21st. Sunday of Year (2)
(Joshua 24:1-2, 15-18; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69)
Our Gospel passage today, People of God, refers to the Eucharist, and Jesus is there addressing certain Jews who, quite understandably with their background, found the thought of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus as repulsive and unacceptable. Jesus said to them:
Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
In today’s Mass, however, the Gospel has been joined with a passage from St. Paul who has become a “bête noir” for modern feminists who regard his teaching as being degrading for women. But then, those feminists themselves, what sort of women are they: women of the world or Christian, Catholic, women? The devil’s sin is pride, and the easiest and most acceptable way of leading human beings astray for him is to give them a shot or two of pride into the arm, so to speak, and consequently we Catholics need, at times, to beware of those who make themselves prominent, and be careful whom we follow.
Let us, therefore, considering today’s reading from St. Paul who, as St. Luke tells us about the Apostles in general (Acts 5:42):
Never stopped (both) teaching and proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus.
notice first of all that here, we have his proclamation, his advice, not a command in the name of Jesus:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord: as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands. (Ephesians 5:22, 24)
Today’s feminists say, of course: what woman could accept that?
Paul had never been put off, dismayed, or disheartened by the pride of pagans disputing with him or setting themselves up against him:
I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a constraint on you; I have no commandment from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by God’s mercy is trustworthy. (1 Corinthians 7:35, 25).
And Paul’s advice was not like that of any other person however learned and/or experienced, for Paul could most truly say of himself:
We have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)
St. Paul then continued his proclamation of Christ, the Messiah, and went on to say:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her, nourish and cherish (them), just as the Lord does the Church.
This time, it is the lads around us, the boys, who respond immediately with: what man would want that?
The feminists hate what they see as the humiliation of woman in Christian marriage, while the boys hate the bondage and responsibility that Christian family life would thrust upon them.
In all this where does Our Lady stand?
In all this where does Our Lady stand?
Feminists, as a whole, pay her little attention; if they refer to her at all, they certainly have little admiration for her lowliness:
My spirit rejoices in God my saviour, Who looks on the lowliness of His handmaid.
As for the boys … few of them would be ashamed to say they admire, perhaps even love the Virgin Mary, above all as Mother of Jesus, Mother of the Church (if they are still ‘practicing’), and as their Mother … but, they might add with genuine humility, that she is too good for them, somewhat in the style of St. John of the Cross who, as a little boy, dirtied by playing outside and, if I remember correctly, struggling in some water, did not want that lovely lady (Mary) who appeared to him, to grasp hold of his dirty hand.
Mary has always been seen in the Church as a litmus test for adventitious doctrines in their relationship with the Person of Jesus and His teaching. Now the modern ‘boys’ have no doctrines, whereas the feminists do most certainly have doctrinal practices (e.g. contesting and doctoring the Scriptures) and life-changing attitudes very closely aligned with those of abortionists; as a result of such divergent attitudes ‘the boys’ are known as poor Catholics, but our modern feminists – on the whole – are not easily recognizable as Christian or Catholic at all.
If those views – of the feminists and the ‘boys’ -- were the only possible interpretations of St. Paul’s teaching it would be very difficult indeed to understand how it has come about that Christianity has raised the status and dignity of women immeasurably more than any other religious faith. How could a religion preaching the so-called humiliation of woman in marriage have lifted up the status and confirmed the dignity of women, above all in the love, ‘worship’, and subjection she willingly and gratefully gives to the Virgin Mary as the mother of her Lord and Saviour? On the other hand, if the bondage of responsibilities and chastity were so objectionable and unsatisfying for men -- as the boys say -- how could it be that Christian family life has shown itself to be the bed-rock of Western, indeed world-wide, democratic society?
As you can see, so much depends on how you look at things. That is why we heard in the first reading that Joshua, the leader of the Israelites after Moses, said to the assembled people, “Make up your minds”:
Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." So, the people answered and said: "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods.
Our troubles today are largely the fault of people who publicly say they don’t want to forsake the Lord, but who, in their hearts, neither hold Him in fear, nor are they willing to discipline their bodies so as to serve Him in sincerity and truth.
Jesus, in the Gospel reading, knew some such people who found His teaching hard because they were unwilling to commit themselves entirely to Him:
When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, "Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit Who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
What if you see the Son of Man ascending to heaven? Can’t you understand where I am leading you? You will see Me ascend as your leader to the place where I am to prepare a place for all who will follow Me. I am not preparing My disciples for a mere seventy or eighty years’ life in this sinful set-up; I have been sent to help you become children of God, able to live for ever in an eternal home prepared for you in My Father’s Kingdom; but for that, you have to be willing to trust Me.
Just as there are many rooms in the Father’s Kingdom where Jesus is preparing to receive His faithful disciples, so too, here on earth, there are many ways of learning discipleship and some, indeed, are better than others, as both Mary and Martha learnt; but all acceptable ways involve loving God and one’s neighbour, serving and following Jesus by obeying His Spirit in the Church.
Whatever way we choose, the whole of our life as Christians is a time of preparation for our heavenly home, a preparation whereby we are gradually purged and cleansed of our sins and formed in the likeness of Jesus by His Holy Spirit. It is not a time for the pre-eminent pursuit of worldly pride or pleasure, nor is it a process we can monitor and appraise for our own satisfaction. The progress of life on earth for a disciple of Jesus is a spiritual work, a work carried out by the Holy Spirit; and it is a faith work, a work that can only be done for those who live by faith in Jesus Christ and in that way open themselves up to His Holy Spirit and allow Him to work in them.
And so, marriage -- the Christian life-sharing and potentially child-bearing relationship between man and woman -- is a most important relationship for the training of God’s heavenly children. It is not, and cannot be, a relationship which is private to the two concerned, for that would be a mere a free-love association, whereas Christian marriage is the union of man and woman offered to Jesus, to be lived in accordance with His teaching and guidance handed down to us by His Apostles and Mother Church: it is a preparation ground, a human relationship offered to God for His glory and for Him to guide so that it serves the salvation of the spouses, helping form them for His heavenly family. Every blessing comes to us through the Cross; consequently, in all Christian living, including marriage, there is experience of the Cross of Jesus; but as we see in Jesus, the Cross is ultimately something which a Catholic disciple can learn to embrace with his Lord for love of the Father, something which can lift us up from this earth to heaven.
Just to put it briefly in answer to the feminists and to the lads: Christian marriage is meant to help a Christian man and woman grow in humility on the one hand, and in true love on the other hand, both of which demand total, responsible, self-commitment and willing self-sacrifice. To enable them both to achieve this, the Christian bond of marriage bestows a share in divine love, a gift of grace which gives those who want to receive it strength to live in a way which is more than human; and that is precisely why the feminists and the lads cannot understand Catholic marriage and Christian love, because it is for those destined for heaven, not for those satisfied, or hoping to be satisfied, with whatever renown, success, satisfaction, or pleasure, they can win or grab for themselves in this largely pagan world.
In all this, however, argument is of limited value, for as Jesus said:
Therefore, I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.
That does not mean that the Father denies anyone the opportunity or the ability to come to Jesus, but simply that He will not force it upon anyone; while those who do come to discipleship, must realize that it is a gift of God, not their own work.
In His days in Palestine, Jesus’ message displeased many:
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.
Contrary to the impression given in these our times by some of His disciples both high and low, Jesus does not depend on human backing, He does not find it necessary to count “bums on seats” -- as the saying goes -- before He can trust His Father; for, just as of old:
He said to the twelve, "Do you also want to go away?",
even so today, He looks and listens for those true disciples who can wholeheartedly repeat and confirm those words of Peter:
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.