Over two decades ago (but I still remember that it was the 21st Sunday), together with 10 other young men, I stood before a congregation numbering about 30,000 and made a commitment. I decided that Jesus would be the only one I follow. No turning back. As a consequence, I was admitted into the ministerial priesthood of Christ; a mystery, a labyrinth, a bottomless ocean, a never-ending story, yet a great joy because I sided with the One who has the message of eternal life.
And so, today, we come to the conclusion of our five-week discussion of John 6 with an exposé of the Mass as the Ultimate Mystery of Faith. At the peak of Mass, the priest interrupts the Eucharistic Prayer with this invitation: “The Mystery of Faith.” There and then a line is drawn in the sand for us to either cross over or depart. Joshua drew that line when he asked the Israelites: “Decide today whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15) and Jesus draws the line when He asked the 12 apostles: “Do you also want to go away?” (John 6:68).
There comes a time when mystery can no longer be explained, when faith demands nothing but a leap into the unknown. Jesus has said the final word about the Eucharist: “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will not have life in you.” Period! No more clarifications. That is the truth and all it demands is ascent to it. The people balk and many walk away. One would expect that Jesus would call them back to clarify the teaching or soften it. Something like: “Come back, I didn’t really mean it that way. You guys are taking me too seriously. Don’t you understand that I was merely speaking in metaphors about a nice friendly candlelight dinner, where we share intimacy and old jokes?” No! Jesus is drawing a line in the sand, inviting us to cross over or depart. And the choice is dramatic and total. There’re no more rooms for waffling, for picking and choosing. You either cross the line or turn back.
Sincere Protestants after reading this conclusion of John 6 usually find their protestant faith deeply troubling. Many have followed Peter and crossed over to the Catholic Church. Scott Hahn had a dynamic, high-power congregation which he left even while his wife Kimberly remained staunchly protestant. The move deeply impacted their relationship at first. But Scott had crossed the line, for one reason: to receive the Eucharist, the true Bread of Life. Everything else seemed to him like small potatoes, in comparison. We have a few parishioners here who did the same. Many more Protestants are crossing the line too, daily.
Among us Catholics, there remain those who would love to pick and choose what dogma to believe and what area of morality to practice or ignore. Many believe in the Eucharist but quite a few do not think that it’s really important to be in the ‘state of grace’ before receiving. So, they may miss Mass this Sunday because they are travelling or have a guest, but go ahead and receive the Eucharist next Sunday without the benefit of sacramental confession. Those café-Catholics want to simplify our belief system and our morality to make it less demanding and more in conformity with a largely pagan world. You hear them say: “I’m a good Catholic, but I don’t believe marriage is necessarily between a man and a woman.” They have reservations about the necessity to marry sacramentally before living together or that contraception and abortion are evil. “All of this is hard,” they say: “Can’t we tone down all these moral demands? These are similar to the agitations of the crowd who left Jesus, forgetting they were fed by him a while ago, as he invited them to share in his life. Jesus turns to us as he did to the twelve asking: “Do you also want to leave?” Peter answers for us: “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of everlasting life?” Truth is not about numbers, surveys or opinion polls. Truth is Jesus. And you either follow, like Peter or desert Him, like the crowd.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo