Truth or consequences by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Many of Jesus' disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one came come to me unless it is granted him by my Father."
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."
Our Lord's beautiful Bread of Life discourse does not end on a happy note. In response to His teaching, many "of (His) disciples who were listening said, 'This saying is hard; who can accept it?'" (Jn 6:60). It is the only instance in the Gospels of people rejecting our Lord's teaching in such large numbers. "Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him" (Jn 6:66).
They left because they could not accept our Lord's teaching on the Eucharist. More important, however, is the reason they could not accept His teaching: "This saying is hard," they declared. Well, of course it was hard. To accept our Lord's teaching on the Eucharist meant to accept His authority and therefore to acknowledge Him - that carpenter from Nazareth, the son of Joseph and Mary - as God. It meant a drastic change in belief and therefore in life. It meant reconfiguring their lives according to the teaching and the Teacher. Indeed, it was hard. But they do not mention whether our Lord's teaching might be true. They reject His teaching as "hard," but not as "wrong," "false" or "untrue." Ease rather than truth seems to be the deciding factor.
In their disregard for truth these disciples display a mentality well known to us - the mentality that seeks comfort, ease and convenience rather than truth, especially as regards religion. Many of us see religion as a matter not of truth and eternity but of only comfort and consolation. Therefore we seek a "faith" that will not burden or demand too much of us. When we encounter a doctrine that does demand some change or sacrifice, we draw back from it. It is hard. We excuse ourselves, claiming that the teaching is "impractical" or "unrealistic." We want doctrine that conforms to our lives, because conforming our lives to true doctrine can be, well, hard.
The difficulty highlights what it means to believe. To believe means more than to agree. It means to fashion our lives on the truths - indeed, on the Persons - in which we believe. If we believe what our Lord teaches through His Church, then we conform our lives to His. We take on His likeness and will enjoy that for eternity. If we beg off His teachings because they are hard or ask too much, then we shape our lives instead according to our own desires or opinions. And we will have those truncated, selfish lives for eternity.
So how do we avoid that fatal trap of tailoring religion to fit our lives? First, we need to be generous, even heroic, in our fidelity to Christ. We do not give ourselves partially or provisionally to the Lord. We do not profess our faith or pledge our love on the condition that things are not hard. There is no fine print in our profession of faith. Nor does the language of love include stipulations. To be transformed in Christ, as Dietrich von Hildebrand taught, "we must have an unconditional readiness to change."
Second, we need to recover (culturally and personally) the confidence that we are made for the truth. Take our Lord at His word: "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8:32). Sure, our fallen human nature may at times find a teaching difficult - seemingly impossible. Who has not felt that sting? Ultimately, however, the desire for truth that abides in every heart finds its answer in the Truth Himself and from His Church. Consequently, it matters very little whether a teaching is "hard" or not. What matters is whether it is true. Because if it is true, then ultimately - and by the grace of God - we will be able to live it and find happiness in it, both here and hereafter.
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