August 19, 2018 – Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time
I will be delivering the following at Masses this weekend:
A few years back, multiple teen suicides occurred in central Indiana within a very short period of time. The loss of young lives gave us pause, particularly those of us involved in ministry to young people. The incidents were particularly difficult for high school students grappling with their own identities and self-doubts.
It led to questions: Why is this happening? Who is next? Will our school be affected? And a common question in times of unfathomable loss or grief or tragedy – Where is God in all of this?
After the first suicide, we came together as a school to pray for the repose of the young man’s soul, and for peace and comfort for his family and friends. Later, after the third suicide in a month, I remember bringing our school community together again. Everyone – students, faculty, support staff, and administration. We came together again to pray, but we also gathered to ask the question aloud that so many of us had stuck in our heads, “Where is God in this?”
I knew I needed to respond to that question for our students, but until I opened my mouth, I had no idea what that response would be. This is what I shared with them:
Where is God in this? First, know that God cries right along with us when a young person takes his own life. He grieves and mourns with us. A young person taking his own life is not part of His plan, and so He mourns.
Where is God in this? He is wherever we need him to be. If we need to be angry at Him – He is there; we can let Him have it. If we need comfort, He will wrap His loving arms around us. If we just need to talk, no one is a better listener. If we need to sit in silence and reflect, we can be assured that He is sitting right beside us.
I ended by saying, Where is He right now? Right here. When we gather together like this, we are the Body of Christ. We are Him.
So why do I share these words with you now? Because the Church is mired in scandal – unbelievable acts of abuse committed by clergy are coming to light day after day; evil is being exposed.
Of course, we are deeply saddened and pray for the victims of the abuse. We denounce the abusers and cry out for justice…and demand a purification of the Church. All the while that same nagging question echoes in our heads, “Why? Where is God in this?”
I believe the same response I shared with our students rings true in this situation: God cries along with us. This was not part of His plan; this was not His will. He suffers alongside us, in the midst of our brokenness. God is wherever we need him to be.
If we need to be angry at Him, we can vent. If we need comfort, He will provide it. If we just need to talk, He is sitting right beside us.
With today’s Gospel, we conclude Chapter 6 of John – known as the Bread of Life Discourse. For the last several weeks, we have heard this message repeatedly: I am the bread of life. I am the living bread come down from heaven. Eat of this bread and you shall live forever.
Chapter 6 of John is the foundation, the core of our faith. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith.
Where is God in all of this? He is right there (gesturing to the altar). He is right there where He has always been. Sacrificing Himself on the altar for us.
In these troubling times, some will reject Christ and His Church. Others will go about seeking God elsewhere. How could He possibly exist in this corrupt and abusive Church? He must be somewhere else.
The Church is not the abusive clergy, or the criminal use of power, or the “look the other way” mentality.
The Church is the sacrifice that takes place on this altar. The Church is those of us who gather in communion to pray together and to be fed, to be nourished by this bread of life. The Church is not merely a building or an institution.
This altar is the Church. WE are the Church – a living, breathing, life-giving being.
If we want change to occur, we must be that change. Our presence here, our participation in the Eucharist, is critical. All of us have been invited to the celebratory banquet.
We heard it in our readings today. In Proverbs: …she has spread her table…come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine.
In John’s gospel: I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever…
We must RSVP to the invitation. We must answer the call. The Eucharist equips us for daily life and for eternal life. True food. True drink. We can’t offer to others what we don’t take in ourselves.
And that is the true meaning of Church, isn’t it? Taking it out to others? As intentional disciples that is our charge.
Pope Francis recently told a group of young people struggling with what is happening in the Church: We fight scandal by giving witness to the Gospel.
In reading through some of the responses to all that is going on in the Church, one priest reflected: “As a priest, I’m not ignoring the horror and tragedy of McCarrick or the reports of past abuse in Pennsylvania. I’m focusing on the souls in front of me, on the Grace of the Sacraments, and on the power of Christ to purify us all. Because I don’t really know what else to do or say.”
Perhaps Saint Paul gives us the best advice in his letter to the Ephesians we heard today: Watch carefully how you live…making the most of the opportunity…play to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything.
That is what we, the Body of Christ, are called to do. Do it and God will be with you. He will be wherever you need Him to be.