When Loved Ones Leave the Church
by Rev. Joseph M. Rampino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Many of Jesus' disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one came come to me unless it is granted him by my Father."
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."
How does Christ deal with those who do not believe what he teaches? Certainly in our present moment we see so many turn away from the faith and teaching of Jesus Christ through his church, even among friends and family, and it becomes a great burden for multitudes of Christians striving to remain faithful to the Gospels and the body of the Lord. What do we do? How do we react when someone turns away from what the Lord teaches and commands?
This week's Gospel, in which the whole crowd following Jesus turns away from him, rejecting his teaching that he will give us his body to eat as our bread and his blood to drink for eternal life, gives us an example from the Lord's own heart. Christ has just told the crowds of people about the greatest gift he could ever give: eternal life through communion with his own flesh and blood.
If the people had understood, they might have wept in incredulous joy at this revelation. But instead, they do not understand and for one reason or another, take offense and leave, returning to "their former way of life." If we had been ejected in such a way by those we loved, we might become angry, try to chase after them and explain, or be tempted to make any deal to save the relationship.
Yet Christ does none of these things. Surely he loves those who reject him, and does not stop because they leave him. Surely their rejection breaks his heart. But, respecting their freedom, he simply reaffirms what he taught as truth itself, and asks the apostles if they too will leave or remain with him.
In all this, we see that Christ does not love in a desperate fashion. He loves as one who is secure in who he is and the truth of what he says. His confidence in the love the Father has for him, and in his own nature and mission, allows him to stand still and firm, loving even when rejected. He does not change who he is or what he says in order to win loyalty. He does not make excuses for those who turn away. He does not act as though they are still in friendship with him. He simply remains at peace, loving the Father and loving all people, whether or not they accept him and his love.
This is the way forward for us as well. We do not get to control the hearts of others. They will always retain their freedom, just as we do. While it may, and should in fact, hurt greatly when someone we know turns away from Christ and the church, we cannot reach into their soul and change the results of their decisions and conclusions. We share with Christ in that moment of his own rejection, and like Christ, must remain firm in the truth as well as in love. While we should be prepared to give a credible account of what we believe and why, we do not need to chase after someone leaving, making excuses for them or for the faith to save their nominal Christianity at whatever cost. With Christ, we remain strong in the unchanging love of God the Father and ask him to draw in the hearts of the wandering in his own way. He continues to love even those who stray, and one day in heaven, we may rejoice to see the hidden ways he brought them hone.