A Gospel passage about our Lord’s teaching on the Eucharist was so shocking that “many of his disciples” refused to accept it. As a result, they stopped following Jesus and returned to “their former way of life.”
Christ asks those who stayed with Him: “Do you also want to leave?”
It was a moment of crisis. We have come through a moment of crisis and many are still in this crisis. I pray for those who have not been attending Mass and now might feel comfortable in missing Sunday Mass. Don’t leave the Church. It is still a confusing time for sure and we need to figure out so much going forward with faith. I look at the Twelve, who were often confused and perplexed at the Lord’s teaching and yet they stayed. So why did they continue to follow the Lord?
They stayed because they trusted in him, in his person. They put more faith in the person of Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior, than in their own limited ability to comprehend God’s plan. They trusted through the trials and they stayed.
I’m sure all of us here know people in our family, among our friends and neighbors, who have left and walked away in the past. I am concerned now for others who feel disconnected to Church after this isolation and won’t find their way back to Church. It causes me deep pain and sorrow to see people stop following the Lord and stop attending the Church that Jesus founded, that I love and serve.
But today, brothers and sisters, here and now, Christ asks each of us: “Do you also want to leave?”
So why do I choose to stay? Because the words of Simon Peter make the path clear: “Master, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.”
Speaking for myself, dear friends, I choose to stay because I love Jesus Christ, my brother, my friend, my Redeemer and Savior; I love his Church; I love his priesthood; and I love you, his beloved people. I stay because Christ, my Lord and Savior, is here and you, his people, are here.
I stay because even amid such evil, darkness, confusion and trials, I’m still able to see the light of Christ shining. I see His light in your goodness and charity, in your mercy and compassion, in your fidelity and solidarity. You, my dear people of God, are light for me. Truly.
I stay because I see daily the devotion, the good works and the faith of people who continue to believe that God calls them here. I see so many who daily honor those who left us a legacy of charity, mercy, goodness and holiness—not a legacy of scandal, shame and sin.
Many who have gone before us knew great trial and tribulation in their times. And yet they stayed—some even sacrificing unto death—so that we could continue to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. They built up his Church, to stand as a refuge of love and a beacon of hope so that others might come to believe what they themselves were convinced: that you Jesus Christ are the Holy One of God.
I stay because I, too, am convinced that the crucified and risen Christ is here. The Christ who knows betrayal. The Christ who feels righteous anger. The Christ who conquers sin. The Christ truly present to us in His Sacred Body and Blood. The Christ we must turn to in these times of despair.
At this moment, in this Church, during the Mass we celebrate with all the limitations and protocol, we must turn to the Holy Spirit to beg for his guidance. We pray the Father of Consolation and Healer of Souls comforts all who are suffering right now: victims of this virus and the economic shutdown. We pray for family members, people who find their faith in God shattered, deadened, or forgotten, to find again Jesus, who has the words for them of eternal life. We pray for the Holy Spirit to purify our Church; to instill the courage and integrity needed to confront where evil lies and comfort those who suffer its attack and to instill fidelity in those who serve us.
And my dear people, I pray that despite my unworthiness and my sinfulness, I might become a better priest of Christ, a holier priest of God. Let this crisis lead all of us to our high priest and savior of our souls and the souls that might have wandered from his loving care. Pray for those who wonder why they should return to the Church. We pray, come home to the place where you can hear the words of everlasting life and receive the bread of life that gives us life.
Every day Christ asks me as he asks each of us: “Do you also want to leave?”
Amid confusion or despair, with faith, and with hope, the only answer I can say is:
“Master, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.”