It has been my practise to drop in the different Catechism classes from time to time (even now virtually) to engage with the students and also to talk to them about difficult questions they may have about the teachings of the Catholic Church. I would encourage the catechists to create a platform where students can put their questions in anonymously and the catechists will send them to me from time to time.

Some months ago I took the opportunity to speak to the students preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. Their questions ranged from ‘Why go to Mass’ to issues pertaining human sexuality, discrimination, same sex attraction, and also financial accountability. As much as I tried to explain to them the position of the Church, it was clear that some of them were not happy possibly wanting answers that will resonate with popular world views.

All of us at some point in our lives may have experienced disillusionment with either God or the teachings of the Church. It is quite normal to be conflicted between popular world views and what the Church teaches. Our Gospel today presents the crowds that followed Jesus as being conflicted: ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ The crowds were upset because Jesus’ teaching on the ‘bread of life’ was foreign to their way of thinking, quite unintelligible, and perhaps even repulsive. Despite having seen with their own eyes the many miracles performed by Jesus, they would not accept that Jesus could be the Son of Man.

Today, many people may fall into the same situation as the crowds of 2000 years ago. They feel that the Church is archaic, irrelevant to present times, rigid in authority, consumed with boring liturgies, and even scandalous. Yes, these requirements, rituals and traditions could seem to many people as unintelligible, and perhaps even repulsive.

In the midst of a far from perfect Church that we have, God is inviting us to affirm and reaffirm daily our own faith. It is true that faith in Jesus is not something that comes easily or naturally. We have to accept that faith is a grace given by God. However, when we look around and see things as unintelligible, and perhaps even repulsive, either in the universal Church or our local parish, can we also like Peter say, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.’

The gospel today does not close with the rejection of Jesus by the crowds but with the positive response of the disciples. Jesus had disappointed the majority of those who followed Him, but a group, though not fully aware of all the consequences of accepting what Jesus was saying, choose to remain faithful. Are we ready to remain faithful even when we are disappointed with God or when our ideas are challenged by the Church’s teachings?

There will certainly be times when the commitment that Jesus asks of us and the demands placed on us by the Church can seem so demanding that we may just want to walk away from it all. For some, the Church may be changing in ways we do not appreciate while others think the Church is not changing in the ways we think it should. Either way, the question Jesus puts to us today is, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?

The response that Peter makes, in the name of the remaining disciples, took a lot of courage because not knowing what awaits them, he was ready not only to make the confession of faith but also surrender himself to Jesus. In some ways it was like Mary saying ‘Yes’ to Angel Gabriel.

I recognise that quite a few of the Catechism students that I encountered are starting to experience doubt because the human intellect and Divine will are in conflict. It is not always that we find a wonderful cooperation of the human intellect and the Divine will. Yes, not everything in the Church will make sense all the time. But if it does not make sense, where do we go, who do we turn to?

The Church is indeed the Body of Christ but on earth, it is certainly one that is bruised, wounded, and broken – just like the one hanging on the Cross. Recognising the imperfectness of the Church, dare we say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (22 Aug 2021)