After a long and tiring day at work I sometimes like to read the Bible by randomly opening up to any page, close my eyes, then put my finger on any paragraph on that page. I like to think that no matter what reading I land on, it will help me in some way, or I ask God beforehand to guide me to a particular passage which I most need to see in that moment.
My finger recently pointed to this:
“Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:64-68
During the week when this passage came up for me, there were new revelations emerging in the media about a crisis looming in the Catholic Church. When I saw the above reading I felt that it was no coincidence, and various thoughts swirled in my mind about what this could mean for me, and for all of us as believers. I wondered what my personal response would be if I were standing before Christ, and so I offer this reflection to you.
In other versions of this reading Jesus questions His disciples more directly: “Do you want to leave too?” (John 6:67) Jesus knew that He would be betrayed. He knew that many would turn their backs on Him. To even ask this question of His twelve disciples – His dearest and closest ones – shows that Christ had great love for them by giving them the free will to leave Him. He did not force them to stay if they did not want to. I think that this is the most crucial – and heartbreaking – question for Christ’s followers. It is a perpetual question for us all to answer.
There is no doubt that the modern Catholic Church and faithful have been shaken. ‘Crisis’ seems to be an appropriate word to use these days. It is indeed a dark time. If we are at a crossroads in the history of the Church, Jesus’ question strikes an even more poignant tone for us: “Do you want to leave too?” Amidst the pain, one thought has always persisted in my mind: it is imperative to stand by Christ and maintain faith in Him and His teachings through the Church. It is crucial to hold onto hope and trust that God, in His infinite wisdom, has all things under His control.
But what if you were standing in front of Christ in that moment? What would you say? What are you now saying to yourself, your family, friends, co-workers, and anyone who wonders why you are still a Catholic and go to Mass? What would you say if challenged about why you remain with Christ? Some of us may ponder on our response, or others may feel a compulsion to instantly reply, “No”:
No – I won’t leave You Jesus, because You are God’s Son.
No – I won’t reject You Jesus, because You are love.
No – I won’t abandon You Jesus, because You are innocent and pure.
No – I won’t stop going to Mass because I receive You in the Sacraments there.
No – I won’t stop praying and believing that Your Kingdom will win over all evil.
No – I won’t give up my faith in You because You are my only hope for eternal salvation.
No – I won’t leave You because the world is lost without You.
No – I will never turn my back on You, because our future can only be with You.
I feel that there is a greater sense of urgency in our time to be the ones who stand up, stand by, and stand out for Christ. Why? Because by continuing to pray and worship Him in the Mass, despite the darkness which surrounds us, He never gives up on us and loves us so deeply. The intensity of His love is one which we can never fully understand on earth.
Simon Peter’s answer is the perfect one which we must also adopt with confidence: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” His response and position are crystal clear – not only for himself (notice how he says ‘we’, not ‘I’), but in speaking for all of the disciples throughout time. It stands to reason that his reply filters down to us as Christ’s disciples today. We won’t leave Him. We have no one else to turn to but Him. In Him we find the words of truth which guarantees us eternity and happiness with Him alone.
Anyone who makes the choice to leave Christ and His Church must realise that it is not just about leaving a physical church building and ceasing Mass attendance out of disgust (or pain) because of the sins of some of its flawed members. God understands our pain. God is not the source of evil, but is above it. God is crying and imploring for us to come back to His Son. Every. Single. Second.
To abandon God would be a fundamental rejection of His love and teachings as taught through the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. It is also a rejection of the Holy Sacraments which sustain our connection to God. We cannot have a living relationship with Christ apart from His Church and the Sacraments. It is a mystical umbilical cord which should never be severed until we are with Him in Heaven. If we cut off God’s nutrients as fed to us through His Word and the Sacraments, our spiritual growth, happiness, peace, and entire life will suffer for it.
If you are ever teetering on the edge – or know someone who is – please don’t do it. Don’t leave Him or His Church. There is no one else who can help you like He can. No one else can give you everlasting love like He can. Nothing else will ever satisfy you. Christ is the only way. Talk to Him. Tell Him about your struggles. Ask for the help you need. Look at His face and eyes gazing upon you.
To whom shall we go?
Go to Jesus, and live.
Image Credit: Ecce Homo, Detail: Gesicht Christus by Antonello da Messina [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons