There's no way to avoid it — the Bread of Life discourse — since this week's Gospel readings are taken from John 6. Rather than trying to get around it, let's wade right into it.
On Monday, Jesus tells us to work for food that endures for eternal life. On Tuesday, He says that He is the bread of life, and whoever come to Him will never hunger. On Thursday, He tells us that the bread He will give us is His Flesh. And on Friday, when people ask "How can He give us His flesh to eat?" He replies: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you do not have life within you."
At each step, Jesus could have backed down, softened His meaning, qualified His words. But He didn't. Instead He strengthened His words, deepened their meaning, and insisted that He meant what he said.
The question is: Can we take Jesus at His word or not?
Often we're on the gradual path of discipleship. We draw a little closer, we fall a little farther away. But there comes a point where there are no more half measures — we either take the next step with Jesus or we walk away from Him definitively. And that's what happens in Saturday's Gospel: "As a result of this, many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with Him." We all face that choice when it comes to the hard sayings of Jesus.
St. Stephen — whose story we hear this week — took the step with Jesus. He believed and he preached that Jesus was the Christ, the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. He was stoned to death for it.
St. Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria — whose feast we celebrate this week — took that step with Jesus. He believed and he taught that Jesus was consubstantial with the Father. He was exiled seven times for that belief.
All the way back to St. Augustine and all the way down to Scott and Kimberly Hahn today, countless people throughout Church history have taken that step with Jesus, and we celebrate their stories.
What about us: Can we take Jesus at His word? If we can't then, in the end, there's no reason to be Christian. If we can then, in the end, there's no way to avoid the fact that Jesus is God and there's no salvation apart from Him, that Peter is the first pope, that marriage is between one man and one woman and is indissoluble and, finally, that the Eucharist really is His Body and Blood. Will we take Him at his word or, as a result of these hard sayings, will we no longer walk with Him?
The Gospel readings this week are about the Bread of Life. They teach us, each day with growing clarity, that there comes a point where we face a definitive step: We either walk with Jesus or we walk away from Him. In the end, no half measures will endure. RELATED ARTICLE(S):FRENTE A LA CRUZ | Escogiendo caminar plenamente con Jesús, el Pan de Vida