Let us think back to when we were children and wanted something. Perhaps we wanted to go over to a friend’s house. Do we ever remember calculating in our minds which parent we were going to ask? -with which parent, we had a better chance of receiving permission, a better chance of receiving a yes for our little desire. Maybe mom and dad had different opinions on how often we could spend time with that particular friend, or maybe Dad was out a lot, and so when he was with us he only wanted to say yes and make us happy. [I mean, it couldn’t be that Dad was completely clueless when it came to raising children, could it? =)] Regardless of the reasons, at an early age we detected differences in our parents, differences in their teaching, different in what they taught us through what they allowed us to do. Now Christ is our ultimate teacher, he has the words of eternal life, but St. Paul tells us that the Church is united to him in marriage. Given that their bond is a “great mystery” as St. Paul says, do we expect to find the same differences in teaching between Christ and his bride as we did between our parents?
We know that at times our parents would reply to our requests in the following way, “You want to do this or that, well what does your mother say?” Or “What does your father say?” This happens when a couple is united both in love and in their teaching. They support each other’s teaching because it is coming from the same source, an indivisible love. As children when we heard this, we immediately knew that our little scheme of finding a difference between our parents wasn’t going to work, our parents were united, and ultimately, deep in our souls, we felt good about that. Even though we maybe didn’t get what our little bodies or our little hearts desired, when we rested our heads on our pillows, we were probably happy that our parents were united in their love for us and for each other. This is a great mystery, how Christ is united to his bride the Church even now. Christ and the Church are united together both in Word and in the flesh through the Eucharist. He gives his own body to her in an everlasting embrace. And in their teaching, there is no possibility of separation.
How can this be that a seemingly human institution can know the will of God? Again, St. Paul tells us, “Christ loves the Church; he hands himself over for her; and he cleanses her by the bath of his Word.” The Church has been thoroughly cleansed by Christ’s Word. United in love, she never departs from his Word in her teaching. She falls sometimes in her practice, but in her teaching, for the sake of all her members, God keeps her free from error. Even when it is a difficult teaching she remains faithful. We hear in today’s Gospel, that when Christ was teaching that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have life, many of his disciples departed from him saying, “This is a difficult teaching, a hard saying, who can accept it?” But which disciple accepts the difficult teaching, who accepts Christ’s words whole and entire? It is St. Peter who says, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” It is St. Peter, whose bones are under the altar in Rome, bones which numerous pilgrims go to see every year. The one true Catholic and apostolic Church is the only true spouse of Christ, and she has always proclaimed the totality of Christ’s teaching, even the hard sayings, applied to our everyday lives.
Could it be that the Bride of Christ doesn’t truly know the will of her groom, that even though they are united in love, even united in flesh by the Eucharist, there is some division between them? No, this is just a fantasy of our minds invented because we don’t want to accept the hard sayings of either Christ and the Church. Our little bodies, and our little hearts sometimes desire other things, so we setup upon a scheme to find some division between them. Instead of recognizing Christ’s bond with his Church as the great mystery that St. Paul proclaims, we are applying our own experience of human marriages to them. St. Paul tell us that Christ has been “joined to his wife.” Even though individual members of the Church may err, what the Church proclaims universally through the apostolic line of St. Peter is inseparable from Christ’s very own Word. Today’s Gospel shows us that yes, some of Jesus’ teachings are “hard” to accept, and therefore yes, some of the Church’s teachings are difficult as well. But the bride is united to her groom in a great mystery of true unity and love. So that we may always have the words of eternal life, Christ has left his bride with his Holy Spirit to guide us.
We heard in the first reading how Joshua prompted the Israelites to make a fundamental decision. Where they going to give themselves totally to the one true God or not? We all have to make this fundamental decision to accept the words of Christ, but not only the words of Christ but the words of his bride. I’m not going to mention what teachings we may find difficult, but the next time we hear of a teaching coming from the Church, let us not roll our eyes like adolescents and justify our lack of devotion through imagining a division between Christ and his Bride. Rather, let us enjoy the deeper peace of soul through acknowledgement of their true unity in divine love, love that they have for each other and for us.