Sunday Sermon for August 1, 2021, the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: Ex 16:2-4, 12-15; Eph 4:17, 20-24; Jn 6:24-35
In the second reading today St. Paul tells the Ephesians they are no longer to live as the Gentiles do. Considering that the people to whom he was writing were Gentile converts, it makes sense that he would need to instruct them to live as Christian people and not as pagans. Perhaps they were trying to find a way to continue to “be like everyone else,” or to “fit in.” Perhaps they were so accustomed to living in certain ways that they did not even think about changing some aspects of their lives when they were baptized.
Regardless of the reason, some of the people in Ephesus were living something of a double life: they were claiming to be Christian while living like pagans. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, this might make sense for people who were Gentile converts. However, we know from reading Scripture that the Jewish people also fell into this same trap. They often wanted so much to be like everyone around them that they even began worshipping their false gods.
This is the part that makes one wonder: how is it that one can have knowledge of the One True God and then want to live like someone who has no knowledge of God? The only answer I can find is that, even though they had been taught the revelations of God and the teachings of the Rabbis, they did not believe what they heard or read. It is true that God asks certain things of His followers that will set them apart from others, but the desire to be like people in the pagan nations that surrounded Israel is a mystery.
Unfortunately, this did not end with the advent of our Lord. We have been given the fullness of the truth, and still we find many who do not believe, many who do not want to live differently from the people around them, and many who give lip service to God while their hearts are far from Him. As our society becomes less and less Christian, the temptation to conform to societal norms is going to become stronger. We must consider what God is asking and choose whether we want Him and His ways or the world and its ways.
We can see in the first reading how the Lord took care of the people of Israel during their sojourn in the desert, feeding them with Manna. He not only demonstrated His almighty power through the signs and wonders He worked in Egypt, especially the dividing of the Red Sea so the people could cross in safety, He also showed the people His love and provided for their every need. He taught them He was the only God and asked them to be faithful. Over the course of time there were ebbs and flows in the faith of the people, but fidelity proved to be something very difficult for them.
In the Gospel our Lord teaches the people that as God provided bread for the people of old in the form of Manna, so now God is providing for us in a way infinitely greater: the bread He is giving to us is Himself, the Bread of Life. We have the Scriptures, we have the teaching of the Church, we have 2000 years of Saints, we have the Sacraments and, above all, we have Jesus, not only Incarnate dying for us, but continually sacrificing Himself for us, remaining with us, and giving Himself to us.
What is our response? I assume that for those reading this article, the response is one of fidelity. However, we can look back over the last two millennia and see the ebbs and flows of faith on the part of those who have been baptized into Jesus. In our own day, we are watching a great apostasy happening right before our eyes. Some of this is due to the failure to catechize people over the past few generations, but much of it has to do with people rejecting the teachings of Christ and His Church and desiring, instead, to be like everyone else. Most of the difficulty is not in the Church’s dogmatic teachings, rather, the difficulty is mostly in the area of morality.
People are being offered something that seems easier; in truth, it simply appeals to our human selfishness. Satan knows this and is providing what people want. God, on the other hand, is providing what we need. As the world becomes more pagan and more debased, the Catholic way of life will become more distinct from the way of the world. For too long people have tried to find a way to be both Catholic and worldly. There is no middle ground. God has chosen us, now we must choose Him and live according to His ways!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.