21 Sunday B

From Fr. Jude Botelho:
In the first reading from the Book of Joshua, we meet Joshua who had led the people into the Promised Land. Joshua asks them to choose whom they wish to serve: the God of their ancestors or the false gods of the land they now inhabit. He is more concerned with the inner battle of faith rather than his military campaigns. Joshua knows that all choices have to be renewed, that people do not stay dedicated to a cause just by continuing to exist. Israel Zangwill observed about the Jewish tradition: "We are not the chosen people but the choosing people." Joshua himself makes clear his own choice and leaves them free to make their own. The people too renew their choice: "We too will serve the Lord, for he is our God."

Don't you recognize me?
During the Second World War certain Nazis killed some Jews and buried them in a mass grave. One twelve-year-old boy was still alive. He dug his way out of the shallow dirt and went around the neighbourhood seeking shelter in homes. The people knew what had happened and when they saw the boy caked with dirt, they hurriedly shut the door in his face. One woman was about to do the same when the boy said: "Lady don't you recognize me? I am the Jesus you Christians say you love." The lady broke into tears and received the boy into her home. She had made her decision for Christ.

In today's Gospel we have Jesus asking his disciples a parallel question. "And what about you, do you want to go away too?" We know the context in which Jesus was speaking. Jesus had put before his listeners the pointed choice they had to make. "Do not hunger for the bread that perishes but for the bread of life." "If you eat the bread your ancestors ate you will die, but if you eat the bread of life you will live forever." "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." The people found it difficult to accept his teaching. Jesus was putting tough choices before them. He was saying plainly, 'Without God you cannot live; without receiving nourishment from God, you will not manage your life.' One by one they left him and went away. Seeing the crowds departing Jesus does not water down his demands or his teaching. He is not after popular support, He is not after what people feel good about, but He is focused on the Truth. He now turns to his disciples and puts the question to them. They too have a choice to make. He does not plead with them to stay or force them with threats or dire warnings. He does not water down his demands. Jesus has not come to promise us a good time but a meaningful life. "And what about you, will you too go away?" We see a comparison between the response of the Israelites to Joshua and the reply of Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the message of eternal life." Peter and the disciples exercise their freedom of choice by choosing to stay with Jesus. For Peter there was something about Jesus that made him give his life for Him. To be a Christian is not to accept a philosophy; nor to devote oneself to public or social reform. Christianity is a commitment to a person, to the person of Jesus. Yet it is not enough to say, "I made my commitment when I was baptized, or confirmed or at the last parish mission or my last retreat." Past choices have to be kept alive by new commitments because decisions of faith are never settled once and for all. The disciples do what we must do, namely keep on choosing Jesus and staying with Him, who has the message of eternal life.

"If there is anybody here who believes in Jesus, stand up!"
This is a true story of something that happened just a few years ago at USC. There was a professor of philosophy there who was a deeply committed atheist. His primary goal for one required class was to spend the entire semester attempting to prove that God couldn't exist. His students were always afraid to argue with him because of his impeccable logic. For twenty years, he had taught this class and no one had ever had the courage to go against him. Sure, some had argued in class at times, but no one had ever 'really gone against him'. Nobody would go against him because he had a reputation. At the end of every semester, on the last day, he would say to his class of 300 students, "If there is anyone here who still believes in Jesus, stand up!" In twenty years, no one had ever stood up. They knew what he was going to do next. He would say, "because anyone who does believe in God is a fool. If God existed, he could stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking. Such a simple task to prove that he is God, and yet he can't do it." And every year, he would drop the chalk onto the tile floor of the classroom and it would shatter into a hundred pieces. All of the students could do nothing but stop and stare. Most of the students were convinced that God couldn't exist. Certainly, a number of Christians had slipped through, but for 20 years, they had been too afraid to stand up. Well, a few years ago, there was a freshman who happened to get enrolled in the class. He was a Christian, and had heard the stories about this professor. He had to take the class because it was one of the required classes for his major. And he was afraid. But for 3 months that semester, he prayed every morning that he would have the courage to stand up no matter what the professor said or what the class thought. Nothing they said or did could ever shatter his faith, he hoped. Finally the day came. The Professor said, "If there is anyone here who still believes in God, stand up!" The professor and the class of 300 people looked at him, shocked, as he stood up at the back of the classroom. The professor shouted, "You FOOL!! If God existed, he could keep this piece of chalk from breaking when it hit the ground!" He proceeded to drop the chalk, but as he did, it slipped out of his fingers, off his shirt cuff, onto the pleats of his pants, down his leg, and off his shoe. As it hit the ground, it simply rolled away, unbroken. The professor's jaw dropped as he stared at the chalk. He looked up at the young man and then ran out of the lecture hall. The young man who had stood up proceeded to walk to the front of the room and share his faith in Jesus for the next half-hour. 300 students stayed and listened as he told of God's love for them and of his power through Jesus.

