Bottom line: Jesus draws a line in the sand. He offers us everything - and He invites a similar response from us.
You may have heard of the Spanish explorer, Francisco Pizarro. In 1530 he commanded a small fleet that mapped the Pacific Coast of South America. Pizarro had no formal education (he could neither read nor write) but he quickly realized that he had touched the edges of a great civilization, And even though he was fifty - quite old for an explorer back in the sixteenth century - he decided to lead an expedition to the heart of the empire.
His soldiers thought he was crazy and said they would not go. Standing on a beach, Pizarro drew a line in the sand. He said, "Those who want to go with me, cross this line. I cannot promise you anything but hardships - and possibly death. Those who wish comfort can return to Europe. But you will lose a great adventure - and maybe great riches."
Well, 169 crossed the line. And they did conquer a vast, brilliant civilization - the Inca empire. Pizarro had many faults, some we would judge harshly today. But he also had something we often lack: courage, decisiveness.
In today's first reading Joshua asks the Israelites to cross a line: "Decide today whom you will serve." Do you want to serve the gods of the culture - or the Lord? Then Joshua says, "As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Jesus asks us to make an even greater decision. With patience and graphic detail, he explains the kind of relationship he desires with us: "If you want eternal life, if you want my life," he says, "you must eat my flesh and drink my blood." The people balk and many walk away. Jesus does not say to them, "Come back, I was only speaking symbolically. I am just talking about a nice, friendly meal."* No Jesus turns to his disciples and asks, "Do you also want to leave?"
Jesus is drawing a line in the sand - and inviting us to cross it, to come with him. The choice is dramatic - and total. There is no room for waffling, for picking and choosing. You either cross the line or turn back.
This brings us to the fifth and final instruction. To receive Communion we cross a line - make a commitment to stand with Jesus, no matter what. In the "Guidelines for Reception of Communion," the bishops underscore this commitment. Communion involves (quote) "oneness of faith, life and worship." In other words, Communion involves our total being, our entire lives.
When we come to Communion, we can't offer Jesus a part of our selves. We offer him everything. In a beautiful prayer, St. Ignatius Loyola describes this complete offering:
Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty,
my memory, my understanding and my whole will.
All that I am and all that I possess You have given me.
I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will.
Give me only Your love and Your grace;
with these I will be rich enough,
and will desire nothing more.
I have seen this total giving in Evangelicals who have crossed the line and entered the Catholic Church. I asked them why they did it. After all, they had been members of dynamic, high-power congregations. In comparison our parish seemed somewhat bland and trouble-ridden. Moreover they were changing relationships with people they deeply treasured. Why did they do it? Inevitably they gave me this answer: They crossed the line, they became Catholics for one reason: to receive the Eucharist, the true Body and Blood of Christ. Everything else seemed like small potatoes in comparison.
These Evangelical converts to Catholicism challenge us. When we come to Communion, are we making a total commitment or are we holding something back? Maybe some area in my life where I don't want to let Jesus direct me. Some area where I don't want to hear the teaching of his Church.
That was the problem, by the way, with Catholic politicians promoting bills that go against the sanctity of human life or the sanctity of marriage. When you come to Communion you must have a sincere desire to live - and represent - Jesus' teachings. It is not that the bishops want to control politicians. The concern is much deeper - with the integrity of each person who comes forward.
This does not mean that we judge anyone. I do not know what is in the other person's heart and for all I know he could be much closer to Christ than I am. But I also know that Jesus has drawn a line in the sand and that we must be ready to give all if we cross it.
And I do invite you to cross that line this Sunday. I cannot promise you a soothing solution for your problems. But I can promise you this: a great adventure, the greatest adventure one can take. I can also tell you that anything you surrender to Christ, he will give back in a purified and enduring form. Jesus promises a hundred-fold in this life - and eternal life in the world to come If we lay down our bodies for Christ, he has promised that he will raise them up on the Last Day.
I am not saying this is easy. Each time we receive Communion, we ask forgiveness for our failings. And we ask Jesus for the strength to make a self-offering. We know that without his grace we can do nothing. Communion itself gives us strength and grace.
So, this Sunday - the final of our series of five, Jesus draws a line in the sand. He offers us everything - not just his spiritual being, but his physical reality. He makes this offer through the Church which, as St. Paul teaches, is his Body. And he invites a response from us. In the end, he will only settle for a total response. "Do you also want to leave?" He asks. May we have the grace - and courage - to respond with Peter, the head of the apostle:
“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.”
*or as one local parish wrote in their bulletin: "Jesus' words of 'eat my flesh' and 'drink my blood' are not to be taken literally. John used these expressions in his writings to describe the invitation to intimacy that we are given from Jesus." I had to smile at their daintiness. "Invitation to intimacy" evokes the image of nice candlelight dinner. Does that really do justice to Jesus' language?
General Intercessions for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (from Priests for Life)
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