Fidelity and freedom

The readings for mass today invite us to fidelity and freedom. The first reading has Joshua speaking to the people of God as to whether they will serve the Lord alone or other gods. The people answer that they will stay faithful because it was God, and no one else, who brought them from slavery to freedom.

The gospel reading shows Jesus asking his disciples, who have recently heard him say that his body and blood are food and drink, do you want to stay or do you want to go? Some leave but the ones who stay say, where else will we go? They find God’s presence and choose to stay.

I’m struck by the freedom to answer as we like in Jesus’s and Joshua’s invitations. God invites relationship but never forces it. One senses in Jesus’ words a certain poignancy in asking, do you want to stay or do you want to go? But the question is a genuine question, and our answer today also is to be given freely.

The first reading led me to think how clarifying it is for us each individually and as a community to confront the hurt and pain that many are feeling. We are asked to clarify, why are we here? This clarification and even purification of intention is healthy and good.

The people who gave answer to Joshua recognized that a decision to follow God is about recognizing the presence of God and avoiding being distracted by any idols. Ba’al was not God. Corrupt priests and politicians were not God. Even Joshua was not God. No human being is God. What will draw any of us who choose to stay in the church to remain will necessarily be a pure hearted, clear sighted recognition that God is still here. God remains when everyone else fails us. God is the one who heals, redeems, leads us to freedom. Not human beings. We are invited to ask ourselves: in the midst of failure and sin, is God still present in the Church?

In a way, Jesus’s friends are not quite right when they ask, where else can we go? We could  go to a different church, change religions, or just stay home and read the newspaper. There are plenty of other places to go. Maybe this is where some will find God.

But we still won’t escape the deep suffering and failures that come with living in human community. This doesn’t mean that we can’t do better. We can and we must.  Those who return to the Lord do so because God is the one true object of love, the only one that can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. Each of us has to ask: where do we find that? Where are we fed? Where do we receive that intimacy of the Lord’s very self?

In the midst of great institutional trials we must consider reforms. We also need times to rest and to be restored. We need to be fed. We need the gift of that which heals. We need the One who leads us to freedom and who invites us to a love invited that is freely, never coerced. We need to keep our hearts focused and attentive on Christ, who will lead us, comfort us, heal us, and bring us to a place beyond the desert.