Is my faith mine?
A so-called 'born Catholic' woke up one day and got a shock. It suddenly dawned on him that he was not a volunteer but a conscript. I don’t know what triggered off this line of thought in him. But for the first time in his life he realized that everything relating to the faith had been given to him. It was all second-hand, like clothes handed down to him from an older brother. He had been baptized as a baby, and naturally had no memory of it. All the way through his growing years, religion had been imposed on him by his parents and by church and school authorities. Not that he had resisted this or even resented it to any degree. But now that he was a young adult it suddenly hit him. He had accepted it all unthinkingly. He had never made the faith his own. But what bothered him most was the fact that he had never been consulted about it. He had never been offered the opportunity to make a personal choice about his faith.  In fact, it was a very disturbing moment. Of course, he soon realized that the faith was not the only thing he had inherited. Most of what he was, of what constituted his identity, was not his either – his name, his family, his nationality. But faith was the thing that worried him most. He had not owned the faith. He began to wonder if he had any convictions at all about it. What, if anything, did it mean to him? Would his life be any poorer without it? These were questions he had never asked himself before.
Flor McCarthy, in 'New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies'

Lady Sings the Blues

The movie Lady Sings the Blues tells the story of singer Billie Holliday. To play the role of Billie Holliday, Diana Ross spent almost nine months reading clippings of Billie, sifting through pictures of her and listening over and over again to her recorded songs. Diana Ross also researched Billie’s era of fame, the 1930s and 1940s, and the drug addiction that tragically ended her career. Diana Ross' motion picture debut in Lady Sings the Blues was a huge success, not only because of the powerful story it told about Billie Holliday, but also because of Diana Ross' commitment to honour a singer she admired so much. - Commitment is one of the subjects of today's readings. Diana Ross made a commitment to honour Billie Holliday in the movie, and so she did all the hard work necessary to live up to that commitment. Joshua in the Old Testament and the apostles in the New Testament made a commitment to follow the Lord, and so they were ready to make the sacrifices necessary to carry out their promises.
Albert Cylwicki in 'His Word Resounds'

You can’t do it!

There was this seminarian, who was in the last year of his priestly studies. He had spent well over eight years preparing for his priesthood and was looking forward to his ordination, which was only a couple of months away. The invitations had been sent when suddenly he fell sick and the doctors were not able to diagnose his case. He was treated by a specialist but his sickness went from bad to worse. He was constantly depressed and started behaving strangely. This went on for some time. Finally his superior called him and politely informed him that because of his sickness he could not be ordained. It was like a bombshell! He could not believe what he was told! He walked to his room in silence and fell on his bed and burst into tears. His whole world was crumbling around him. All that he had prepared for eight long years, all that he had lived for, all that he had dreamed about had gone up in smoke. He was so angry with God. It was so unfair! As he sobbed, he banged his fists on the bed shouting: "You can’t do it! You can’t do it God!" As he went on shouting and sobbing his heart out, he slowly realized that He was telling God that He could not do it! Gradually he calmed down, his sobs lessened and he was able to softly mumble: "You can do it! You are my God!" He had surrendered to the Lord! A few weeks later when he went to his doctor, it was discovered that by mistake he was given the wrong dosage of medicine that was causing the strange reaction. After the error was corrected, the young man soon returned to normal. He was allowed to continue his priestly studies and a month later, to his great joy he was ordained a priest of God. At his ordination he felt that the priesthood was not something he deserved, something he merited, but a gift from the Lord, who can do anything with our lives. Are we ready to surrender our dearest plans to the Lord?


