“After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him. Then Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’” This too is the question that Jesus is asking of us. Indeed, accepting the total message of Jesus is not an easy thing. Like the disciples of Jesus, we can accept many things that Jesus said and taught. But there are certain things that we cannot really give our submission of will and mind. Even among Catholics, although verbally we say that we believe all that the Church teaches, we have selective reading and acceptance of what is taught by the Church. We pick and choose those doctrines, especially moral teachings, that we agree with. Each one of us has our own hierarchy of truth and values in our faith.
Some even reject certain aspects of the Church’s doctrinal and moral teachings,such as the real presence of our Lord in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They do not see why they need to frequent the sacrament of reconciliation and choose to confess directly to God. Many more cannot accept the moral teachings of the Church on marriage, divorce, sexual morality, same sex union or homosexuality and bioethical issues relating to artificial methods of birth control or conception, stem cell research involving embryos, etc. Let us not pretend that we do not have real struggles on such matters that touch us so personally. How often do we feel that the teachings of the Church are so hard to accept?
Even on the level of faith, many of us have problems accepting the Lord’s message of forgiveness, self-denial, humility in our lives. Like the disciples, it is not because we do not understand, but it is just that we cannot accept in the depths of our hearts. We find it difficult to believe that God really forgives us and accepts us for what we are. We live in guilt and fear and anxiety that God will take His revenge on us in due time. We feel so fearful of God, not out of reverence but because of guilt and the inability to accept in faith the power of God to work miracles in our lives.
When that happens, what are we tempted to do? Isn’t it true that often we feel like abandoning the cause of Jesus even if not Jesus Himself? When we find difficulties in our relationships, especially marriage, we want to give up because it is really so trying to work it out all the time, absorbing all our energy and sapping our emotions. At times, we feel like abandoning our ministry and work because of the many difficulties we face in managing people and getting things done. In our disappointments and failures, often we end up dejected and discouraged; and instead of turning to the Lord in prayer, we are tempted to shorten our prayer, because it is dry and we see it as drudgery. We just feel like giving up everything and withdrawing into our own world. In other words, when life is difficult, like the disciples, we too want to go away from Jesus. We want to give up and abandon our cause and our hopes.
What is the reason for our lack of perseverance? What is the cause of our despair? Perhaps, it is because we tend to view life merely from a human perspective. This is what Jesus is telling us. What is upsetting you? “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer.” Yes, perhaps, in our human weakness, we do not see beyond ourselves and immediate needs, our limited horizon of life to the reality of the situation. We tend to see life based on reason and science. We do not leave room for faith. We reduce everything to reason alone. Of course, faith is not against reason. Reason is important to challenge and purify faith, lest we become incredulous and superstitious. Faith is never against reason but elevates reason to a higher level of wisdom that reason cannot penetrate in the world of the spirit.
That is why the gospel invites us to see life from the perspective of God. Since it is the Spirit that gives life, what we seriously need is the Spirit of Jesus living in our hearts and in our minds so that we can truly see our trials and difficulties in our spiritual journey in the right perspective. The Church was born from faith in the Risen Christ. It did not begin with proofs. Faith is the one thing that pleases God, as in the letter to the Hebrews. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1) “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6) “We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7) “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12)
How then do we find faith? How can the Spirit of Jesus live in us unless we are open to His words which give life? “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” Unless, we contemplate on His word, i.e. the Eucharist in its fullest sense as the Bread of life and His Body, we can never grasp His Word fully. And because God came to us in the body, taught us in and through His body, suffered with us in the body, rose in the body, and gave His body as food, we too will be able to give our bodies for the gospel.
We are called to be receptive to faith, just like the Jews who became receptive to the gospel in faith. We read that “the churches throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were now left in peace, building themselves up, living in the fear of the Lord, and filled with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.” To have faith we must cultivate a reverential fear of the Lord in humility. Without humility there can be no submission of mind and heart. It is our union with Jesus that can ultimately lead us to confess with Peter, that Jesus indeed is the Holy One of God and hence has the message of eternal life. Only this inner conviction of who Jesus truly is will give us the strength to overcome all our trials and difficulties. Only such a conviction will help us to be strong and not abandon Jesus even when we do not understand why things had to happen that way. This is because an utter faith in Jesus as the Son of the Living God is what will assure us that He will see us through even if we do not understand fully what He has taught us through the Church.
Indeed, it is this kind of faith that accounted for the early Church’s growth and enabled it to flourish. The Acts tells us that after having suffered a period of persecution, now the Church continued to grow in the period of peace. Such growth would not have been possible if the apostles had given up during their days of persecution and abandoned Jesus. But their faith in Christ and their trust in His promise and His words gave them the courage to continue to proclaim the message in and out of season, in good and in bad times. This is exemplified in the faith of Peter in today’s first reading. It was Peter’s faith in the power of the Risen Lord and their faith in him that gave him the power to heal Aeneas from paralysis and raised Dorcas to life. It was not Peter who cured or raised them but it was the Lord Jesus Christ who acted through the faith of Peter.
And the outcome of such faith is a fostering of faith in others. We read that “everybody who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they were all converted to the Lord.” So too when Dorcas was raised back to life, “the whole of Jaffa heard about it and many believed in the Lord.” Without faith in Christ, such miracles would not been possible. With faith we receive the consolation of the Holy Spirit to know that God is with us as we receive His healing grace. The result of faith is the working of miracles as we see in the early Church where many were brought to the Lord. Truly, the most powerful sign of a faith-filled people is conversion and witnessing. We read that many were converted; including the priests themselves because they saw the power of faith and fear of the Lord and His power at work.
Indeed, for those of us who have encountered the power of the Lord through faith in Him, our response would be the same as that of the psalmist. “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me? The cup of salvation I will take up, and I will call upon the name of the Lord. My vows to the Lord I will pay in the presence of all his people. Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.”
Let us pray that we will not fail Jesus ourselves by walking out on Him just because there are too many things that are finite and our mind cannot comprehend. Rather, whenever confusions arise in our lives, we will turn to Jesus in prayer, meditating on the scriptures and the Eucharist to find Him, so that He might give us the words of life for our growth and direction. Or else, what kind of response are we going to give to Jesus when He asks us: “Will you too go away? Will you too abandon me?” Let us in faith exclaim with St Peter, “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.”