The priority of truth over success
Holy Mother church has, over the last four weeks, brought us a crucial chapter in the gospel, that of John chapter 6. It has been an extended meditation on the Eucharist. Today the chapter comes to its conclusion with what on the face of it might seem a disaster (the falling away of many disciples) but is, I suggest to you, actually a victory, encapsulated in the words of St Peter.
So first I suggest we should reflect on the gospel today as a testament to the priority of truth over success. The world in which we live does not see it that way. And sadly the politics we know too well prefer success before truth. For many people in our society, it is much more important to be successful (whether it be in politics, in one’s career, in business). Sadly there are those in the church who can be tempted by this worldly priority – preferring to change Church teaching and appear ‘relevant’ to people, than to witness to the truth and appear a ‘failure’. But here in John chapter 6 our Lord does not bend. Here is the priority of truth. It is divine truth, and of course, it cannot be changed, even when people find it hard and threaten to leave the Church. Our Lord is single-minded and determined, and he expects the same of us.
Back in the time of Joshua the people of God were asked to make a decision. In a very striking way Joshua challenges God’s people to make a choice between serving the LORD alone, or alternatively to serve the alien gods of the surrounding nations. The point here is that they cannot have it both ways. If they are to serve the LORD there is no room for any other god – they must choose. There cannot be a little bit of one religion and a little bit of another (the technical word for this is syncretism). It makes no sense for the people to just pick out the bits of different religions that they liked and make up their own hotchpotch religion!
However it was not just in those distant times that this approach to religion was a temptation. Today many people are inclined to pick and choose over their religion. “I like this bit; but I don’t like that!” But what this syncretism does is make US into the “decider” – the one who knows what is true! But that is a very different thing to a religion which is about divine revealed truth. We human beings do not get to decide what religious truth is – first and foremost it is revealed to us by God! So there can be no syncretism, because any syncretism effectively deposes God and replaces God with ourselves. With a syncretistic approach we effectively say “I know better than God!”
And people don’t realise that they are doing something very similar over Catholic teaching. A Catholic does not pick and choose over what they like about the Catholic Faith, as if they were choosing items on a menu! No, God has revealed the truth in God the Son, and through God the Holy Spirit reveals it to us in the Church. When the Church teaches authoritatively it is transmitting divine revelation – it is not sharing human opinions! It is divine revelation.
Now, as Joshua knew, divine revelation is not always comfortable! The divinely revealed truth contains some elements that we will like and others that we will not like. Some things that God reveals to us might greatly disturb us! It was true for Israel, and it is true for us Catholic Christians. We may not like some aspect of Catholic teaching. We may find some Catholic teaching very difficult. We may find some Catholic teaching very difficult to understand. But what is crucially important is that we do not walk away when we don’t like it, or don’t understand it, or find it too disturbing. If we say “I don’t accept Church teaching on this” then we are walking away from Christ, like those many disciples in John 6 walked away. They could not accept this teaching of Christ that ‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you…as the Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me…he who eats this bread will live for ever.” Our Lord revealed the truth that they needed for eternal life, but because it was too hard for them, they walked away.
Of course we are not saying that they had thus lost all chance of eternal life. But somehow they would need to repent of this ‘walking away’ and return to the truth that leads to eternal life.
So, my brothers and sisters, we too are being asked to make a decision. The gospel challenges us now, like Joshua challenged Israel. “Whom shall we serve?” Will we serve God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, and through God the Holy Spirit reveals Him in the Church? The Church which is Christus Totus, the whole Christ, will never lead us into error. That is why the Pope has the charism of infallibility when he is defining formally the doctrine of the Church. Will then we serve God and accept the truth He has revealed to us, or, will we go our own way, and decide for ourselves and make up our own religion?
Christ promises us an eternal home, and He offers us the means and way of reaching our eternal home. Can we do the same for ourselves? Of course not! If we go our own way, we are on our own until we repent. Can we save ourselves? If we could, the world would not need a saviour.
Christ does not promise that life will be easy as His disciple. He does not promise that we will like everything He will teach us. He does not promise we will understand everything He reveals to us. But what He promises is eternal life!
Let us then make St Peter’s words our own this day:
“Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Only God can save us. Our likes or dislikes, our thoughts and opinions, our feelings or limited intelligence – none of that can save us. Only the Holy God can bring us to eternal life.
IH - given at Sclerder Abbey and Buckfast Abbey