1)    Backsliding 
There was once a term frequently used in the church. In the old days it was used often. You rarely ever hear it today. Indeed, in all my years in the ministry I have never preached a sermon on the topic until now. Despite the infrequency with which it is mentioned, the concept, I think, is still valid. It is backsliding.
The term backsliding, I discovered in my research, was popularized in the 1600’s by John Bunyan in his very famous allegory Pilgrim’s Progress. In the story, you may recall, the character of Christian and Hopeful are on their religious pilgrimage. While on the journey they begin to discuss an individual by the name of Temporary. He had started the pilgrimage, but along the way he fell by the wayside, or, as Bunyan worded it, backslid. That term was picked up, particularly, but not exclusively by the Methodists in early America and became a stock phrase. It referred to those once faithful individuals who had lost interest in their Christian pilgrimage…
 2)    New York Metropolitan Museum of Art 
You know you’ve crossed into some new station in your life when you visit the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and realize as you are leaving that you completely skipped all the paintings. That’s right, the entire Renaissance wing just was not on the agenda. Suddenly it hits you: You are no longer a student, or a tourist, or an art lover. No, you are a parent of small, squirming children who need to see something big, and strong, and hard-hitting. 
So your museum tour was through the pyramids. Your museum circuit consisted of huge tombs and temples, the mummies and the caskets of ancient Egypt. But perhaps most importantly, you meandered through the mists of the medieval ages. This means rooms and rooms of ancient, awful-looking weaponry, and the Met’s huge collection of all types of “awesome” armor. There are over 15,000 pieces of ancient armor and weapons in the Metropolitan’s collection—dating from 400 BCE, through the heavily weighted years of medieval Europe, and including a huge collection of Japanese implements and armories, from the fifth through the nineteenth centuries.
As you wander around the Museum complete coats of heavy iron armor stand at attention all over the place… 
3)    Commitment: A Solitary Ember 
A church member who had been devoutly active for many years suddenly was absent. One cold winter evening the pastor knocked at his door. Actually, the pastor and the church member had been long-time good friends.
As they watched the wood burn in the fireplace, the minister mentioned the parishioner's absence from church. The man candidly confessed that he had decided he was just as well off without the church as with it. The minister didn't say a word. He took the tongs from the rack, reached into the fire, pulled out a flaming ember, and laid it down by itself on the hearth. He still said nothing.
Both men sat in silence and watched the glowing ember lose its glow and turn slowly into a crusty, black lump. After some moments of thoughtful silence, the man turned to his pastor and said, "I get the message, my friend, I see what you mean; I'll be back next Sunday." And he was.
Commitment begins with decision, but commitment is never a once-in-a-lifetime decision.

Charles R. Leary, Mission Ready! CSS Publishing Company
4)    Join the Winning Side! 
Jim Wallis writes that when the South African government canceled a political rally against apartheid, Desmond Tutu led a worship service in St. George’s Cathedral. The walls were lined with soldiers and riot police carrying guns and bayonets, ready to close it down. Bishop Tutu began to speak of the evils of the apartheid system -- how the rulers and authorities that propped it up were doomed to fall. He pointed a finger at the police who were there to record his words: "You maybe powerful -- very powerful -- but you are not God. God cannot be mocked. You have already lost."
Then, in a moment of unbearable tension, the bishop seemed to soften. Coming out from behind the pulpit, he flashed that radiant Tutu smile and began to bounce up and down with glee. "Therefore, since you have already lost, we are inviting you to join the winning side."

The crowd roared, the police melted away and the people began to dance. Don’t go away, Paul says. Put on your armor and dance. I am inviting you to join the winning side.

