As we reflect on the readings this morning, I think it is important to remind ourselves of the context within which we are listening. First of all we go back to the fact that over these past weeks, Jesus and the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem for the final events of the life of Jesus, his suffering, death and resurrection. But along the way, Jesus is instructing them.
The Peace Pulpit
If you remember last Sunday's gospel, especially at the end of it, today's gospel is rather jarring. Last Sunday we heard about a Jesus who was very gentle. Who took a little child as a symbol of all of those who are vulnerable and suffers or are oppressed in our world and made that child, as Jesus embraced the child, the very presence of Jesus. He said I live in every one of these who are most vulnerable. If you welcome them, you welcome me. But today in the gospel we find a very harsh Jesus.
To listen carefully and deeply to today’s scriptures, it’s important, I think, to remind ourselves of the context in which these lessons are given to us today. A couple weeks ago, Jesus began this last journey of his life in the gospel we heard a couple Sundays ago, and just before that happened, you may remember, Jesus had challenged the disciples about “Who do you people say I am?” and so on, and finally, Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the son of the Living God!” Jesus said, “You are blessed.”
First of all, it’s important for me this morning to say with how much gratitude I come here to the parish church of St. Radegund, the village [in Austria] from which Franz Jägerstätter went forth to give his life in witness to Jesus. I was able to be at his beatification last year when he was declared to be among the saints in heaven, one whom we now call blessed. It really is an honor to be here in this church with people from St. Radegund to be in the presence of the spirit of Franz Jägerstätter, and to celebrate the Eucharist with you.
Peter was saying "We're going to follow you," Bishop Gumbleton says in his homily for Aug. 30. "That means that we are going to live according to Jesus' way, according to his values. ... With the readings for the few weeks, we will be trying to discern more deeply and carefully what it means to follow Jesus. What are his teachings? How do they differ from what we hear in the rest of the world around us?
A recent report done by a research group called the Pew Foundation indicates an extraordinary number of people have left our Catholic church -- people who were baptized, raised Catholic, have gone. In fact, this report says that one out of 10 people in the United States have what we would call "fallen away" or are former Catholics. One out of ten -- that's 30 million people. Many people are troubled and mainly we see it especially among young people, which is always very discouraging.
In his homily from Sunday Aug. 16, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton relates the teaching on the Eucharist from John's Gospel to the debate on health care reform. He says, "If we're going to say, 'Yes, I will accept [this teaching on the Eucharist],' I hope we will accept it with a full understanding of what Jesus is teaching about the Eucharist, not just that he's present, but that he's present to give himself. … [to] pour out his blood, give his flesh for the life of the world."
To reflect on today’s lessons, it’s very important, I think, to remind ourselves of the context in which these lessons come to us this morning. You may remember this year, we have been following the gospel of Mark, but then suddenly a couple of Sundays ago, we turned to John’s gospel for the account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes in the desert place. That is also in Mark, but we skipped over to John’s gospel, and then for four Sundays (this is the second Sunday after that), we are reflecting, as Jesus did, on what happened when Jesus fed them in the desert.
This third part of our instruction from sacred scripture continues our reading of the holy gospel according to John. You remember last week, the people were gathered together in a deserted place and after a long day of teaching, they were tired and hungry. The disciples were going to send them away, but then Jesus kept them and found a way that all of them were nourished and fed. After that, they wanted to make him king, so he went away and hid. The disciples crossed the lake in a boat and then John picks up the incident from there.
In our second lesson today, St. Paul exhorted us, “I, Paul, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to live the vocation you have received,” and that really is what we must try to reflect on this morning as we listen to the scripture lessons -- how these lessons can guide us to live the vocation we have received. First of all in our reflection, I think it’s very important to remind ourselves that in this instance, when we hear the word “vocation,” it’s not something specific, like a call to the priesthood, which we often think of as a vocation, or to the religious life, that’s a vocation in the church.