Once upon a time, the computer company where Tina works distributed a corporate-clothing catalogue that included a pair of cuff links. One was inscribed Ctrl (Control) and the other Esc (Escape), just as they look on a computer keyboard. At lunch one day with a colleague, Tina commented on the cuff links. “They would make a good present for any man,” she said, “if only to remind him of the two things he can never have.”
Control and Escape are two words that relate the feelings of some of the people following Joshua. Canaanite temple worship is very inviting. They build temples and they form statues of their gods. And when a Canaanite person worships in the temple they offer food and money and participate in temple prostitution. All of this attracts the Israelites when they arrived at Shechem. Joshua reminds the people of the presence of the One True God. He retells the stories of the crossing of the Red Sea and the miracles of the manna, and quail and the water from the rock. Then Joshua leads the people in a rededication ceremony to recommit them to the One True Unseen God.
Control and Escape describe the feelings of some of Christ’s disciples. They are scandalized when Jesus tells them to gnaw on his body and drink his blood. Jesus’ words are so difficult for some of the disciples that they stop following him and return to their former ways of life. Even years after the Resurrection, a group of Christians called the Gnostics deny that the bread and wine at the Eucharist could possibly be the real body and blood of the Savior.
Jesus poses an important question to the Twelve and to us, “Do you also want to leave?” Or, allow me to ask the question another way: “Why do you stay in the Catholic Church?” Consider these statistics: Last year 815,465 people were baptized into the Church. Last year 66,214 received full communion into the Catholic Church from another Christian denomination. But church attendance has fallen ten percent from ten years ago to 24%. As of 2014, Roman Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination in the US, 66.6 million. However, in the last ten years, 28.9 million people no longer identify themselves as Catholic. And those who do identify themselves as Catholics, 50% are unaware that the Catholic Church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine at Mass are The Real Presence of Christ in the midst of the congregation.
I remain a Roman Catholic for number of reasons: celebrating the sacraments in a community feeds my spirituality, and, the social teachings of the Church and the Second Vatican Council give me great hope that the Catholic Church can model God’s mercy in the world. Why do you stay? Maybe it is because of your spouse, or because of a friend or because of God, or, maybe you find great hope like me. We all have our personal reasons for coming back Sunday after Sunday. In the words of St. Paul today, “Live in love.” It is the most important reason for approaching the altar for Holy Communion.
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.