it changes everything

French novelist Alphonse Karr is purported to have penned the proverb “the more things change, the more they stay the same[1] and a moment’s reflection upon today’s readings certainly lends credence to what Karr wrote. There is a common thread that connects today’s readings and that thread continues to unwind and unfurl, like an unbroken chain from ancient history through the present day.

Lord, to whom shall we go?

Lord, to whom shall we go?

While this may seem oxymoronic at first blush, change is itself a constant which can neither be anticipated nor denied. Nations rise and nations fall, cultures thrive and then decay, wars are fought and either won or lost, lives are lived and then they’re not. So it is indeed difficult for us to comprehend how things could remain the same when everything, including ourselves, is constantly changing. It almost makes you want to say “This saying is hard; who can accept it” doesn’t it?

One thing that has, from the very beginning, withstood the test of time has been the hardness of our hearts, our reluctance and unwillingness to truly love others as we love ourselves, to “be subordinate to one another,[2] to open ourselves up to understanding what it means to love and to be loved. God creates us, he gives us life, he loves us unconditionally, and we, we dismiss him with a casualness that defies all logic; we will ourselves to listen to any voice that says we are like gods, gods who know far better than any other what is good and what is bad for us. This human attitude, this notion that we are quite capable of existing on our own, each of us determining for ourselves what is good and what is bad, placing ourselves above and before the needs of others has been one constant, unchanging throughout the span of human history.

Commensurate with this self-produced godhood has been our belief that we are the sole arbiter of how we ought to live, determining for ourselves what is right and what is wrong, proclaiming that it is our right to choose how we are to live, behave, and relate toward one another. We are, by our very nature, broken and imperfect creatures and have been since the very beginning, yet each of us in some way, big or small, finds ourselves falling into the devil’s trap, lured by delusions of grandeur and self-importance, choosing to take the easiest path, bearing the lightest load, or opting for what feels good rather than what is good.

Last week we heard Jesus tell his disciples “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”[3] Two-thousand years of exegesis (i.e. critical examination and interpretation of Scripture) allows us to clearly understand that Jesus wasn’t promoting cannibalism but was offering his disciples his precious body and blood, his very life for their salvation; all they had to do was to follow him. We are beneficiaries of millennia of biblical scholarship but his disciples had no share in what we now know and understand. Rather than opening their hearts and seeking to understand, many took the easy way out, throwing up their hands and declaring that what Jesus was telling them was simply too hard. They turned and walked away from the promise of eternal life, salvation, and resurrection rather than seeking greater understanding.

Isn’t that how we often react when confronted with something that we don’t understand? How often have we heard or read something that caused us to viscerally react as if we had just touched a hot stove? How often have we judged others by nothing more substantive than their appearance or behavior? How often have we failed to love our neighbor as ourselves? How often have we closed our hearts and minds to any thought or idea that offended our own personal sensibilities? How often have we found ourselves refusing to alter our beliefs even when confronted by verifiable facts, by the honest truth?

It is the ego that gets in the way, which closes our mind to the truth, and it is the ego that keeps us from acquiring any measure of humility. Father Ron Rolheiser says that “Nobody gives himself life, sustains himself in life, or gives himself salvation. Our contingency levels us all, from Mother Teresa to Hitler, and the key to genuine humility lies in recognizing that. Indeed, the more morally and psychologically sensitive we are, the more likely we are to recognize our neediness and our solidarity in weakness with everyone else…Never consider yourself better than anyone else. Know that you need God’s mercy as much as the greatest sinner on earth…We don’t come to this by comparing ourselves to others, but by recognizing how utterly naked we stand outside of God’s mercy.”[4]

Most of us have heard St. Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians that “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands[5] which for those of us who are or have been married might suggest that Paul was never married and, I am sure, most reactions to that particular phrase have usually followed along gender lines. Some women might respond with great sarcasm, “Oh, sure thing my master” while some men may arrogantly respond with “woman, fetch me my dinner.” For those that would have or have responded in such a crass and vulgar manner it should be obvious that there is no real understanding of the meaning of true self-giving love and that both are equally guilty of taking a fragment out of context to argue their own personal and misanthropic point of view.

If we back up one sentence in this passage we read “Brothers and sisters: Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.[6] This sentence sets up and governs everything that follows. It changes the meaning of everything that comes after it. Yet no matter how many times we read the entire passage it is the sentence that follows that jars, that grates, upon which we find ourselves fixated. But we must read this passage in the full in order to understand the truth of what Paul is telling us. When we do we find that no longer can we read that only wives must be submissive because it makes clear that both husbands and wives must be submissive to each other.

What follows is an unfolding of what it means to be subordinate or submissive to one another. A bit later, using different words, Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her.” Christ loved the church—and here I remind you that the church includes all of us—he loved us so much that he made the ultimate sacrifice by dying on the cross, the highest form of submission or subordination you could possibly express. This is the total and complete submission in which Paul enjoins husbands to their wives. And this is the real meaning of self-giving love.

What is constructed as love within our society these days is nothing short of egotistic self-infatuation focused on self-gratification and hedonistic pleasure. There is no willingness or desire to give of oneself completely to another; it is all about pleasing oneself. A marriage based on this kind of love cannot and will not endure for neither person’s needs will ever be met or satisfied. This love of self is a selfish love which feeds upon itself when it does not receive the love, or rather the adoration, it demands. It is not at all difficult to discern why such self-love always fails to satisfy or endure: because you will not and cannot receive love unless and until you first give all your love, until you give yourself completely, to another.

True self-giving love is a love in service to a love, a love of submission, a love that suborns one’s self-interests completely to the needs of another.

Joshua asked the people of Israel: “If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve[7] and so it is for each of us to decide whom we will serve, whom will we love. Admittedly this saying is hard, can you accept it or will you return to your former way of life? The choice is yours to make and yours alone.


Reading 1: JOS 24:1-2A, 15-17, 18B
Reading 2: EPH 5:21-32
Gospel:      JN 6:60-69.

[1] Alphonse Karr (1808-1890) wrote the original in French of course: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”
[2] Eph 5:21.
[3] Jn 6:53-54.
[4] Ron Rolheiser, In Exile: On Not Faking Humility, The Sunday Website of Saint Louis University, http://liturgy.slu.edu/21OrdB082315/reflections_rolheiser.html, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time.
[5] Eph 5:22.
[6] Eph 5:21.
[7] Jos 24:15.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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