A number of us are struggling in our love of God, and I’m referring to those of us who are disciples, who chose to make Jesus the centre of our lives, but there are signs we’re falling out of love with Him. A number of you has shared how you’re feeling lazy, you’re avoiding coming to Mass in person for no good reason. This is shocking, because you’re the ones who love Jesus. I wouldn’t be worried if you were at the beginning of the spiritual journey, but I’m concerned because you made a commitment to Jesus and are going back on your promise. So, Jesus is leading us to renew and deepen our choice of love for Him.
[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
There are four movements in the Gospel today: 1) Jesus’ teaching; 2) the disciples’ response; 3) Jesus’ asking for a decision; 4) the disciples’ response.
1) Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53). When Jesus says, ‘Very truly, I tell you,’ He’s signaling this is important, no mere metaphor, something that will be challenging. He’s telling us that the Eucharist is truly His body and commands us to receive it.
If we, as Catholics, know this, and know that He died for us, but then we skip Mass to cook, go hiking or shopping, or because we’re lazy, then that’s a mortal sin, spiritual adultery, as the Old Testament puts it, meaning that we’re breaking our marriage with Him. Some of us also used to go to daily Mass and the chapel but no longer, not because it’s no longer possible, but because it’s hard. It sounds like Jesus isn’t the centre of our lives anymore.
And one reality that’s affecting your spiritual commitment, one that I should have addressed more clearly before but didn’t, is that COVID is not the worst problem in the world. When I talk to you, there is so much talk about it, and so little mention of Jesus. Your hearts and minds are focused on the news cycle, the latest outbreak, the latest variant. I’m not criticizing physical safety—that’s good. However, I hear so little concern about spiritual safety, which is what Jesus is talking about. Can’t we do both? And isn’t one more important than the other?
Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28). Jesus is saying that sin is worse than COVID, because sin has eternal effects.
2) “When many of his disciples at St. Anthony’s heard this, they said: ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60). Notice that these disciples don’t say Jesus is wrong; they say His teaching is hard. I suppose that’s human nature: Most do what’s easy and expedient. But life, character, and discipleship are about doing what Jesus teaches.
3) “Jesus, being aware that his disciples at St. Anthony’s were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him” (Jn 6:61-64).
One attribute about Jesus that astute observers notice is that He never capitulates to people’s demands. Since I was a child, I’ve always known there was something wrong with following the crowd’s latest opinion, doing what’s popular. So, when I met Jesus, I saw someone Who rose above what’s popular, telling us what’s right and wrong, even when no one follows Him, even at the cost of His own life. Therefore, as we observe, Jesus doesn’t back down. He challenges us. I love that He doesn’t care if this offends us. This is our problem, not His problem.
Consequently, He gives us an opportunity to solve it: He asks for a choice, to deepen our love for Him. The text says, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back, and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’”
Jesus is offering us today the power of decision. I briefly mentioned to you in January of this year that Dr. Phil McGraw said that there are two kinds of decisions: everyday decisions and life decisions. Everyday decisions are about what to eat, wear, or where to take a vacation. Life decisions are when we make it one time, it lasts for life, and we don’t have to think about it anymore. You make the decision, for example, in the third grade not to steal, and you don’t wonder later on, “I’m short on cash. Should I rob that 7-11?” You don’t have the debate because you made the life decision that you don’t steal. And Dr. Phil himself made the life decision early on that he wasn’t going to drink or do drugs because he saw what that did to his father.
I once asked my brother why he was working so hard, along with his UBC studies in music, and he responded that he made a decision never to be without a job, because Dad was without a job for years, and it devastated our family.
I’ve seen people make Jesus the centre of their lives, the decision to obey all of the Church’s teachings, and that’s it. I’ve seen people stuck in lust say, “I’m not going back. I know where that goes.” I remember making a decision never to leave the Church even though people kept on letting me down. I remember when I made the decision never to look at pornography again. I was 19. And it only occurred to me now that that life decision freed me up to make a decision four months later to follow Jesus with all my heart, even if it meant that I would suffer. That decision opened up a new world for me: a deeper relationship with Jesus, deeper friendships, and finding the mission for which I was created. I know that overcoming lust doesn’t happen like this for most people, but I’m pointing to the power of decision. I do know lots of people who started healing when they made a strong decision, and that decision is to follow Jesus.
Two reasons why some of us struggle in our relationship with Jesus are either because we never made a decision to make Him the centre of our lives, or because our decision needs to be strengthened, meaning our first decision was real, but the honeymoon is over, and Jesus is asking for a deeper one.
Andre Regnier points out that our relationship with Jesus is supposed to lead to a kind of spiritual marriage (Clear & Simple, 11-13). Jesus loves us, He wants us to get to know Him; this leads to dating, and eventually Jesus proposes, “Will you make Me the centre of your life?” And if we make a mature decision, that decision will make us disciples and will last a lifetime, and we’ll never wonder, “Should I leave the Church? Will I go to Mass on Sundays? Will I follow the Church’s official teachings?” That’s a mature life decision.
4) “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-69). St. Peter knows the other options and that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. In St. John’s Gospel, only God is called holy, so here, St. Peter recognizes that Jesus is God (Francis Martin & William Wright IV, The Gospel of John in Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, 134), and makes a life decision never to turn back from following Him.
Jesus is inviting us to say ‘Yes’ to His proposal to make Him the centre of our lives. We need time to think over our decision, so I’d like to explain our spiritual programs starting this fall, which should help us prepare to make a decision.
Alpha (Starting Wednesday evening, Sept. 22, 2021 online; Thursday evening, Sept. 23, 2021 in Chinese, online; Friday morning, Sept. 24, 2021 and Saturday evening, Sept. 25, 2021 in our parish hall): Alpha explores if there’s more to life, Who is Jesus, how can I grow spiritually. Alpha allows us and those we love to explore faith—that’s the key. It starts with dinner, a 25-minute video, and a conversation. If you’re interested in spiritual renewal and inviting non-Christian friends to talk about faith, Alpha is for you and them. If you’ve made Jesus the centre of your life, please invite your friends to give it a try. There’s no commitment, so it’s a great first step.
Faith Studies (Hopefully starting on demand in September, 2021): Faith Studies takes us through the beginning and end of the spiritual journey, in five levels each lasting six to ten weeks. It uses study guides that explore the Bible and teachings of the saints and the Church. If you’re interested in growing in faith, try Faith Studies.
Journey Through Scripture (Starting Tues. Sept. 14, 2021, 7 p.m. online): This is for disciples, those who have already made Jesus the centre of their lives, who want a deeper understanding of the whole Bible.
The Marriage Course (Starting Thurs. Sept. 16, 2021, 6:30 p.m. online): This is for couples interested in strengthening their marriage. Seven weeks where couples watch a video and then have time to discuss questions between themselves. This is a great place to invite our non-Christian friends, because it’s rooted in the Gospel but not explicitly religious. It’s not counselling, but marriage enrichment!
All these programs will culminate in our Christ the King Challenge. This is something about which I’ve been thinking for three years. Every parish in the Divine Renovation Network does a challenge where they ask people in the pews to raise their hands if Jesus has changed their life in the last year. I’ve always been afraid of doing this because I fear no one will raise their hands.
So, as an easier way: On Sunday, November 21, 2021 on the solemnity of Christ the King, I’m going to ask people who have made a life decision to place Jesus at the centre of their lives to raise their hands, and then if anyone has done this in the past 12 months. If we take Alpha, Faith Studies, or The Marriage Course, hopefully we’ll be ready by then to raise our hands publicly.
To finish, I’d ask you to read the following two paragraphs from today’s First Reading, on the screens. You can read it silently, because the decision Joshua puts before the people is what Jesus is putting before us: Whom will we serve?
“And Joshua said to all the people, ‘If you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served… or the gods of the Amorites…; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’
Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went… Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God’” (Jos 24:15-18).