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Words of Eternal Life
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, August 26, 2012
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Throughout our lives, we’re brought to moments of decision that can’t be avoided. Sometimes it happens after a long period of weighing the pros and cons; other times it’s a sudden occurrence that needs to be handled immediately. In either case, there comes a time when we have to make the decision— and live with the consequences. These moments are different for everyone. They might involve beginning or ending a relationship, changing jobs, dealing with medical issues, handling a financial crisis. Decisions that seem demanding to us may seem insignificant to others. Increasingly they involve questions of religious loyalty. We might think that decisions about our faith and religious practice are a 21st-century phenomenon. But in fact they are millennia old.

Our reading from the Book of Joshua was just such a moment of decision, in this case for an entire people. Joshua has taken over leadership from Moses. They have entered into the Promised Land. Their journey through the desert had its moments of crisis and loss of faith. Now that they’re settled, the problems continue. It becomes a question of remembering the things the Lord did for them in rescuing them from Egypt and leading them through the desert. The covenants made with their ancestors must now be renewed with the new generation. Joshua sets the choice before them, to serve the gods of the past, the gods of the people in the new land—or the one God who called them into being as a community. He makes his own declaration: “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve,...As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

In the Gospel, the choice is far more personal. Jesus has presented a difficult teaching. Many of his disciples have turned away, unable to accept the idea of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Eternal life wasn’t enough of a promise to overcome their established patterns of thought. Finally he turns to his inner circle, his closest companions, and sets the decision before them: “Do you also want to leave?” Peter speaks for the whole group: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

We like to think that these decisions, once made, are made for life. But we know from our lives and those of our families and friends that the questions are always with us. Parents wrestle with the question of how to keep their children in the faith in which they were raised. Marriage can bring a blending of two denominations or even two faiths. Internal wrangling in the institutions of the Church can lead us to lose sight of God’s inspiration and presence in those institutions. Even time takes its toll. We waver, we fall away from an intense commitment, we get caught up in other pursuits.

But just as the questions return again and again, so the answers will be presented anew. Often the questions are intertwined with other moments of crisis in our lives. The decisions then become deeply personal, matters of life and death rather than disembodied debate. The words of eternal life never change, however they might be distorted by human weakness and confusion. The path might change; the destination never does.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.


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