21st Sunday Ordinary Time
Year B

Protected along our journey

Jeremy Cook, of Elmira, N.Y., though only six years old, rated a mention in the Associated Press dispatches in May, 1982. On March 24th, he and his fellow pupils released a gaggle of colored balloons filled with helium. They were meant to travel considerable distances, and Jeremy hoped that his would reach Canada. Somebody had promised to give $500 to his school for any balloon that crossed the border. Of course, Jeremy and the rest of the children attached their names and addresses to the balloons so that finders could acknowledge the arrival of the little airborne bubbles.

Jeremy's balloon did not come down in Canada; it went much farther. Picked up by the westerly winds, it danced out across the Atlantic, and probably across a good part of western Europe. Then winds from the northwest swept it over the Mediterranean Sea deep into eastern Africa where it finally alighted after a voyage of 8,000 miles.

Early in May, a letter reached Jeremy signed by a person named Joshua Owino Kilori. "You might have wondered," said the writer, "where your balloon disappeared to. This sweet yellow balloon traveled thousands of miles to Africa. I found it on a beach in Mombasa. It is in East Africa, a country known as Kenya." The writer signed himself "Josh."

What a nice fantasy to picture Jeremy Cook's yellow balloon given a joy-ride one-third around the world by kindly winds! Today's first reading (incidentally from the Book of Joshua) speaks of God's watchful guidance of his people in almost similar terms: "He protected us along our entire journey and among all the peoples through whom we passed." How true it is that we travel through life under the shadow of His wings. "Therefore," we say with Joshua's Israelites, "we also will serve the Lord, for He is our God." (Joshua 24:17-18).

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q386: Why would "disciples" of Jesus walk away from his teaching that He was the "bread of life" (Jn 6:60-69)?

After 2000 years, people are still faced with the same choice! We just returned from a weekend Retreat with other deacon couples at the Retreat Center in Griswold, Iowa. Over and over we heard about God's incredible love for us, and how he is always present to us in so many different ways. Our task (as St. Ignatius teaches) is to learn to recognize his presence, adore him, love him, be grateful, and carry that love to others. To our great joy and awe, He makes himself present to us daily in the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.

Today we hear in the Gospel (Jn 6:60-69) that many could not accept Jesus' words claiming that he was the "Bread of Life" - so they turned away from him. Even some "Christians" (non-Catholics) have difficulty with this, thinking that the Holy Eucharist is "only a symbol" of His Real Presence. After all, they sometimes reason, if the offering of Calvary was sufficient for obtaining salvation for all human beings, then why must Jesus "invent" a new presence in the Christian assembly? (This was also the rhetorical question posed for discussion in Jubilee Year 2000 by a special theological commission at the Vatican in the book, "The Eucharist: Gift of Divine Life.")

There could only be one answer: "Everything in the Eucharist derives from love carried to extremes. All emerges from a limitless will to give" (op.cit.). We are talking about a perpetual continuation of the Incarnation! That is the measure of his incredible love for us! As the messenger told Abraham, "Is anything too marvelous for the Lord to do?"( Gen 18:14a). We pray that all will recognize this gift of Sacramental love, and then maybe - like Cleopas, Zacchaeus and others - they, too, will recognize him in the breaking of the bread and come back to him without attempting to limit his power and his love.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The question Jesus asks his Apostles today is the same question every Christian must answer: "Do you also want to leave?" It is an invitation to discover that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself (CCC #1336).

Q542: Isn’t it difficult to believe in what is unseen, what we call “mystery”?

The readings in the bible are all about choices, aren’t they? In the First Reading today (Joshua 24:1-18), Moses has been replaced by the one he laid hands upon in a commissioning ceremony. So now Joshua reminds the people of their need to make a decision and recommit their lives to Yahweh alone. The location is the earliest holy site of the Hebrews, called Shechem. It is directly connected to the patriarch Abraham and the Lord’s promise of the land to him and his descendants. Joshua’s choice of commitment to Yahweh is unconditional: he and his household will serve the Lord.

In the Gospel (John 6:60-69) we find the same situation: a critical moment of decision. Does the crowd want to exploit Jesus, or enter into a trusting relationship with him? Jesus is asking his disciples to look beyond the signs of the bread which he fed miraculously to thousands, and see the reality to which it points: his divine origin. You can discern according to the flesh, which is the shallow human way. If you do, you will turn away from Jesus in unbelief. The other choice is to discern according to the spirit, which means you will respond with a faith that believes in everything Jesus says or does. To make the right choice means that you have accepted the gift of faith from the Father in heaven.

Jesus puts the question squarely to the apostles: are you going to leave, like those unbelievers who turned away? Peter the Rock is the one who speaks for the apostles. He not only affirms their trust in the words of Jesus; he also identifies the very origin of Jesus as coming from God himself – a sure sign of faith.

If we truly believe in the incarnation, that Jesus is the Son of God, then how can we possibly consider following anyone but Jesus? Why do we put up roadblocks to his word becoming alive and fruitful in our own lives? Are we truly looking beyond the signs, to the underlying reality about the divinity of Christ – and the demand that places upon us?

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Eucharist and the Cross are always stumbling blocks for those who discern according to the flesh. It is the spirit that gives life to the flesh. Jesus invites us to discover that he alone has “the words of eternal life” (CCC #1336). Listen to him, act on his word, and receive eternal life. Rest in the mystery!

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Today's readings call us to renewal and re-consecration when we face difficult decisions or commitments. The people of Israel were changing from a life as nomadic shepherds to a life as settled farmers. But could the God of the desert meet their needs under these new circumstances? Joshua calls for a decision: "As for me and my house we will serve the Lord." Israel answers, "We will also serve the Lord for he is our God." In the Gospel Jesus calls for his followers to eat his body and drink his blood. Some respond, "This kind of talk is hard to endure. How can anyone take it seriously?" and they leave him He asks the Twelve, "Do you want to leave me too?" Peter answers for all: "Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." In the second reading St. Paul calls for a new approach to the commitment to marriage. In some ways he reflects the male centered ideas of the times, but his model of marriage as a commitment of mutual respect and self-giving was revolutionary. These readings call all of us to renewal and recommitment when we face difficult situations whether of husband and wife or of the faithful and God's church

Lord Jesus, when you ask us for a new recommitment of faith, send your Spirit to guide us when we face difficult decisions. Help us to avoid the road that takes us away from you. Help us to know the way to you. so that we may know the way in which we should go.