John Ortberg, "Roll Call," article in The Christian Century, August 9, 2003, p.16.
5)    Difficult Sayings
That great American writer, Mark Twain, wrote: "Most people are bothered by those passages in Scriptures which they cannot understand; but as for me, I always notice that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand."
I suspect that, at times, we all would like to walk away from the church and never come back. We want a God different from the one we find in Jesus.
Flesh and blood? Yes. But demanding? No.
Resurrected? Yes. But crucified? No.
Salvation? Yes. Repentance? No.
Love? Yes. Commitment? No.
Unfortunately you cannot have one without the other. The rose comes with the thorns. The pains come with the birth. Night come with day. The best of times can only be lived because there are those times that are so bad.
Brett Blair,
6)    Cheap Crosses 
A missionary in Brazil visited a market town on a religious holiday, and saw a sale sign in a store’s window advertising "Cheap crosses for sell." We may look for cheap crosses – no sacrifice, no commitment, no cost, no pain – but there is no such thing. Jesus’ disciples have to follow the way of the cross.
Katherine Fagerburg, Difficult Decisions
7)    Humour: I Quit 
A guy joins a monastery and takes a vow of silence. He's allowed to say two words every seven years. After the first seven years, the elders bring him in and ask for his two words. "Cold floors," he says. They nod and send him away. Seven more years pass. They bring him back in and ask for his two words. He clears his throat and says, "Bad food." They nod and send him away.
Seven more years pass. They bring him in for his two words. "I quit," he says. "That's not surprising," the elders say. "You've done nothing but complain since you got here."
This gentleman at the monastery had something in common with the followers of Jesus: it was just too hard.
 8)    I Am the Path 
Stanley Jones tells of a missionary who got lost in an African jungle, nothing around him but bush and a few cleared places. He found a native hut and asked the native if he could get him out. The native said he could.
"All right," said the missionary, "show me the way."
The native said, "Walk," so they walked and hacked their way through unmarked jungle for more than an hour.
The missionary got worried. "Are you quite sure this is the way? Where is the path?"
The native said, "Bwana, in this place there is no path. I am the path."
I think that it is here that Peter has one of his more honest and real moments. His guard was down because so many people were leaving Jesus. They were leaving because, quite frankly, things were getting a little too difficult. So, Jesus asks the twelve, are you going to leave me as well? "Lord, to whom shall we go?" Peter replied, "You have the words of eternal life. You are the Holy One of God." Peter speaks for us all. Because in this wrorld there is not path. Peter, you are right. He is the Path!
Brett Blair,
9)    I Step Out on the Word of God

Poet Maya Angelou recalls the struggles of her grandmother living through the great depression. She remembers a lot of things about her grandmother: her wisdom, her stature. But it was her grandmother's faith that Maya remembers most. Clasping her hands behind her back her grandmother would look up into the distant sky and say, "I will step out on the word of God."

The great depression was a difficult time for everyone, but "especially so for a single black woman in the South tending her crippled son and two grandchildren." But when faced with mountainous burdens, Maya's grandmother would face the sky and say, "I will step out on the word of God."

