Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Deacon Rick Fisher
"Jesus invites us to further our growth in faith."
In the lifetime of a human being, there are what we call stages of growth. We give names to these stages of growth, beginning with infancy, then childhood, adolescence or teen years, young adulthood, adulthood, middle age, senior citizen, and finally, old age.
So, we look at an 8-year old person and say this is a child, or we look at a 65-year old person and say this is a senior citizen. By using these stages of growth we are able to locate ourselves and others on the time-line of life.
Each stage of growth involves a leaving behind of a former stage. The infant leaves the teething ring behind and picks up the larger toys of childhood. The child leaves the bicycle behind and picks up the car keys of adolescence. Likewise, the senior citizen leaves the active middle age behind for the slower pace of the golden years. I debate this latter statement!
As we pass from one stage to another, we find fear. We are afraid to grow, to move into a new stage because it is unknown to us. We are comfortable where we are ... in what we are doing ... or with the things that we have. We label this fear a crisis!
In order to move from one stage to another we must make a choice, either consciously or unconsciously. We choose, even though it is fearful, to move from being a child to being a teen-ager. We choose to grow into those middle years and leave those young adult years behind. Those who never make these choices are those people who usually have many psychological problems and need professional help in making transitions from stage to stage.
Each one of us has been through this growing process any number of times in our lives. We most often refer to it as "growing."
Just as there are stages of physical and psychological growth in our mortal lives, so there are stages of growth in Christ. As we grow in faith, we leave behind a former stage of belief, and do so fearfully, and move to the next stage of faith.
In childhood we experienced the faith of others. We are taught about God and try to touch God in nature, in signs - such as bread and wine, and in other people - especially our parents. During our later childhood years we begin to imitate others. We begin to go through the actions of faith - such as praying and going to Mass. In adolescence we seriously search for the meaning of faith. We doubt it - question it - and ask why. We want it to make sense. Only in our adult years do we finally own faith, making the childhood experience, the youthful imitation, and the adolescent searching, our own personal, adult faith.
It is more difficult to choose to move from one stage of faith to another than it is to grow up physically or mentally. Physically and mentally our body size will push us to the next stage. Not so with faith. We can remain a child in faith all of our lives unless we choose to grow in it.
This is what the Scriptures today are all about. The readings are about choosing to move from one stage of faith to another.
The first reading presents Joshua, who is confronting the tribes of Israel and telling them: "Decide today whom you will serve." Joshua demands that the people make a choice to either serve the Lord God or to serve other gods. Joshua wants the Israelites to be adults in faith. They respond by saying they will serve the Lord.
In like manner in the Gospel, Jesus shakes up the faith of His followers by declaring that they must eat His body and drink His blood in order to have eternal life. Jesus gave them a choice - either accept this as adult followers or go your own way. Some left because they were not ready for this adult stage of faith. Others stayed.
The Scriptures invite us to see where we are in the growing process of faith. God's Word invites us to ask ourselves what stage are we in. Since we know faith is a growing process, do we own our faith, are we adult Catholics? Or are we Catholic in name only? Catholic by accident? Did we choose God or did He choose us, or are we still children in faith?
We may need to take a look at our prayer life in order to begin to find an answer to these questions. Where are we with prayer? Like children, are our prayers simply "God give me," - or are they adult prayers of praising God? Do we attend Mass on Sunday because it is the rule, or because we want to be here in order to grow in our love for God and each other? Do we come to Holy Eucharist because others do, or do we really believe and desire to follow Jesus' command - "eat My body and drink My blood?"
To choose to grow in faith and prayer is more difficult than choosing physical growth. Faith and prayer have to do with the beyond. Choosing growth in faith and prayer implies trusting the mystery, trusting God. Based on the past, the Scriptures, and the testimony of others, we believe that God is worthy of trust. God does not and will not deceive us.
Every one of us is at a different stage in our faith and prayer life but every one of us must never cease to grow. Not to grow is to stagnate. Not to grow is to die. A person who does not mature in faith finds death - spiritual death.
Jesus invites us to further our growth in faith. Jesus invites us to a new stage, as fearful as it may seem to be.
Are we convinced? Have our questions been answered? The choice is ours. To whom else shall we go? Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. We slowly come to believe - stage by stage, for faith is a lifetime process of growing."