O.L.A.’s Knights of Columbus, of which I am a proud member, celebrated their 20th year anniversary yesterday. We had a nice picnic, new officers were installed, lots of food was brought, and of course, someone had cards. It really was a very nice time. If you’re a man, and you’re not yet a member of the Knights of Columbus, I want to encourage you to join. The knights do A LOT for our parish and for many charitable causes; good men doing good things for our parish and the community.
After eating I was talking to a parishioner about a time I offered a retreat for catechists at a parish in Stockton some years ago. One of the catechists admitted that many young people today are turned off by the Church’s teachings on abortion or gay marriage, or even divorce. He was concerned that by teaching them what the church teaches, they might leave the Church. He asked me what I thought he should do.
I told him that our job as catechists is to teach what the church teaches. What an honor and calling it is to form minds and help young and old alike understand, apply, and live up to the Church’s teaching. I told him that I was not hired by that Church to teach the Theology of Stephen. There’s no Catechism of the Catholic Stephen. That parish hired me to teach what the Church teaches. And parents who love this Church do not send their children to Catechism to be taught some watered down, speculative theology, that may be pleasing to the ears, but is not grounded in the solid foundation of the Catholic Church’s teaching.
I told him that people trust ministers and catechists to teach what the church teaches. Period. Not more, not less. It’s called orthodox teaching. No conservative, not liberal, orthodox; right beliefs. Catechists do not remain silent in the face of uncomfortable truths. We don’t skip pages in the workbook because it is difficult and people might not like to hear it. The art of the catechist is to teach truths difficult to understand in a way that children and adults alike might be able to grab hold. With a story or an analogy, we raise them to a new level of understanding, and if they still do not get it, we love them and pray for them, and tell them what my mother told me, “You’ll understand someday when you get older.” And that is the truth. It might not make sense now, but if we are obedient, we will know someday.
In today’s Gospel Jesus’ hearers have a hard time with what he has just said. He said his body is food and his blood drink. He said they must eat his flesh and drink his blood if they are to have life. And the men grumbled and said, “This is a hard saying, who can accept it?” They didn’t get it. They just couldn’t see it. How could they? It sounded absurd. Difficult to understand. But Jesus does not back away from teaching the truth. He doubles down, in fact. He says, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the son of man ascending to where he was before?” I love it! He says, you think this is difficult? Wait until I rise from the dead and ascend into heaven! It’s always surprising to me that so many Christians believe in the resurrection, but not the Eucharist.
Jesus says Eucharist is nothing compared to resurrection…but they couldn’t see it. And in John 6:66, we read, “As a result of this, many returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” Jesus didn’t chase them down, say he was just kidding, or that it was only a symbol. He let them walk. And he turns to the twelves and asks, “You want to leave too?” So bold. So courageous. Peter’s response is perfect, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Jesus doesn’t ask us to completely understand, or even to understand at all. He asks us to stay, trust, and believe. The disciples would not know the truth of his words until after the resurrection at Emmaus in the breaking of the bread when their eyes were opened to His presence in the Eucharist.
When we have a difficult time with the teachings of the Church, we don’t leave we pray and ask God to open our eyes. And when we teach, we pray that the Spirit open the hearts of the faithful that they might receive the wisdom that is beyond understanding. And even then, if we find ourselves totally confuzzled, in a place of invincible ignorance, when the saying is hard and we cannot understand it, we speak Peter’s words, “To whom shall we go, Master, you have the words of eternal life.”