“Do you also want to leave?”
That’s the question that Jesus poses to Peter and the apostles at the end of the Gospel reading today. In light of the horrors detailed in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report of the unimaginable abuse of children and systematic cover up by bishops, many Catholics have recently been asking themselves this question. Beyond this present scandal though, this is a question that I would dare to say most Catholics ask themselves, sometimes on a regular basis. Whenever the demands of the Gospel seem unbearable and the commandments impossible to follow we ask ourselves why we stay.
So why do we stay?
I think there’s only one good answer, and it’s presented in today’s first reading. Joshua is giving a great speech to the the people of Israel asking them if they will stay faithful to The Lord or if they will leave to follow other gods. And the people answered:
“Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods. For it was the LORD, our God, who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among the peoples through whom we passed. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”
God’s people answered the question by recounting the great works of God in their past, remembering the saving work of God in their lives. Peter gave the same answer to Jesus when he was asked that question:
“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.”
In other words, “Jesus, we have seen too many miracles, too many great acts of healing, to leave your side. Where else would we go?” I hear a desperate tone in Peter’s response to Jesus. Not a cheerful, “Where else would we go, Lord?!” But rather the tone of someone who feels trapped. Jesus has just told the crowds that they must drink his blood in order to have eternal life. Peter is probably just as shocked and disgusted as the crowds that left Jesus, but he has seen too much to leave.
When God freed Israel from Egypt, the event being recounted by the Israelite in their response to Joshua, he commanded his people to never forget his saving work. Before he passed over Egypt, God told his people:
“This day will be a day of remembrance for you, which your future generations will celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD; you will celebrate it as a statute forever” (Ex 12:14).
You will remember and celebrate this event forever. Don’t forget the great works I have done for you. Don’t forget how much I have done to save you.
I think that we all need to take this command seriously. We need to establish memorials in our minds of when we have seen the saving work of God in our lives, then we must cling to them. We must never forget those times when we were healed, those times when we were saved. That way, when we are faced with the question, “Do you also want to leave?” We can reflect on what Christ has done in our own lives and perhaps muster up enough willpower to respond, “Where else would I go? I’ve seen too much of God here for me to leave.”
[Photo Credit: eCatholic Stock Photos]
Paul Fahey is a husband, father of four, parish director of religious education, and co-founder of Where Peter Is. He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation.