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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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Columban: Columban was the greatest of the Irish missionaries who worked on the European continent. As a young man who was greatly tormented by temptations of the flesh, he sought the advice of a religious woman who had lived a hermit’s life for years. He saw in her answer a call to leave the world. He went first to a monk on an island in Lough Erne, then to the great monastic seat of learning at Bangor. 
<p>After many years of seclusion and prayer, he traveled to Gaul (modern-day France) with 12 companion missionaries. They won wide respect for the rigor of their discipline, their preaching, and their commitment to charity and religious life in a time characterized by clerical laxity and civil strife. Columban established several monasteries in Europe which became centers of religion and culture. </p><p>Like all saints, he met opposition. Ultimately he had to appeal to the pope against complaints of Frankish bishops, for vindication of his orthodoxy and approval of Irish customs. He reproved the king for his licentious life, insisting that he marry. Since this threatened the power of the queen mother, Columban was deported to Ireland. His ship ran aground in a storm, and he continued his work in Europe, ultimately arriving in Italy, where he found favor with the king of the Lombards. In his last years he established the famous monastery of Bobbio, where he died. His writings include a treatise on penance and against Arianism, sermons, poetry and his monastic rule.</p> American Catholic Blog There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing. –Bishop Fulton Sheen

 
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