Sunday, August 23, 2009

It’s Easy to Walk Away From Jesus; It’s Sometimes Hard to Come Back.

Josh Hamilton
(This homily was given on August 23, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Joshua 24: 1-2a, 15-17, 18b; John 6: 60-69.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-first Sunday 2009]

The rich young man did it when Jesus challenged him to give up his possessions and follow him.

The apostles did it when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday night.

Many of Jesus’ other followers did it at the end of the Bread of Life Discourse in John, chapter 6—after our Lord told them that he would nourish them with his own Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. They found this teaching “hard” and difficult to accept—as we heard a few moments ago.

And what was the “it” that all these people did?

They walked away from Jesus.

They walked away from him physically (in the case of the apostles on Holy Thursday they probably RAN away!); but they also walked away from Jesus Christ in their hearts—which was even worse.

What does it take for us to walk away from Jesus?

Sometimes it doesn’t take much, does it?

I was reminded of this two weeks ago when I came across an article on about Josh Hamilton, the outfielder for the Texas Rangers who inspired so many people last year with his incredible performance in the Home Run Derby contest at the All Star Game—and, more importantly, with the way he had turned his personal life around. In 1999 Josh was the number 1 draft pick of the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but he soon became addicted to alcohol and cocaine while playing in the Devil Rays minor league system.

He was in and out of rehab several times, and many thought his pro-baseball career was finished. What saved him—literally—was his faith in Jesus Christ.

As his wife Katie said last year during her husband’s All Star season, “Just watching the transformation that God has made in Josh’s life . . . I mean it’s just been so awesome and such a gift from the Lord to see what [God has] done in him.”

And then came that night last January in Arizona, which was the subject of the MLB article I read online the other day.

Josh was at a sports training facility for the month, working out and trying to get in shape before the start of the 2009 baseball season, and he decided one evening to have a drink with dinner.

A fatal mistake for an alcoholic.

Well, a dozen or so drinks later, he was doing things in the bar that he definitely should not have been doing—much of which was captured by a photographer, who recently posted the pictures on the internet (of course!).

To his credit, Josh admitted his wrongdoing to his wife the next day. He also called the general manager of the Rangers to tell him what happened.
And he says he hasn’t had a drink since.

He was quoted in the article as saying, “Obviously I’m embarrassed about it personally. For the Rangers I’m embarrassed about it and for my wife and my kids. Obviously it was one of those things that reinforce that I can’t have alcohol. . . . I feel like I’ve been humbled. . . . I got away from the one thing that kept me on the straight and narrow and that was my relationship with the Lord. That should always come first. Hopefully some good will come out of this.”

For Josh Hamilton, all it took was a few days without prayer and one little drink at an Arizona bar to get him to walk away from Jesus.

For the rich young man, all it took was a personal challenge from Jesus regarding his materialism.

For the crowds in John 6, all it took was a challenging sermon from Jesus on the reality of the Holy Eucharist.

For us, all it might take is a temptation to go somewhere we shouldn’t on the internet, or a little peer pressure from friends or coworkers or even family members: peer pressure to do things contrary to the teachings of our Catholic faith.

For the Israelites in the Promised Land, all it usually took for them to walk away from God the Father was a little temptation to idolatry—even after they committed themselves to the Lord publicly and sincerely, as we heard them do in today’s first reading when they said to Joshua, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods. . . . We will also serve the Lord for he is our God.”

And they did—until the next big temptation came their way.

Even if our faith is relatively strong, walking away from Jesus can happen in an instant.

Jesus says to Peter in today’s gospel, “Do you also want to leave?” (In other words, “Do you want to walk away like the rest?”) And Peter, speaking for the whole apostolic group, replies with those powerful words, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life?”

Peter didn’t completely understand the teaching Jesus had just given on the Eucharist, but he knew that if Jesus said it, it had to be true.

He had faith in our Lord—and that was great. But that didn’t keep him from walking away later on, did it?

It is extremely easy to walk away. And very often it’s just as hard to come back, because it requires humility.

As it says in paragraph 1450 of the Catechism, “Penance requires . . . the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction.”

If we’ve missed Sunday or holyday Masses without good reason, hated our neighbor, committed some serious sin of the flesh or some other mortal sin, today is a day for us to pray for a humble heart. But even if we’ve only walked away from Jesus in small ways, we should pray for the same grace of humility, so that we learn to make Confession a regular part of our spiritual life—and so that we don’t slip into something more serious.

Peter and all the other apostles (except Judas) eventually came back to Jesus after they walked away.
Josh Hamilton, thanks be to God, came back to Jesus in January after he walked away.

Hopefully some of the people who heard this Bread of Life Discourse 2,000 years ago eventually had a change of heart and came back to Jesus after they walked away.

May we have the good sense—and humility—to do the same thing whenever we need to by making a good and honest Confession.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation brings us back—even if we’ve been far away from Jesus for a very long time.

And if you need any further encouragement to go to Confession regularly remember this: A saint is not someone who never walked away from Jesus Christ in his life. Just ask Peter about that! In fact, some of the men and women who eventually became canonized saints in the Church walked away from Jesus many times. But every saint came back to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior one more time than he walked away.

Which means there’s hope for all of us.