Take It or Leave It
An old lady decided to have a pet for a companion. So she went to a pet store and bought a parrot. But, much to her disappointment, the parrot was speechless. So after a week, the woman goes back to the pet store and buys it a mirror. Not a word from the parrot. The next week, she brings home a little ladder. But the bird remained silent. So, the lady bought a swing from the pet store, but still nothing was heard from the parrot. A week later, she saw the parrot on the floor of the cage, dying. She noticed it was trying to say something. So, moving closer, she heard the last words of the bird in a whisper: “Don’t they have any food at the pet store?”
The old lady gave the parrot everything, except food. This is what happens to many people nowadays. We have all the material things this world offers, but nothing for our spiritual life. The Scriptures say: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Unfortunately, many people choose to ignore these words. As a result, they continue existing, but have long ago ceased living.
The situation of many people is accurately expressed by the words of a dying woman: “First, I was dying to finish my high school in order to go to college. And then I was dying to finish college and start working. Then I was dying to get married and have children. And then I was dying for my children to grow up so I could go to work again. But then I was already so tired that I was dying to retire. And now I am dying… Suddenly I realized I forgot to live.”
Peter said the words every person must come to realize: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” Jesus has come, not only to save us but to give us fullness of life: “I came that you may have life and have it to the full.” This is what we have seen in the Gospel during these five Sundays in a row. It all started when Jesus was teaching and he saw that the people were hungry. So he fed them by multiplying the five loaves of bread and two fish. From there, he began his teaching about himself: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Believe in me, and you will never hunger and thirst anymore.” But he went on further and talked more concretely and directly: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” And finally he said: “My flesh is true food. Eat it. My blood is true drink. Drink it. Then you will remain in me and I in you. You will have eternal life.”
Jesus did not just give us material food; he gave us food from heaven. Jesus did not just give us food; he has become bread for us; he is the food itself so that we can be one with him and have life in its fullness. Peter and the rest of the apostles realized this. Though they did not fully comprehend the words of Jesus like the rest of his listeners, they were, however, convinced that Jesus is saying the truth: “We have come to believe that you are the Holy One of God.” After all, the truth remains the truth, whether we understand it or not.
Napoleon Bonaparte, the famous emperor, was asked what the greatest day in his life was. His answer was quite unexpected. He did not mention any of his great victories in war. Rather he said that it was the day of his First Communion.
In the first reading, Joshua told the people: “Decide today whom you will serve.” So, this Sunday, we have to make a decision. We are presented with two choices. The first is the unbelieving crowd. They decided to turn away from Jesus and go back to their old ways. The reason is simply because they could not understand the words of Jesus: “This teaching is hard. Who can accept it?” So, they left Jesus and began to shop around for somebody else whose teaching they will find more acceptable and understandable.
But is it possible to understand everything in this world? In order to believe, is it necessary to understand everything first? What many people do not realize is that faith, though not against reason, goes beyond reason. Reason is limited when it is a matter of faith. Although a reasoned faith is desirable, reason invariably falls short of faith.
The second choice being presented to us is Peter and the rest of the apostles. For them, there is no other choice except Jesus: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” And in the Eucharist, we just don’t listen to his words; we just don’t look at his body and blood. In the Eucharist, we receive the Word made flesh; we eat his body and drink his blood. And we are convinced, according to the words of the Eternal Word, that he will grant us eternal life. St. Teresa of Calcutta said: “Holy Communion is the intimate union of Jesus and our soul and body. If we want to have life and have it more abundantly, we must live on the flesh of our Lord.”
The choice is ours to make. We can turn away from Jesus like the unbelieving disciples, or we can stick with Jesus all the way like the apostles. And for us who take the second choice, St Francis de Sales is telling us: “Only two kinds of people need frequent Communion – the not-so-good that they might become better, and the good that they might stay that way.”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002