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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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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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