"She would look up as if she could will herself into the heavens," Maya writes. And because of her grandmother, Maya Angelou grew up knowing that the word of God had power. And now, today, whenever she experiences the injustices of this world, Maya remembers the great faith of her grandmother. God gives us spiritual armor to protect us from the evil we face daily: He gives us truth, righteousness, the willingness to speak up for Christ, and, most importantly, faith.
King Duncan,
 10) A Higher Priority
 At the Olympic games in Paris in 1924 the sport of canoe racing was added to the list of international competitions. The favorite team in the four-man canoe race was the United States team. One member of that team was a young man by the name of Bill Havens.
As the time for the Olympics neared, it became clear that Bill's wife would give birth to her first child about the time that Bill would be competing in the Paris Games. In 1924 there were no jet airliners from Paris to the United States, only slow-moving ocean-going ships. And so Bill found himself in a dilemma. Should he go to Paris and risk not being at his wife's side when their first child was born? Or should he withdraw from the team and remain behind. Bill's wife insisted that he go to Paris. After all, he had been working towards this for all these years. It was the culmination of a life-long dream.
Clearly the decision was not easy for Bill to make. Finally, after much soul searching, Bill decided to withdraw from the competition and remain behind with his wife so that he could be with her when their first child arrived. Bill considered being at her side a higher priority than going to Paris to fulfill a life-long dream.
To make a long story short, the United States four-man canoe team won the gold medal at the Paris Olympics. And Bill's wife was late in giving birth to her first child. She was so late that Bill could have competed in the event and returned home in time to be with her when she gave birth.
People said, "What a shame." But Bill said he had no regrets. After all, his commitment to his wife was more important then, and it still was now.
The story of Bill Havens is a story of how one man paid a high price to fulfill a commitment to someone he loved.
11) Martyrs choice for God,  for Christ and  his teachings:
The Old Testament,  the  New  Testament  and  the  history  of  the  Church  tell  the  stories  of brave men and  women who  heroically exercised their freedom of choice for God and    His   commandments   and   courted   martyrdom.   II   Maccabees   6:  18-31 describes  how   the  90  year  old  saintly  Scribe,  Eleazar,  welcomed  martyrdom instead  of  eating  the  flesh  of  pork.  The  same  book   describes  another  heroic Jewish mother and  seven of her brave children who  lost their lives by resisting the order  of the  Greek  commander to  reject their Jewish faith.  The martyrdom of St. Stephen is described in the Acts of the Apostles. The first three  centuries saw thousands of Christians heroically choosing Christ and  courting the cruel death inflicted by the pagan Roman  Empire. St. Thomas More was the second in power in England and  St. John Fisher the  Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University. Both were  executed by  King Henry  VIII for  choosing  the  teaching  of  the  Church  on marriage and  divorce instead of choosing their kings view. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and  pastor, chose to resist the  anti-Christian and  non-ethical doctrines  of  Hitler and  was  executed at  39. Todays  readings  challenge  us  to make  a choice for God  and  His teachings or against God.
12) Do  we  stand  for  God?  
A group  of  Christians  gathered  for  a  secret  prayer meeting  in  Russia,  at  the  height  of  the  persecution  of  all  Christian  churches. Suddenly the door  was broken by the boot of a soldier. He entered the room  and faced the  people with  a gun  in his hand. They all feared the  worst. He spoke. "If theres anyone who  doesnt really  believe in Jesus, then,  get  out  now  while  you have  a chance." There was  a rush  to  the  door.  A small group remained - those who  had  committed themselves to  Jesus, and  who  were  never  prepared to  run from him. The soldier closed the door  after  the others, and  once again, he stood in front of those who  remained, gun poised. Finally, a smile appeared on his face, as  he  turned  to  leave the  room,  and  he  whispered "Actually, I believe in Jesus, too,  and  youre  much better  off  without  those  others!"  (Jack McArdle in  And That's  the  Gospel  Truth:  Reflections  on  the  Sunday  Gospels  Year  B [December, 1999]
13)  "Im Jesus! Dont you  choose  me?"
There is the story that  during  the Second World  War certain Nazis shot down a group of Jews and  buried them  in a mass grave.  A partially hurt twelve-year-old boy  was still alive.   He dug  his way  out  of the shallow dirt and  went  around the neighborhood seeking shelter in homes.  The people knew  what had  happened and,  when  they  saw the boy  caked with dirt, they  hurriedly  shut the  door  in his face. One  woman was about to do  the same when  the boy  said:  Mom, dont you recognize me?  Im the Jesus you Christians say  you  love.   The lady  broke  into  tears  and  received  the  boy  into  her home. She  had   made her  choice  for  Jesus.  In  todays  gospel,  Jesus  challenges  his audience to believe him and  to accept his promise of the Eucharistic food.

14) Mexican Priest:

In the 1920s, the Mexican government was hunting priests like wild animals. Young Jesuit Miguel Pro was finally caught. His sentence was death by firing squad. His final words as bullets ripped through his body were, "Long live Christ the King." His Jesus came out of John's Gospel and not the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

15) Higgs Boson:

I'd like to introduce the homily with a joke. It comes from science comedian Brian Malow: (deep breath) The Higgs Boson walks into a Church. "What are you doing here?" the priest asks. Higgs Boson says, "You can't have Mass without me." (pause)

It was funnier when Brian Malow told it.* (smile)

The joke contains a kernel of truth. The Higgs boson is about matter and we can't have the Mass without material elements.

That is theme of this homily - Jesus offers salvation that is both material and spiritual. He invites us to his own supper - the Supper of the Lamb. As we shall see, that supper has a physical and spiritual dimension.