A man asked me some years ago to anoint his dying wife in hospital. After I had anointed her and gave her viaticum, the couple asked me to also witness their renewal of marriage vows. At that moment of grief, sorrow, and pain connected with death, they once again renewed their commitment to God and to each other as husband and wife, in the presence of their little children. The woman died a few days later. I would never forget that experience wherein they taught me that commitments had to be constantly renewed, even in moments of pain, if love was going to last.
How do we react to the shocks and tragedies of life? How do we react to those moments and events that shatter our sense of security and well-being? We can choose to see those shocks of life as God’s invitations to us to greater intimacy with Him. They can become for us pathways through which we can know and love God better if only we would renew our commitment to Him at those moments.
The Israelites in today’s First Reading are about to cross into the Promised Land as God’s own people. How did Joshua prepare them for this transition? He asked them to renew their commitment to God and to choose to serve Him again, “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve.” The people renewed their commitment to God by their words but we know that they were not always faithful to this commitment in their actions.
In baptism, we rejected Satan and became children of God by the power of His Spirit dwelling in us. We promised to forsake idols and to worship God alone and to serve Him in others in the Church all the days of our lives. But what happens when the shocks of life come about? We slowly or abruptly take back our commitment to God. We fail to see in those shocking moments a divine invitation to renew our commitment to Him and thus to know Him in ways that we never dreamt of before.
One reason why we fail to continuously renew our commitments to God is that we are not living with the full conviction that God remains ever committed to us, no matter the gravity of our sins or the degree of the pain that we are going through. We can only renew our commitment to God when we are firmly rooted in God’s unfailing commitment to us. This unfailing divine commitment to us is made present in every Eucharist.
The Eucharist is God with us, Jesus, constantly renewing His own commitment to us by His presence, words and actions. He communicates His life to His by His presence, “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” His words too are life giving, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” His communicates His life to us by His actions, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”
The Eucharist allows us to constantly renew our commitment to Him and thus constantly enter into a more fervent and intense love for Jesus. Like many people today, many of Jesus’ disciples were shocked and scandalized by His teaching on the Eucharist. They failed to see in His teaching on the Eucharist an invitation to renew their commitment to the person of Jesus and thus enter deeper in their sharing in His glory. In the words of Jesus, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” Failing to renew their commitment to Him because of His difficult teaching on the mystery of the Eucharist, they prepared themselves to abandoning Him completely, “As a result of this, many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.”
St. Paul teaches us that this undying commitment of Christ to the Church made present in the Eucharist should be mirrored in our relationship with each other, especially in that relationship between husbands and wives, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything out of reverence for Christ… Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed Himself over for her to sanctify her.” Where that personal commitment to Christ is lacking or inconstant, where it is not constantly renewed and made to reflect Jesus’ undying commitment to us in the Eucharist, then there is no reverence for Christ and no selfless love in marriage or in any other vocation in the Church.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, life brings to us moments that shock us to our bones and lead us to question or even doubt God’s love, power and wisdom in our lives. We struggle to understand or make sense of what is happening and what God intends for us. Let the Eucharist at those moments draw us to a deeper experience of God’s undying commitment to us and our own source of grace to renew our own commitment to Him. Continuously renewing our commitment to Jesus in those moments, opens us to experience that freedom of God’s children by which we too can love and act like Jesus Christ.
These are not easy days for Catholics around the world as we come to grips with the shocking clergy sexual abuse and the cover-up of the bishops and cardinals. It is shocking to hear of the sexual abuse of priests and seminarians in the hands of esteemed clergymen in the hierarchy. We are pained to hear of the shocking allegations of wicked and negligent cover-up leveled even against the Holy Father, Pope Francis. We are shocked and pained to see the painful division among the prelates of the Church in these days over this scandal.
What are we to do? We are to renew our commitment to the person of Jesus Christ by our words and actions just like St. Peter did in today’s Gospel, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Our renewed commitment will not only bring us to a deeper relationship with Jesus but will also give us the grace to respond to this crisis as Jesus demands. We will refuse to be swayed by the secular values of our times. We will respond with that love that speaks the whole truth without compromise. We will reject that false compassion that labels authentic Gospel living as rigidity. We will be courageous enough to call a spade and spade and condemn the unpardonable tolerance and encouragement of homosexual activity within the clergy. We will be honest enough to repent of our own failures without blaming others. We will accept the painful truth about the crisis without trying to malign those who are courageous enough to speak the truth. All this will happen only if we experience God’s undying commitment to us in the Eucharist and respond with our own constantly renewed commitment to Him.
Every vocation in the Church – marriage, priesthood, religious life, single life – is a call to Christic love, a call that demands ever deeper inner freedom. This freedom grows from our constantly renewed “Yes” to the person of Christ. We can only thrive, grow, and flourish in our vocations when this commitment to the person of Jesus is constantly renewed.
God’s undying commitment is made present to us again in today’s Eucharist. In the words of St. Paul, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ… was not Yes and No, but in Him it was always Yes.”(2Cor 1:19) We will surely grow in intimacy with Christ and do the Christ-like thing in these shocking moments of the Church’s history if we too choose to constantly renew our commitment to Him in our words and actions just like St. Peter did: “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!
Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations’ Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.