Chaplain's News

Coming together to share a meal is a custom as old and as widespread as humanity itself. When we gather to celebrate a festive occasion, to mourn the loss of a loved one, to discuss important issues or ideas, or simply to mark the passing hours of an ordinary day at school or at work, we often do it around the table with food and share our stories and ourselves.

Our scripture this Sunday, invite us to a meal but this is no ordinary meal and no ordinary invitation. In words, which challenge us as they did those first disciples, Jesus offers himself to us not merely as a dinner companion, but as our very food and drink.

I have some sympathy for the response of the Jews to Jesus' hard teaching in today's Gospel! For a Jew, to be asked to drink blood is as abhorrent as it gets. It is the same as demanding that an ultra-Orthodox Jew eat pork!

In almost all the stories in the Gospel of John there are insiders and outsiders, those who understand the message and those who take Jesus too literally and are offended or confused. The flesh and blood given for the life of the world is at one and the same time the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus celebrated in the Eucharist.

Jesus was not, literally, offering his arm for his followers to chew! He was referring to the gift he was soon going to give his followers: the example of utter fidelity to God's Kingdom even unto death, and the meal of that Kingdom, the Eucharist. We are the recipients of both gifts and the commission to live them out. The Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation is given to us for our mission in the world today and for our journey toward the World to come.

The other response in today's Gospel gives us great hope. In spite of being confused and deserted by his friends Peter hangs in there with Jesus. He holds on to faith when all the signs show that a hasty retreat may be a better course of action.

We all know people who remain faithful in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Some of these we can understand - parents with sick children or spouses with ill partners. It's heroic, but understandable. But sometimes fidelity is heroic and inexplicable: when a spouse welcomes back his or her partner after an adulterous affair; when a foreign-born priest or religious will not abandon an oppressed community; when a person will fight a just cause and be persecuted all the way to the end. These are powerful signs of faithful love at work too. It's a fine line to know when fidelity is 'dying to self' not 'killing self'. We are called to the former and often seduced by the latter.

James Keenan in his excellent book, 'Virtues for ordinary Christians' says that fidelity is the bottom line of the Christian life. He argues that the Church has spent too much time preaching about 'infidelities' and too little time teaching about those things that strengthen fidelity. 'Each person', he says, 'have two major moral goals in life: to be just and to be faithful'.

Being faithful to his Father, and to us, sums up what Jesus does for our salvation and is exactly what He calls forth from the disciples in today's Gospel. Perhaps because we too easily think it is something difficult, we presume that being faithful to our friends is hardly a moral issue. Yet once we see that friendship is the key to the moral life then we can come to see that living the moral life is about the ordinary interactions of our day.

James Keenan writes, 'To this end we may need to make more calls, write more letters, cook more dinners, take more strolls, linger a little longer with a friend. We may also need to disengage ourselves from the habit of counting or measuring what the other does or does not do or say'.

How do we measure success in a very competitive world? Let's get up close, and even personal with our recent Olympic champions, seeing their flawless physique, brings to our mind their hard work to perfect their bodies and training their minds to control their bodies to achieve the highest, fastest and quickest. One estimate is that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve world championship standard in any sport. Allowing for four weeks holiday a year, that is roughly equivalent to six hours a week, for six years. That amount of work is a living definition of perseverance and determination.

On playing the line of the devil's advocate, athletes are determined, yes they are diabolically selfish. All those after the race interviews with tributes to mum and dad, local clubs and national coaches: what they really tell us is that lots of unknown people made huge sacrifices to help one young man or woman to the top. Can it be right for one person to use so many resources to enhance their performance so that they can be the victor, take all the accolades and in the process, gain massive sponsorship deals?

The answer is yes, it can. The best ways to grow grass roots sports is to have elite athletes as role models as we recently received Stuart Reside, 2004 Athens Olympic Bronze Rower and Alumni at John XXIII College as role model. When sports brings fame and money to those at the top, we can ask this question, How can sports personalities promote social wellbeing without turning into egotists?

Mo Farah, is our new super hero, after he crossed the line first in the 10,000metres, the sequence of his actions spoke volumes: firstly, Farah and Rupp of the US, who came second, embraced; then he went down in his knees to do the sujud, a gesture of prayer, "Glory be to God, the Most High" and then he was joined by his pregnant wife and step daughter. Mo Farah had his priorities right, fellow athletes, God and his family, not the adulation of the crowds.

So also Stef Reid, 16 year old athlete with high ambition lost n half of her leg in a boat accident. She was a woman of faith and prayed for God's help and asked God what his plan for her was. As she tweeted recently, "12 years ago I went head to head with a propeller… I WON. Bring on the Paralympics."

Stef and Mo proved that elite sports need not be selfish. Even if the golden gods and goddesses of sport are at a distance from us, they show us that humility and generosity are integral to any great achievement.

Fr Gaetan Pereira SJ
College Chaplain