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Bible Reflections View Comments

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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Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows: Born in Italy into a large family and baptized Francis, he lost his mother when he was only four years old. He was educated by the Jesuits and, having been cured twice of serious illnesses, came to believe that God was calling him to the religious life. Young Francis wished to join the Jesuits but was turned down, probably because of his age, not yet 17. Following the death of a sister to cholera, his resolve to enter religious life became even stronger and he was accepted by the Passionists. Upon entering the novitiate he was given the name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.
<p>Ever popular and cheerful, Gabriel quickly was successful in his effort to be faithful in little things. His spirit of prayer, love for the poor, consideration of the feelings of others, exact observance of the Passionist Rule as well as his bodily penances—always subject to the will of his wise superiors— made a deep impression on everyone.
</p><p>His superiors had great expectations of Gabriel as he prepared for the priesthood, but after only four years of religious life symptoms of tuberculosis appeared. Ever obedient, he patiently bore the painful effects of the disease and the restrictions it required, seeking no special notice. He died peacefully on February 27, 1862, at age 24, having been an example to both young and old.
</p><p>Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows was canonized in 1920.</p> American Catholic Blog Life is not always happy, but our connections to others can create a simple and grace-filled quiet celebration of our own and others’ lives. These others are the presence of Christ in our lives.


 
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