Saturday, June 25, 2011

Claiming Jesus as our own (Reflections on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, John 6:51-58)

“Excuse me, sir. Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” I didn’t know how to react when a young man approached me with that question as I waited for my flight at the L.A. airport a couple of years ago. I’m sure some of you have had a similar experience.

It’s not something you’ll hear from ordinary Catholics like ourselves. But it’s a line our born-again Christian brothers and sisters, most of whom are Protestant, often use. We Catholics, however, just don’t talk that way.

Now in case you think this to be strange, consider the fact that you'll rarely hear an evangelical Christian use terms like "Trinity" or "Incarnation", though most would hardly deny the reality of these doctrines. The fact is, the followers of Christ do have their peculiar tastes when it comes to terminology.

“Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” I guess I just didn’t know how exactly to respond to the young man's question. If I said ‘yes’, he probably would’ve just left me alone. But that wouldn’t be telling the truth. I mean, Jesus is the most important person in my life. He is, in fact, my Lord, my God, and yes, my Savior. I wouldn’t even be preaching this homily today if I hadn’t accepted Him into my life many years ago and handed over to Him complete rein over it—just like most of us, I’m sure. But we Catholics just don’t use expressions of the sort. And the philosopher in me was not quite willing to simply reply to something without the necessary qualification. Honesty demands it.

If I said ‘no’ to the kid, on the other hand, I’m sure he would’ve started quoting bible verses, to try and convince me to accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior so I can be saved - the way he believes he has been.

My mom says she has a line she uses whenever someone approaches her with that question: “Go away! My son’s a Catholic priest!” She says it works even on Mormons who knock on her door.

In the end, I told that young man that my plane was ready to board, so I got up and walked as far away as I could. I made sure there was enough distance between us that he couldn’t see me or follow me.

Why are Catholics often uneasy when they hear questions like that? Why do we avoid people who ask those questions? I asked that question in class and a student raised his hand and said: “Because they’re crazy. Or at least most of us think they are”.

Was he totally wrong? We sometimes do tend to think people who go around quoting the bible and convincing everyone to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior are just a little way out there. They’re just too much for our Catholic sensibilities.

Unlike our more enthusiastic evangelical friends, we Catholics often seem to be less expressive of our faith. We tend to live most of it “at a distance”. A little is good; but not too much. Or perhaps, as my student said, while we respect people like that man at the airport, we also think they’re a little odd, even crazy.

The interesting thing is, in today’s gospel, the Jews who were listening to Jesus felt the same way about him. They thought he was crazy.

"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life".

Was he serious? Eating his flesh. Drinking his blood. It sure sounded strange. They couldn’t take it. They were willing enough to follow him. But once his teachings became hard to accept, they moved away and kept their distance. A little is good; but not too much.

It sort of reminds you of Catholics who ask, “How little can I do and still be called ‘Catholic’?” or “What’s the minimum I have to believe and still be ‘Catholic’?”

While we can certainly live our faith that way. It’s really not the best way. Because just as the Jews failed to understand Jesus’ teaching by refusing to go the distance, we Catholics fail to appreciate our faith fully when we are satisfied with the bare minimum.

As long as we keep our distance from Christ, we may receive his Body and Blood every Sunday, but he will always remain outside us. He will never really be part of our lives. As long as we keep our distance from Christ, we will be like the Jews in the gospel, unable to fully understand his words: “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you do not have life within you”.

A person who truly receives Christ, invites him into his heart and mind, body and soul. He begins to share his life with us. Christ becomes part of our own flesh and blood. He becomes the Lord and Master of our lives.

Today, just like every Sunday, we will again receive Christ in Holy Communion. While we may never be comfortable using the words of our evangelical friends, we could still ask ourselves whether we are ready to accept and live what Communion means, which, if you really think about it, boils down to the same thing.

Receiving Holy Communion means “receiving Jesus into our lives as our personal Lord and Savior”. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you”.

Are we ready to claim Christ as our own and let Christ claim us as his own? Or do we prefer to live our faith, always at a distance?

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)