My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,1
As I was saying, it’s great to be with all of you this afternoon for this special celebration of the Eucharist! What a joy to receive this holy Cross and to pray with you and accompany you on the journey that we are beginning toward World Youth Day in Panama.
The Cross, as you probably know, was entrusted to the youth as they were given the commission to carry it around the world as a symbol of Christ’s love for humanity and announce to everyone that only in the death and Resurrection of Christ can we find the salvation and redemption, as St. John Paul II said in 1984.
But then he also entrusted to the youth an icon of the Blessed Mother that will accompany the Cross that we have here also. And he said — this is beautiful — he said: “You will be a sign of Mary’s motherly presence close to young people, who are called, like the apostle John, to welcome her into their lives.
So it’s beautiful that today, as the Cross and the icon of the Blessed Mother are throughout the United States. We have the place where they are going to be in the United States.
So for us in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and in Southern California, it’s just a special blessing to have this beautiful cross and the icon here with us this afternoon.
As we welcome this Cross today, we are aware that many people are suffering right now in the Church, here in the United States and South America and all over the world sometimes sadly, and there are young people who have been hurt by members of the Church.
Now is a time for penance and purification, and my brother bishops and I in the United States are working to address these most recent scandals in the Church.
But I want you to tell all of you, once again, that I am committed, and all of us — the bishops, the priests, the lay faithful, the religious sisters and brothers — we all are committed to protecting our young people in all our parishes and schools and ministries.
But we need your help, my young brothers and sisters. We need the help of everyone in the Church.
We have many needs in the Church — for reform and renewal, for changing the way we do things, especially for bishops and the clergy.
But the deeper renewal we need is spiritual. The foundation of every reform in the history of the Church is a return to Jesus Christ. His personal mission, his life, death and resurrection for us and for our salvation.
This moment, in the life of the Church is a call for all of us to really live our faith in Jesus Christ, to really make him the center of our lives. We all need to have that living friendship with him, walking with him every day and trying to change our lives to live according to his words.
St. Paul says in the second reading of today’s Mass: “Live in love, as Christ loved us.” This is our Christian life. And that is the challenge that we hear about in our Gospel reading today — how to follow Christ in our lives, how to live as he is calling us to live.
I’m sure that you remember, during these past several Sundays our Gospel readings have been selected from the Gospel of John — chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel — it’s a beautiful but a little long testimony of Jesus about the “bread of life,” after he had, as we remember, he had fed 5,000 people with just few loaves of bread and some fish.
It’s been a beautiful five weeks reflecting on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. What it means for all of us Catholics and Jesus explains to us what it’s all about.
But today in our Gospel we hear what the people think after everything that they have seen and heard. And as we heard — some of them were scandalized, shocked.
His words were too hard for some people to accept. They just could not believe that he would ask them to eat his flesh and drink his blood. His teaching made them angry and confused.
So, today in the passage of the Gospel we see the sad reality that many people stopped following Jesus. They just went back to doing what they had been doing before.
It’s striking, isn’t it? And unfortunately, my brothers and sisters, this is still happening in our times, in our own society. Many people, including some young people, are drifting away from the Church or becoming indifferent to faith and practicing no religion at all.
But losing the gift of faith is a challenge of every time and place, throughout the history of the Church. There are always people who will not accept the Gospel. People who are afraid to change their lives, or who have their own ideas for what they want to believe about God.
And as we see in the passage of the Gospel, it was a challenge even for Jesus. What he said then, still applies today. He said:
The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.
Jesus wants a commitment from us. Jesus wants all of us — all our heart, all our mind, and all the strength of our will.
With God, it is all or nothing at all. That’s the story we heard in today’s first reading of today’s Mass. Like the people in Joshua’s time, God calls each of us to make a personal decision in our lives. In that first reading we heard Joshua say:
Decide today whom you will serve.
We also heard that the people decided to serve God.
But that’s the reality of our lives, my dear brothers and sisters, we have to make decisions. We have to understand that the Cross helps us to see God’s love for each one of us. He gave his life for you and for me.
He came to Earth for you and for me, personally.
Then we can make the decision — when we understand that — we can make the decision to really dedicate ourselves to know and love Jesus Christ.
And in opinion, that’s the challenge that people have out there. It seems to be that it is difficult for them to understand that God loves each one of us, personally. Not just in general, but he loves you personally and me personally.
He knows us, he loves us. He wants each one of us to be the happiest person in the world. It’s true!
The challenge that sometimes we have and some people have is that they have a hard time understand that God is there and loves us personally.
It’s true! God loves you! No questions asked. Every one of us. Even in our weakness, even in our sinfulness. Even when people turn their back on God, he does not abandon them. He’s always there. And the Cross is the proof.
Over and over again, the apostles tell us: “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”2
And the best reality of that, besides obviously the Cross, is the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Christ left us a sign of his love in the Eucharist. The offering of his Body and Blood that he makes on the Cross continues in the offering of his Body and Blood that he makes on the altar. In every celebration of the Eucharist.
When we come to Mass, when we accompany our Lord in the Eucharistic adoration, it’s Christ himself there. What we receive in Holy Communion, as we know, is Christ himself.
This is what Jesus was trying to tell people in these Gospel readings that we have been hearing in these past few weeks. This is what he meant when he told them that “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
So, my dear brothers and sisters, as we renew our commitment to trust in God, let us feel that love and presence of God in our lives in so many ways, but especially in the Eucharist.
Let us say with St. Peter:
Master, to whom shall we go?
You and have the words of eternal life.
So let’s ask today for that special grace to renew our commitment to God and following Jesus for he is the one who’s going to show us true happiness and love.
So let us especially keep praying and working for the reform and the renewal of the Church. Let us look forward to this pilgrimage — to Panama and also in our Christian life. It is pilgrimage we begin and begin again — always coming back to the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
And let us ask the intercession of the Virgin Mary, our Blessed Mother. May she help you always hold true to the words of Jesus, which are Spirit and life.
1. Readings (21st Sunday in Ordinary Time): Jos. 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Ps. 34:2-3, 16-21; Eph. 5:2a, 25-32; John 6:60-6.
2. Eph. 5:2, 25; Gal. 2:20.