Tried and True
by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Many of Jesus' disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one came come to me unless it is granted him by my Father."
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."
“Then many of His disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’ … As a result of this, may (of) His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him” (Jn 6:60, 66). It is both consoling and disturbing to know that some people rejected Jesus’ teaching. Consoling, because it means that we are not the only ones to know such rejection. Disturbing, because it reveals the capacity of fallen human nature to reject the truth.
After all, Our Lord’s preaching lacked nothing – neither in content nor in form. His doctrine was, needless to say, entirely sound. Further, as God made man, His manner of speaking and teaching was perfect. He suffered no foibles or weaknesses that, found in other teachers, get in the way of truth. His sacred humanity was the apt, perfect vehicle for His perfect doctrine. Why then did they reject His teaching?
G. K. Chesterton’s well-known quip answers this nicely: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” Just so, the disciples’ question did not say that the teaching was hard to grasp or difficult to understand. He had made his point quite clearly, and they got it. Rather, they had simply said it is “hard” – as in, difficult to live. It was not the teaching’s veracity that they disputed but the difficulty of its demands.
Our Lord continues to experience this rejection in His body, the church. Most objections to the Catholic faith come not from a theological consideration of doctrine but from a fear of its moral demands. Most people do not leave or refuse to enter the church over the Filioque clause or the nature/grace controversy. They instead see the church’s teachings as just too difficult to live. Too hard.
Of course His teachings are difficult. They can “seem to be a demand impossible to realize” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1615). But only when we make the mistake of focusing on Christ’s teaching without considering His grace. Jesus does not give just a moral code; He gives the grace of rebirth to live as children of God. If we forget this, we reduce our faith to just a moral challenge – which leads to pride when we meet it …and despair when we cannot.
As regards faith, when Our Lord asks us to believe, He also provides the grace to believe. Faith is a human act, but one made possible by God’s grace. We give assent to divine truths, because God’s grace makes it possible. Which means when we have difficulty assenting, we have recourse to prayer – the grace needed to believe. “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)
As regards morality, Our Lord has high moral standards precisely because He generously gives the grace needed to live them. Our culture bristles in particular at the demands of sexual morality. “Impossible,” the world thinks. And without a consideration of grace, the world is right. Our Lord calls us to purity, to chastity, to the demands of living in accord with the truth of sexuality. But He also provides the grace each person needs to live it.
St. Augustine felt Christianity’s moral challenges quite keenly. But he also understood deeply the gift of grace. He knew that God never asks or commands anything beyond the power of His grace to bestow or enable. His prayer in this regard is brief, generous, and accurate: “Da quod iubes, iube quod vis” – Give what you command, and then command what you want.
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