Choosing to Believe 2021-8-22 Fr. Roberto
Homily for 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
Fr. Roberto Corral, OP
St. Dominic Church, Los Angeles, CA
August 22, 2021
Title: Choosing to Believe
Theme: To make our faith authentic and meaningful, we must make it our own by choosing to believe in Jesus and choosing to be Catholic.
Readings: Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69
From the year 1991 to 1995, I was assigned as a young priest to be an associate pastor at a wonderful Dominican parish in Northern California. Then, I had the blessing of returning to that parish in 2008, this time as the pastor. I remained there as pastor for 10 years, until 2018. Unfortunately, in December of 2017, my Dominican Province made the difficult decision for us to withdraw from that parish and hand it over to the diocese. We Dominicans founded that parish and had been there for 154 years, and I had spent almost half of my 30 years as a priest at that parish. And now we were leaving it…for good.
As you can imagine, the parishioners were shocked and devastated. And for me, it was a death experience. It meant the death of my vision for the parish and what I wanted to help it become. It was the death of my sense of who I was as a pastor, as a pries and as a Dominican. I began to think “why bother?” Why bother trying to do something special at any parish? Why put so much time and energy into something that is not going to last? For months, I was depressed, lost and hopeless, and I really struggled in my faith.
I am sure that many of us have been through similar periods in our lives where we have felt surrounded by darkness with no way out. It is at those difficult times that the Lord gently invites us to make a choice: will we trust in him and follow him…or not? That fundamental choice is expressed in two of our readings today.
In the first reading, Joshua, who led the Israelites after the death of Moses, gathers his people at a crucial moment. He has just led them across the Jordan River into the Promised Land after wandering for forty years in the desert. And now, as they enter an unknown future surrounded by hostile tribes who worship pagan gods, he challenges them to make a choice: will they follow and serve the pagan gods that are all around them, or will they follow and serve the one, true God who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. And then, like a good leader, he sets an example for them by declaring his own choice: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).” What a powerful statement that is. I hope that every one of you here can say that in your home and in your family.
Then, in today’s Gospel, we come to the end of Jesus’ great teaching on being the Bread of Life that we have heard for the last several weeks at Mass. Jesus has just laid down some hard-core teachings about the Eucharist, telling his disciples they need to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. And, because some of them begin to murmur against him and this teaching,
he tells them they have to choose whether they want to continue to be his disciples or leave him. Sadly, as we heard in today’s Gospel, many of his disciples decided to leave him then and there.
What I want to say to you today, my brothers and sisters, is that if we want to have an authentic and meaningful faith, we too have to make a choice. Again and again in our lives, we have to choose: whether we are going to believe in God or not; whether we are going to trust and follow Jesus or not; whether we are going to remain Catholic or not. And I think it is important for all of us to do that in our lives every now and then. It is especially important for the great majority of us who are “cradle Catholics,” i.e., born into this religion without having chosen it. Our faith was passed on to us by our parents or grandparents or others, and, in some ways, it was imposed upon us without our choosing it.
So, I am asking all of you today: Do you choose to believe in God? Do you choose to trust and follow Jesus? Do you choose to be Catholic? We cannot take our faith for granted. In other words, it is not a matter of simply being a Catholic; it’s a matter of deciding, choosing and wanting to remain a Catholic. Do you understand the difference?
Now, the thing is, for most of us, there will be times in our lives when we will struggle to make those choices, when we will struggle to believe, when we will question our faith. That is not necessarily a bad thing because it can be part of the process of making our faith our own.
Again, if you want to have an authentic and meaningful faith, then, at some point, you have to live out your own faith, not the faith of your parents or grandparents; not the faith of your spouse or partner or your kids; not the faith of your teacher or your catechist or my faith or the pope’s. You have to live out your own faith. You have to make your faith your own by choosing to believe, and this sometimes requires you to struggle to make that choice.
That is precisely what I had to do three years ago after leaving my beloved parish in Northern California: I had to “wrestle with God” and with my faith. I had to ask why and express my anger, frustration and hurt to the Lord. Well, thankfully, my superior gave me that summer off to do exactly that and to try to put myself back together. At the end of that summer, even though I was a little better, I was still disoriented and hurting. Again, very graciously, my superior gave me some more time by assigning me to our parish up in Seattle, thankfully, not as the pastor. It was during those six months in Seattle that God, slowly but surely, began a healing process within me. Eventually, by God’s grace, I once again was able to choose to believe, to choose to trust and follow Jesus, to choose to reaffirm my commitment as a Dominican, and even to choose to be open to being a pastor once again. And so here I am as a pastor with you at St. Dominic’s. God is good.
One of the key elements of my healing process was a very powerful spiritual book that the Archbishop of Seattle gave to all the priests of the Archdiocese as a Christmas gift when I was there. The book is entitled, “Into Your Hands, Father,” and it is all about surrendering to God again and again and trusting that he will use everything in our lives, especially the difficult times, to help us grow. In three weeks, I will begin a four-week preaching series based on the healing and insights I received through that book. I have ordered a number of copies of that book that will be for sale then.
So, my brothers and sisters, today, Jesus is challenging you and me to choose. Even though we may struggle with, question and doubt our faith at times, with God’s help, we can eventually choose to believe once again. We can choose to trust and follow Jesus once again, we can make our Catholic faith our own once again and say with Peter in today’s Gospel: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
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