Sunday Sermon for August 22, 2021, the Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary time, Year B

Readings: Josh 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6:60-69

In the Gospel reading today the people who heard our Lord talk about the Eucharist, particularly the necessity to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, could not tolerate the Lord’s teaching and responded: “This saying in hard, who can endure it?”  After this time, these people, who were among those who followed Jesus, walked with Him no longer.  The Faith is filled with teaching that some people find difficult.  Some people cannot accept the teaching on the Trinity, other reject the Incarnation, many reject the doctrines regarding our Lady, and the moral teaching have been a cause of contention for many who call themselves Catholic.

We notice in the Gospel reading that Jesus did not back away from what He said.  Instead, He allowed these people to walk away from Him.  The truth cannot change; it remains true even if we do not like it.  In our day this has become a huge problem because of the general rejection of objective truth.  In a relativistic society like ours, everyone can have their own truth.  Of course, this is ridiculous, but this is the concept that has been embraced by so many people today. 

In the first reading we are presented with the article of faith that was the most problematic for the people of Israel.  During their 430 years in Egypt, many of the Israelites had forgotten about the Lord and had been following the worship of the Egyptians.  Even after they came into the Promised Land they frequently fell into the worship of Baal.  In today’s reading, Joshua challenges the people to decide whom they will serve.  He gives them several options, but follows with the beautiful statement: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Today we are at a similar crossroad: every person must decide whom he or she will serve.  Notice in this that while there are many options of whom we might serve, there is no option about whether or not we will serve someone.  I was struck with this truth in a profound way many years ago when Fr. Zuhlsdorf played a song for me that was sung by Bob Dylan.  I don’t remember most of the words to the song, but the point he stated over and over was that everyone must serve someone. 

St. Paul told Timothy that the day would come when people would not tolerate the truth.  Instead, he says people will go to fables or find someone who will tickle their ears.  There are many who preach a Jesus Who is different from the Jesus preached by the Apostles.  Sometimes this is the Gospel of health and wealth, or simply making Jesus the way I want Him.  There are many false Gospels out there these days for those who cannot tolerate the whole truth. So, while there is still a multiplicity of false gods to choose from, there is also a multiplicity of false Messiahs.  There is only one Jesus Who is Lord and God.

If we want the truth, we must choose the true Jesus.  If we accept the true Jesus, we must accept everything He teaches in the Scriptures and through His Church.  These teachings include the Holy Eucharist, about which we read in the Gospel today, and the Sacrament most closely aligned with the Eucharist: Matrimony, about which we read in the second reading.  When we hear what St. Paul teaches about the beauty and dignity of marriage, we should be astounded.  However, the truths of a couple loving and serving one another and making one another into Saints are not the stumbling block today; fewer and fewer people ever make it far enough for this to be a difficulty

Instead, today marriage itself is considered an insurmountable difficulty for some.  More and more people are not even getting married, and those who do are less likely to be married in the Church.  Over the years there has been a struggle among married couples due to the misunderstanding of what St. Paul teaches about the marital relationship.  But even with this, there was no issue about marriage.

St. Paul’s teaching is difficult, but not the way many think it is.  In essence, he is telling married people to die to self and to live for the other by loving and serving the other person.  This summarizes the moral teaching of Jesus and gives it particular application in the union of the married couple.  To die to self by loving God and neighbor is, indeed, a hard saying.  However, the saying is not merely true, but the truth of it will set us free.  God made us to love and be loved and to love is to serve.  So, choose today whom you will serve.  For freedom though truth and love, chose the Lord!

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