“Do you also want to leave?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Many of their friends had wandered away because they could not accept his hard teaching on the Holy Eucharist. I suspect that those who wandered away also found his teachings on moral living hard to accept since he was challenging them to a higher standard than that of the then culture. Faced with the hard teachings of Christ and his Church some in our families and among our friends have wandered away or become lukewarm in the faith. We too are asked: do you also want to leave? Peter answered as we all would wish to answer: “Master, to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life.” Easy to say, hard to live. Among those twelve were ones who would betray, deny and doubt. To follow Christ is hard but worth it.
In the first reading, Joshua raises a similar question. Israel had passed from the desert to the Promised Land. “Now that you have what you have dreamed about, is the God who brought you this far, the God you will serve?,” Joshua asks. Yes, they answer, “far be it from us to forsake the Lord.” Yet we know from history that among them were those who would break their covenant with God. To serve the one true God is hard but worth it.
In the 2nd reading St. Paul reveals how we can despite the difficulties remain with Him and not forsake him. This is one of the passages from Sacred Scripture that make clear that marriage was established by God to be that of a man and a woman for life. St. Paul wrote referring to marriage, “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for God.” This passage often causes people to squirm because the words subordinate or submissive are interpreted in secular and political ways. However if two truly become one as Jesus noted it was meant to be there is no secondary role only complementary roles. If husbands and wives are mutually respecting and loving of one another as Christ has loved us, the fears of disrespect, inequality and mistreatment will disappear. But it is hard but worth it..
Pope Saint John Paul II who understood human narye and weakness well, used this theme from the Gospel to challenge today’s young people. At one World Youth Day, the Pope straightforwardly told them: “you will certainly be asked to be faithful to Christ. A faithfulness to be lived in circumstances of everyday life. I am thinking of how difficult it is in today’s world for engaged couples to be faithful to purity before marriage. I think of how the mutual fidelity of young married couples to be faithful is put to the test. I think of the friendships and how easily the temptation to be disloyal creeps in . . . I think of those who want to live a life of solidarity and love in a world where the only things that seem to matter are the logic of profit and one’s personal or group interest. I think too of those who work for peace and who see new outbreaks of war erupt and grow worse in different parts of the world. . . I think of those who work to ensure love and respect for human life and who see life so often attacked and the respect due to life so often flouted. Dear young people, in such a world, is it hard to believe? . . . Yes, it is hard,” the Pope conceded. “There is no need to hide it. It is hard, but with the help of grace it can be done.” It is hard for the young with the conflicting influences they must face, it is hard for us all with the crosses that come our way, but with the help of God’s grace it can be done.
That grace comes from accepting and believing the teachings of Christ and His Church. It comes from regular receipt of the sacraments, reflection on Sacred Scripture, forgiving and a regular prayer life. It comes from seeing Christ in others and reaching out to those in need. It comes from trusting in God’s will and God’s way even when we wonder. It comes from being instruments of God’s grace ourselves.
I prayed Mass at a nursing home some years ago. There was an elderly woman who appeared unknowing of where she was. Her daughter was with her and would whisper into her ear all that was being said, each prayer, each response, her arm around her ailing mother’s shoulder so tenderly. When I went around during the sign of peace, there was no response and the daughter looked up at me sadly. But when I brought Holy Communion, I held up the consecrated host and said the Body of Christ. There was a stirring and the clear response – Amen. The daughter who had shown such love for her mother and faith in the Eucharist said with great joy, “Oh, she knows.” That mother’s child was God’s instrument of grace.
Readers Digest some years ago published a story that told of a woman who would visit an ocean beach when she felt down. One day she encountered a little girl building a sand castle. As they talked, a sandpiper bird flew by. “That’s a joy,” the little girl said. “It’s what?” “It’s a joy. My mother says that sandpipers come to bring us joy.” “Good by joy,” the woman muttered as the bird flew away, “hello pain.” As she turned to leave the little girl asked, “What’s your name?” “Ruth Peterson,” “I’m Wendy, and I’m six,” the little girl volunteered with a giggle. Ruth laughed too despite her gloom. “Come again, Mrs. P and we’ll have another happy day,” Wendy called after the woman. They saw each several other times and Wendy always lifted Ruth’s spirit. Then Ruth’s mother died. She raced to the beach. She wanted to be alone, but Wendy was there. “Hi, Mrs. P.” For some reason Ruth told Wendy about her mother. After a pause Wendy quietly asked, “Did it hurt?” Ruth answered harshly, “Did what hurt?” “Did it hurt to die?” “Of course it hurt,” Ruth snapped and walked away.
The next time Ruth came to the beach she wanted to apologize to Wendy for acting so poorly, but Wendy was not there. Ruth went to the cottage where she knew Wendy was staying. She knocked and Wendy’s mother answered. “No, Wendy is not here. You see, she died last week. She had leukemia. We brought her here to the beach to enjoy her last days.” Ruth was crestfallen, she had had no idea. “She spoke of you so often,” said the mother. “She left something for you.” It was a drawing in bright crayon – a yellow beach, a blue sky, and a brown bird with carefully printed words: A Sandpiper to Bring You Joy. Ruth later wrote, “there were six words, one for each year of her life, that speak to me of inner harmony, courage, undemanding love, the joy that Christ offers to each of us.” That aching little girl was God’s instrument of grace.
Today’s psalm sums it up so beautifully: “many are the troubles of the just ones, but out of them all the Lord delivers them.” But to be among the just ones, we must first agree with Peter: “Master to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”