21st Sunday B     –   Why Do I Stay?

Irish autumn is in the air. Big trees that have been quiet and unmoved all summer are stirring competently from stem to treetop in the high winds of August. The garden outside my window is puckered with magpies, woodpigeons and old crows. They are being stalked, unsuccessfully, by ever-hungry cats and foxes. I wish they would go away, especially the magpies and crows that are noisy and raucous in the mornings. This morning, I thought of Jesus and the noisy group that complained about his words of life, and packed it in and left him – John: 60-71.  Abandoning church practices and the faith, and settling into a condition of unbelief has become a well travelled road in Ireland. One of the best magazine articles I’ve read on this topic is James Bradshaw’s “The Collapse of Catholic Ireland” (The Economist, January 2020), which is accessible online.

Jesus’ question to the Twelve in this Sunday’s Gospel “Do you also wish to go away?” has a contemporary ring. Today’s question might be “Why do I still go to Mass?” In the 2016 Census, one in three said they attend religious services weekly. From all I hear, and from my own experience in the Dublin area, I suspect a good deal fewer than 30% take the less travelled road on Sunday mornings. 66% of voters said Yes to abortion on demand. Why do I believe? Why do I follow Christ? These are not easy questions to answer, especially if I’m tagging along out of routine or some sense of loyalty. “A sense of being part of a shared community of faith is not felt as strongly during Mass in an Irish church  as it is in England,” said James Bradshaw in that article referred to above. The same can also be said by comparison with Sunday Mass in American churches.
In our culture, numbers matter. Success can often be a game of numbers. TV depends on ratings, politicians depend on votes. The quality of schools is judged by the numbers who graduate to the top universities. Jesus was not concerned about numbers. He made no effort to soften his teaching. He kept insisting that his words were spirit and life. The truth, not numbers, was important to him. And the truth of the Gospel doesn’t depend on votes. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” – John 14:6. Donal Dorr gives us pause for contemplative reflection about this “coming to the Father”: “Jesus’ whole aim was to evoke in people some degree of the experience he himself had of the benevolent mystery he called Abba” – A Creed for Today, 81.
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life. During the Eucharistic Prayer the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. “Through the grace of the sacrament Jesus enables us to come truly into his presence and brings us into communion not only with him but also with all who share in the Eucharist and indeed with all of humanity and all of creation. People sometimes ask if the presence of Jesus in the sacrament is real or only symbolic? We forget that what is symbolic can at the same time be real. For instance, a kiss is a symbol of love but is usually also an act of love. So the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is both symbolic and real” (cf. Dorr, 121-122) If it awakes in us a sense of belonging and community responsibility then the Bread of Life is truly food for the journey.
Fr. QQ – 08/18/2021
                          “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
                                  I took the one less travelled by,
                                                     and that made all the difference.
                                                                                          – Robert Frost

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