Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 26, 2012)

“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,” Peter replies to Jesus when asked, “Do you also want to leave?”

Today’s Gospel passage is the last section of the “Bread of Life” discourse that we have been following for the past month. Peter’s response is a profession of faith in Jesus. The context here is important in understanding the significance of Peter’s response.

During the “Bread of Life” discourse, Jesus has invited his disciples to a deeper level of faith. He has asked them to believe in Him, to recognize that His body will be offered in sacrifice and to share in His life through the reception of His Body and Blood.

St. John the Evangelist tells us at the beginning of today’s passage that many who heard Jesus speak were saying, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” It is a hard saying that requires a deepening of faith. Jesus responds: “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”

Here Jesus makes a reference to His return to the Father, to the place He was before He took on flesh. In a certain sense Jesus’ remark points to the awesomeness of the plan of God. Through His love the Father sends His only Son to take on flesh to reveal the Father and the immensity of His love. He does this through His passion and death but the entire Christ event is a demonstration of God’s love. Faith is required to see this loving salvation unfold.

Some of the disciples could not make this profession of faith and “they returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” Yet when Jesus asks the Twelve (who represent the Church in its formation), Peter makes the profession of faith on their behalf. They do accept Jesus’ invitation to believe. They place their faith in Him. They remain with Jesus and follow Him.

In a certain sense Peter’s profession of faith is the culmination of the “Bread of Life” discourse. Representing the Church, Peter accepts Jesus’ invitation and recognizes that it is only through Jesus that eternal life is possible.

As we reflect on the passage today we might think of times in our lives where our faith is challenged. Perhaps it is through sinfulness; perhaps to the actions of others; perhaps it is in a moment of weakness; perhaps it is because we do not understand something; perhaps it is because of a tragedy or loss.

Regardless of the circumstances, the struggle can be real and intense. It is at these times that Jesus invites us to deeper faith; to place our trust and hope in Him and the power of His love. In situations that challenge our faith we have a choice to make: to stay true and faithful or to turn away.

The first reading for today’s Mass recalls a situation in the life of Israel where a similar choice had to be made. Here Joshua addresses the grumbling of the tribes basically saying: make a choice. “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today who you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.” Then he makes his profession of faith: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua then goes on to remind the tribes of the great blessings the Lord has bestowed on them, particularly freeing them from slavery in Egypt and leading them to freedom; performing great miracles (e.g. plagues, passing the Red Sea, manna, water from the rock, etc.) and protecting them on the journey through the desert. The remembrance of the good things God has done for them is a source of strength for remaining faithful even in hard or difficult times.

The responsorial psalm helps us to keep focus on the Lord’s goodness to us at all times. “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” is the response. The goodness of the Lord is all around us. His greatness has been and continues to be poured out on us: “When the just cry out, the Lord hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves. Many are the troubles of the just one, but out of them all the Lord delivers him; he watches over all his bones; not one of them shall be broken.”

The psalm also points us back to the Gospel regarding faithfulness, this time the faithfulness of Christ. Jesus is faithful to the Father. No matter how great the sufferings He faces: rejection, persecution, temptation or ultimately the passion; He remains faithful. He trusts in the Father’s goodness and care for Him.

Jesus, in the “Bread of Life” discourse, has invited us to share in His divine life through faith. He calls us to believe in Him and to profess our faith. At Mass today we celebrate His blessings to us. We give thanks as we remember His love and mercy. We receive His Body and Blood through which we have life. And we join with Peter and the rest of the Church in professing: “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”