Last week in the first installment of our new message series, Faith Answering Questions, we learned why there are no women priests, how Catholics view other religious traditions, and the reason my homilies are so long. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll continue to answer your challenging, controversial, and interesting questions about the Catholic faith.
Even as we explore specific aspects of Church teaching, we’ll also be learning something about the nature of faith itself. We considered last week the fact that faith often grows through a process of questioning and doubt. Even as the crowd around Jesus recoiled at his claim that he was the bread of life come down from heaven, he nevertheless was able to lead his closest disciples to a new level of understanding.
The readings this week suggest that faith, at some point in the process of questioning, eventually must come to trust in the answers faith provides. After listening to his claims, challenging him, murmuring against him, and quarreling among themselves about him, many of Jesus’ disciples in open rebellion “returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (John 6:66). Jesus then turned to his inner circle and asked if they also wished to leave. Though perhaps still not fully comprehending his teaching, Peter’s response demonstrates his complete trust in the person of Christ: “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 6:68-69).
In my first year of seminary, I was assigned to teach a class on Catholicism at a local parish. During one session, a woman said that she had been praying that the Church’s teaching on certain topics one day would change in order to align with modern viewpoints. I gently suggested that she also should pray that perhaps her viewpoint one day might evolve to align with the Church’s teaching.
As Peter’s response to the mutiny against Jesus demonstrates, the power to believe is rooted in an openness to trust in Christ and the Church he established. Given the recent reopening of old wounds in scandals that continue to rock the Church, it may be difficult to trust in what its leaders teach. Indeed, the “episcopal negligence and malfeasance in the face of clerical sexual abuse” is nothing short of “reprehensible” (Archbishop Cordileone’s Letter on National Revelations of Child Abuse, August 17, 2018).
At the same time as we rightly condemn the evil and despicable actions of some within the Church, we cannot let them derail the critical and life-changing work of preaching the gospel and bringing the truth of Christ to others. As Joshua said to the ancient Israelites in the first reading, “Decide today whom you will serve. . . . As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
We begin a new three-week message series today called Faith Answering Questions. For some time, we’ve been asking you to submit your questions about the Catholic faith. So far, we have received many difficult, controversial, and interesting inquiries that we’ll be addressing during the homilies at Mass and in the bulletin articles each week.
Even as we explore specific aspects of Church teaching, we’ll also be learning something about the general nature of faith itself from the stories in the gospel readings over this same three-week period. In particular, we will discover that, in order to be healthy, faith must:
· Evolve by asking questions;
· Trust in the answers faith offers; and
· Commit to our faith even in the face of some lingering misgivings.
Today’s gospel passage demonstrates the first of these propositions, namely, how faith evolves through a process of doubt and questioning. In the story, Jesus is embroiled in a conflict that ultimately helps the faith of his followers grow.
The conflict began after Jesus had multiplied a few loaves of bread and fish to feed thousands of people. News of the miracle spread, and crowds began to follow him, looking for more free food. Jesus wanted their faith to mature and so provoked a controversy by telling them that he would give them “food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27).
The people balked, claiming that Jesus could never outdo the bread called “manna” given to their ancestors in the desert after they had been freed from slavery in Egypt. To help them take their first step in the development of their faith, Jesus compares himself to God’s wisdom in the Scriptures, which is like food and drink and greater than the manna rained down from heaven (6:35).
Even though they continue to grumble, Jesus doubles down and tells them that the true bread from heaven actually is his own flesh given “for the life of the world” (6:51). Still stuck in a “manna mindset,” however, the people then quarrel among themselves over this teaching. The discourse crescendos in the unthinkable revelation that they must actually eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to remain with him forever. With the Greek verb used in the passage, there is no mistaking the fact that Jesus intended his words to be taken literally.
Through a rather painful process of questioning, doubt, and even outright rebellion, Jesus led his closest disciples to a new level of understanding. In the same way, our faith should evolve and grow. For that to happen, we must be open to asking the deepest questions about what we believe and, even in our doubt, at least consider the tried and true answers provided by the ancient faith of the Church.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
At the age of fourteen, I decided to save the planet through music. With a now-classic Peavey T-40 bass guitar in my hands, I wanted to rock the world—or at the very least, the basement of my suburban Atlanta home—in the great tradition of Molly Hatchet, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and other Southern rock band sensations. I grew out my hair, donned skintight Levi’s, wore oversized Aviator sunglasses, and spent endless hours experimenting with various insignia to distinguish my garage band from all the others. In the end, however, the entire exercise only served to satiate my overactive adolescent ego.
Life has a way of dampening dreams, and the sometimes cruel reality of our daily existence teaches us to relinquish hope in favor of lesser goals that somehow seem more “realistic.” Yet over the last few months, we have been listening to the inspiring stories of many women in the Bible who took risks and made sacrifices to make sure that God’s plan for the world was not derailed. Though mostly ordinary, these women nevertheless were heroic. They believed in and committed themselves to God’s will and found themselves as a result recorded forever in the annals of salvation history.
As we come to the last episode of our message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we must acknowledge that we’ve learned many lessons from these women. In particular, we’ve learned that a hero for God:
· Does the right thing in the right way;
· Protects innocent life;
· Rises up and overcomes obstacles;
· Gives thanks to God always;
· Stays loyal to others;
· Makes peace in moments of conflict;
· Shows generosity even in hard times;
· Never remains silent against evil;
· Is devoted to God always; and
· Models humble obedience for others.
If our message series has taught us anything, it is that heroism, even in our cynical world today, is not only possible but expected. Idealism is not reserved for the naiveté of youth, and time spent reflecting on the heroic acts God calls forth from us each day is not tantamount to the impractical navel-gazing of a teenager.
Take a few moments today to consider your role as a hero for God. How is God asking you to inject a dose of heroism into your day-to-day world of work, school, family life, and leisure activities? Which of the Wonder Women stories resonated with you the most, and where can you learn to grow in wisdom, patience, and valor from their example?
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the heroic figures we’ve been studying were real women with real fears and hardships of their own, but who followed God’s lead nonetheless. We can do the same. Whatever your gender, you can follow the example of the Wonder Women in the Bible. Because a hero lives within each one of us.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
In our message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we have focused each week on the story of one woman in the scriptures and her heroic virtue. Today our focus is on the greatest of all women: Mary, the Mother of God and our Lord Jesus Christ and the wife of Joseph the carpenter.
The life of Mary is an inspiring example in many respects. Indeed, Saint Louis Marie de Montfort encourages us to practice and emulate the virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a path to holiness. We should emulate her many positive qualities and virtues, including her (i) blind obedience to God, (ii) angelic sweetness, (iii) constant mental prayer, (iv) mortification in all things, (v) surpassing purity, (vi) heroic patience, (vii) divine wisdom, (viii) ardent charity, and (ix) lively faith. Perhaps more than any other virtue, however, Mary demonstrated great humility in her life, and it is this heroic quality that inspires us to follow her most closely.
Although humility is the root and foundation of all the virtues, it is sometimes misunderstood and regarded as a sign of weakness. However, to be humble means having a good knowledge of self, understanding one’s own defects and human limitations, despising no one, seeing everyone as God’s creation, not being arrogant or thinking you are better than other people, controlling one’s anger and frustration, and living an authentic life according to God’s will.
Having been the first human to be saved from sin, Mary welcomed the gift of salvation by seeing in God her ultimate end and object of her happiness. As a result she put into action the virtue of profound humility, which all Christians called to holiness and eternal life should imitate.
In the readings today, the Israelites questioned Moses for bringing them into the desert to suffer, even though their deliverance from slavery was for their own good. Knowing that their rebellion was the result of extreme hunger, God in his magnanimity and simplicity provided meat for them, as well as manna from heaven. In the gospel, Jesus knew that the people also were carried away with material rather than spiritual hunger. Though we may be tempted in the same way, it is through the virtue of humility that we, like Mary, recognize our truest hunger for God and seek our total fulfillment in him.
Mary now continues to intercede humbly for us whenever we come to her in prayer seeking her maternal intercession. Apart from the Sacrifice of the Mass, the next most powerful and efficacious prayer is the Holy Rosary. When we come to Mary in humility she takes our pleas to her Son, Jesus, and her Son never says “no” to his mother because of her great humility.
Let us emulate our mother Mary in her commitment to God and her humility, because a hero is humble.
--Fr. Celestine Tyowua, Associate Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson