Have We Forgotten the Hard Sayings of Christ?

10-22-2023Weekly Reflection

The context of the hard sayings: Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of your whole family; order our days in your peace, and command that we be delivered from eternal damnation and counted among the flock of those you have chosen.

The First Eucharist Prayer/The Roman Canon

Years ago, a layman, Christian Browne, asked the question above in an essay in Crisis magazine. He quotes Jesus’ remark “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.” (Mk. 9:43)

You could also quote this one: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household” (Matthew 10:34-36). Some highlights from Browne’ essay:

-It requires no great insight in order to discern what the modern world would make of such a statement had it been uttered by a contemporary man. Secular society would simply dismiss the words as the ravings of an angry extremist. The reaction in the Church would likely be little different. Certainly, such a statement is hardly pastoral, as it seems to condemn, not “accompany.” All sin and death, fire and brimstone— merciless. Yet how merciful it is, if the very purpose of mercy is to save us from sin, death and condemnation. Christ explains his essential mission succinctly: He came not to condemn the world, but to save it (Jn. 3:17). And so his every action and every word are directed towards this end.

-One unfortunate tendency of the post-conciliar Church is the abstraction of “the Gospel” to justify all manner of humanist and universalist political sentiments. Thus we hear about undefined “Gospel values” that are said to require certain political viewpoints. While the Church does offer innumerable opportunities for repentance and reform, the decision to reconcile with God or accept condemnation still remains with the sinner. The very words of Christ speak plainly of the risk and reality of eternal punishment or separation from God.

-To take just one example, at the close of the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the greatest summary of Christianity, Christ warns: Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few. (Mt. 7:13- 14)

-The denial of the reality and the danger of sin is literally as old as man. One way to understand Original Sin is by observing its desire to deny its own existence. The trick of the serpent is to inculcate the notion that God’s laws are arbitrary, pointless or do not really mean what they seem to mean. The idea is to make man the judge in his own case so that he can acquit himself of guilt and move on. In this way, man becomes God, the very result the serpent promised Eve upon the bite of the apple.

-This ideology is a hallmark of the modern age, and it has long since insinuated itself into the Church. Clearly, for some of the prelates leading the last two synods and those interpreting the recent papal exhortation, the principal goal is to discern a work-around of the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage, as if the Church is the keeper of a rule book that can be adjusted from time to time to make the game easier or more palatable. But the doctrine of the Church is supposed to proclaim the Truth. It does not create the Truth; it teaches about it. Its authority to make its proclamations comes from Scripture and Tradition—that is, the way the Church down through the ages has understood the Scriptures and the theology and philosophy that have underpinned the interpretations. As a matter of logic, the doctrine can only change if the Truth changes.

-“This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (Jn. 6:60) Even those who heard and saw Christ on earth, and were attracted to his teachings, questioned his demands. Some fell away. In countless ways, in ordinary daily living, the world counters the Christian with the notion that the spiritual way is simply impossible. The realm of sexual relations is hardly the only area in which the world urges us to disregard Christian morality. Even more subtle and insidious is the relentless focus on the petty, the material, the obsession with wealth and status, preoccupation with self-interest and selfpromotion and self-absorption, ego-driven competition, and, of course, the marginalization or elimination of religion from the rhythms of life.

-Pope Francis wants the Church to “accompany” people through their struggles and tribulations. And well it should. Principally, this should mean the proclamation of all the demands of the Gospel in full and the incessant offering of the sacraments, especially in the Holy Mass and Confession, as the means to receive the grace necessary to truly follow the Lord. Those churchmen so enamored of Protestantism and obsessed with ecumenism should be pleased to teach that we can hardly hope to imitate the life of Christ by our own poor efforts, but must rely upon God’s grace. So by all means, let the Church accompany the faithful.

-However, it is neither merciful nor salutary to obscure the Church’s teachings. Nor is it correct to imply that, because the Church judges acts, it also judges the actors. Like its ultimate source, doctrine exists not to condemn but to save. The fact that doctrinal instruction can make people angry, embarrassed or engender feelings of guilt does not negate its truth. Of course, there is no need to present the teaching in a harsh manner, and the fact is the Church has hardly done so in the recent past. With respect to the current controversy over the marriage teaching, for example, Familiaris Consortio clearly presents the age-old understanding of indissolubility with language full of compassion for those who struggle in this area. The depiction of a Church full of clerical stone-throwers is simply a fiction…

The Gospel is a call to a great striving towards complete holiness; in essence, towards perfection. To suggest that there is another, easier way, or that the mandate of perfection is not meant for all, is to destroy subtly and without fanfare the very essence of Christianity. For even after we have done all that Christ has commanded, we have only to say: “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do” (Lk. 17:10).

Wisdom from St. Thomas Aquinas Regarding the Eucharist…..

The Doctrine: The Word made flesh by a word makes true bread His Flesh and wine becomes His Blood. If the senses fail faith alone is sufficient to strengthen a sincere heart. What are the failures of our senses? St. Thomas answers that sight, touch, taste are of no use with respect to the Eucharist. Hearing alone is safely believed. What is believed? I believe what the Son of God has said because there is nothing truer than this word of truth.

Commentary: Many point out that in chapter one of St. John’s Gospel there is an interpretation of chapter one of the Book of Genesis. Both books start with “in the beginning.” St. John reminds us that from all eternity Jesus existed as the Word. God creates by uttering his Word. He speaks it comes to be. All things come into being through the Word. This Word became Flesh and pitched His tent among us.

This tent is an allusion to the tent/tabernacle in the Old Testament which reflected the Presence of the Living God. Jesus is that Presence and hence when He speaks: This is My Body and This is the cup of My Blood we accept this Word because it is the creative power of God. The senses mean nothing here.

To perceive the Word we have been given the Holy Spirit.