange for a monetary transaction, we should not be surprised that our experience of the Catholic Faith lacks life-giving power.
Christ is a living, divine person, and his relationship to the Church, that is, to us, happens when we accept that he is a living, divine person who offers us a relationship with him. Acceptance of the relationship is not like a financial transaction that secures for us membership in a club, but it is more like the vows that a husband and wife accept as the conditions for their marriage.
A marriage without love will not endure and there is real love, authentic love, true love without sacrifice. Unfortunately, too many Christians attempt to have a relationship with Christ and his Church without either love or sacrifice. It is for these reasons that parishes decline, dioceses becomes distant and impersonal bureaucracies, and the mission of the Church falters and fails.
For the past few weeks the Church has presented the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John as the Gospel text for Sunday Mass.
The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John provides us with Christ’s own testimony about the Eucharist, what the Eucharist is and what it means.
Christ is clear- the Eucharist is the gift of his divine life and presence given to us as food and drink. The Eucharist is not merely a symbol of Christ or an expression of community values. Even less is the Eucharist a cultural or ethnic custom. If we approach the Eucharist in there aforementioned ways, we distort the gift Christ gives us into an idol.
The Eucharist is the life and presence of the Lord Jesus himself!
Christ gives us his divine life and presence as food and drink so that sharing in his life and encountering his presence, we might become ever more like him. Christ gives us his divine life and presence as food and drink so that we can be fortified and strengthened for the mission he gives us to accomplish- both in this world and heaven.
The Eucharist is called the Blessed Sacrament and I don’t know how many of Christians actually consider what it means to call the Eucharist the Blessed Sacrament, but the reason the Church refers to the Eucharist is directly related to today’s Gospel.
At the dramatic conclusion of today’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus insists that the Eucharist he gives will place the demand of a decision upon us- those who would be willing to participate in Christ’s Eucharist must decide whether or not they believe that the Eucharist is really and truly what Christ declares it to be.
Many refuse, and in their refusal, abandon Christ.
Christ insists that our reception of the Eucharist is always bound to a decision for or against Christ- are we for him or against him, do we profess to believe in him or not? No evasions or equivocations. We must decide. We cannot be simultaneously for and against Christ.
Sacramentum, the word from which “sacrament” comes from means “oath”. An oath is testimony, a profession of what we believe to be true. The condition for the possibility of an oath is a decision. That decision will reveal whether or not our oath taking is true or false.
The Eucharist is presented to us, and once presented and then we must decide whether or not to take the oath and receive. This is what our “Amen” made loud and clear before we receive is meant to signify.
If we receive, we are taking an oath, making a profession of faith, giving public testimony to what we believe to be true. If we cannot or will not do this, we should not receive. Receiving the Eucharist becomes dangerous to the soul if we construe it as a merely passive act without serious consequences.
Receiving the Eucharist is not a symbolic gesture of affirmation in regards to my membership in “Club Catholic”. Nor is receiving the Eucharist a matter of whatever an individual chooses it to mean.
Receiving the Eucharist is a serious decision. It is an oath we take. It is an encounter with the Lord Jesus in which we either give our lives over to Christ, the Holy One of God and the Master of Eternal Life or we return to the false gods and the former way of life we believed to be true before we knew and accompanied Christ.