“To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
In the early eighties while participating in an institute on Ignatian Spirituality at El Retiro San Inigo in Los Altos Hills, I had the privilege of hearing a Jesuit priest, who had spent years as a prisoner in China, speak on “Eastern Spirituality” and meditation. He was so versed in Eastern spirituality and spoke so admiringly of it, that one evening after dinner, I invited him to go for a walk so that I could pose a personal question to him: “So why Jesus?” His answer was quick and it was sure: “Peter answered that question when he asked another question, ‘Where else shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” And then he added, “No one has ever done what Jesus has done. No one has ever claimed what Jesus claimed. And no one has promised what Jesus promised.” Needless to say, I was left almost speechless. I think that I responded with something extremely articulate and profound like “Wow!”
But behind my “Wow!” was an immediate and overwhelming sense of awe brought about by the realization this Jesuit priest had remained behind bars in China and was tortured for the criminal act of believing in the man who had the words of eternal life. For him all of the ancient powers of eastern meditation that predated Christ by thousands of years, could not hold a candle to the simple words of a carpenter from Galilee that promised forgiveness of repented sins, divine companionship until the end of time, and the doors to heaven held open. People speak of defining moments. That walk in the evening with was one of mine. So many times since that time at El Retiro the doubts have crept back in—doubts about my vocation, doubts about the Church, doubts about the efficaciousness of prayer—and yet almost habitually I return to the witness of that saintly Jesuit.
As a pastor, each Sunday I look out over hundreds of those who chose to gather at St. Rita for the celebration of the Eucharist. I am celebrating Mass with you, or perhaps I am “announcing.” Many times as I look out over the pews I wonder if we have come like the chosen people led by Joshua who were confronted with a decision to be made—a decision of whether or not to follow. Often we speak of “getting something out of the Mass” or of having “fulfilled our obligation.” But do we feel the words of Joshua, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,” or the response of the Israelites, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods…we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” It is alright to want to “get something” out of the Mass and even to feel the satisfaction of having obeyed a law (obligation) set by the Church; but more importantly we should also want to have the sense of urgency to be in the service of the Lord. This is the more complete image of a disciple. This is the figure of the Jesuit father once in prison and then returned to teach and preach to God’s people.
The something to take home with us today is the image of Jesus proclaiming, “My words are Spirit and life.” The Spirit abides in our own spirit and enables us to live and to put into practice our faith. The words of Jesus sustained the priest in prison and gave him courage—not to give up or die, but to live, and to live on! Indeed, why will today, tomorrow, or this week be any different for the Good News preached today? If there is no difference, then we have only taken something away and fulfilled an obligation, but if we serve the Lord in the ways he may show us today and tomorrow, then we are in fact closer to the Kingdom and we are a blessing to those around us. In this way, every day should make a difference!