The Israelites who grumbled against Moses were led by their carnal desires. They cried out for God to liberate them from slavery because they thought that was what they wanted, but once freed, they longed for the comforts of slavery. They wanted to return to Egypt. As slaves, they had food to eat, a roof over their heads, a bed to sleep in, all the creature comforts. Freedom was difficult, however.
In the desert there were no beds, no permanent shelter, and no reliable source of food. They had to live with the fear of uncertainty. There were no storage sheds, no silos full of reserve grain, no sense of security. Freedom meant they could take nothing for granted, and had to rely upon themselves and trust that God would provide for their daily needs, for their daily bread, as it were.
We can see a parallel to our own times. When given a choice between freedom and security, people often choose security, and by and large, many Catholics and Americans in general today do not want to be free. Oh, they will give lip service to freedom. They will sing that we are the land of the free and the home of the brave, all while cowering in fear — fear of terrorism, fear of climate change, fear of guns. The media and our politicians tell us all the time what we should be afraid of because that's how they make their living, by selling fear.
They also sell dependency or slavery. They don't call it slavery because nobody likes that word, and they like it much less when it's applied to them, but in the words of Shakespeare, "a rose by any other name ... ." So, call it what you like, but a slave by any other name still calls another master. Our government has enslaved many people into a cycle of generational dependency: food stamps, welfare, government subsidized housing, Obamacare. We even give welfare to corporations. We call it the social safety net, but in reality it's more of a spider's web, trapping generation after generation in poverty.
Charity has always been the domain of the Church, where people can turn to God for their daily bread. Then government takes the place of God in the minds of men, then God becomes an afterthought, and man becomes a slave. America has become a nanny-state, where not only does the government take care of people from cradle to grave, but we have come to expect it to be so. Is that not really the same thing that a slave expects of his master?
Let me ask you a question. What would happen if we lost it all? Consider today's first reading. What would you do if you found yourself truly free? What would I do, for that matter? I have to ask myself that question, too. After all, the comforts of slavery are easily taken for granted until they are gone. Slaves don't have to worry about food, shelter, clothing, medical care, or even a job — everything is provided for them. Does it really matter if their master is a rich plantation owner or the federal government? A slave is a slave no matter who his master is, which is why we ought to strive to be called slaves of Christ.
Yes, we are all slaves. That is not in question. The question is, "Who is your master?" When we were born into this world, we were born as slaves to sin. We were born as children of the devil. This may sound strange to modern ears, but that's only because Catholics today, by and large, have forgotten the very basics of the Christian Faith. We no longer speak the language of faith, but rather the language of the world. It is time that we begin learning the language of faith once again, and we must become fluent in it.
To begin with, we are all slaves. There is nothing shameful about this. We are all slaves to that which we love, and St. Paul proudly proclaimed himself to be a slave of Christ, as I also proudly proclaim myself to be a slave of Christ. I am not my own master, for I was purchased at a price. I was purchased out of slavery to Satan by the Blood of Christ, through baptism, and now Christ is my master. Every person born into this world, without exception, is born into the kingdom of Satan, and it is only through baptism that we are born again into the Kingdom of God, and this is by adoption.
We are not natural children of God. We are children of God by adoption. This is an important biblical and theological point to understand. For we are not all part of some big, happy, human family, and we are not all brothers and sisters. Anyone who resists the will of Christ is not my brother or sister. So then, who are my brothers and sisters? Our Lord himself answers this question when he says, "Anyone who does the will of my Father in Heaven is my mother, and my brother, and my sister." In love, Christ desires the conversion of all these children of Satan, and He died in order to bring them into the Kingdom of God as adopted sons and daughters. This is what God desires. This is what I desire, and it is what all of us should desire, for the greatest way that we can love our enemies is to do good to them and to pray for their conversion, as Our Lord has instructed us.
When we do this, however, we will often be misunderstood. Those who do not wish to be converted and healed of the sinful wound on their soul will accuse us of hatred. This is why it is more important to love God than our neighbor. We must love God first, and then our neighbor. Many today have that backwards. They love their children, which is good. They love their friends, which is good. They love their parents, which is good — but not if they love these more than they love God.
Remember the words that Our Blessed Lord spoke while he was yet among us in the flesh: "Anyone who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. Anyone who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." So, how do we know that we are loving God as we ought? How do we know that we are not committing idolatry by loving the things of this world, including our own family, more than we love God?
It is easy to fall into a false sense that we are in good relationship with God as long as God remains an abstract idea, an imaginary friend whom we do not actually have to engage, but is only as we imagine him to be. It is much more difficult to love God when we do it as Christ has commanded us: We love Christ by loving His Church. If we reject His Church, then we reject Him. There is no other way.
Anyone who says that they love Christ but despise His Church is both a deceiver and the deceived. It was the great St. Augustine who said, "One cannot have God for Father who does not have the Church for Mother." Our Blessed Lord said to His Apostles, "Those who receive you receive me, and not only me, but the one who sent me. Whoever rejects you rejects me, and not only me, but the one who sent me." He could not have been any clearer than that. Anyone who rejects the Church rejects Him. If they will not listen to the Church, then they do not listen to Christ. If they do not obey the Church, then they do not obey Christ. Saint John asked the rhetorical question, "How can someone love the God whom they cannot see when they do not love their brother whom they can see?" How can anyone love the God whom they cannot see, when they do not love His Church, which they can see?
Over the next four weeks we will be reading from Chapter 6 of John's Gospel, and on the final weekend, we will read about how Jesus lost all of his disciples over his teaching on the Eucharist. He lost all of them, except for the twelve Apostles. Some of you may feel like leaving when I preach about gay marriage, sodomy, premarital sex, birth control, abortion or any of the Church's other difficult teachings. These are difficult teachings in our day and age, and let's face it, sometimes it is easier to love a dead lion than it is to love dead babies. Hence the loud public outcry over the poaching death of Cecil the Lion, but the near media black-out regarding Planned Parenthood's selling of body parts from aborted, dismembered babies.
Nevertheless, our faithfulness to Christ is not measured by how well we follow the teachings with which we agree. It is measured by how well we follow those teachings that we find most difficult. Those five thousand people whom Our Lord fed with the loaves and the fishes, and who followed after him, as we heard in today's Gospel, are the same people who abandoned Him over his difficult teachings.
Do not be like them. Our Lord knew this about them, and He told them right to their faces, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life." He tells us the same thing today. Our Lord wanted to teach them about the way to eternal life, but their minds were pre-occupied with their carnal appetites and desires, and it was this carnality that led to their rejection of Christ and their embrace of death. Do not follow their example.
The world today rejects the Church because it has already rejected Christ. There can be no fraternity between the world and the Church. We must make a choice. It will be either the Church or the world, but not both. "One cannot serve both God and mammon. He will love one and hate the other. He will serve one and despise the other."
Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote, "If you do not live the way you believe, then you will believe the way that you live." If you are not fully committed to the way of life mapped out for us in the Holy teachings of the Church, then you will soon find yourself opposing them — and that is a huge problem for the Church today — lukewarm Catholics, those who vacillate between the Church and the world.
Pope Francis has told us this himself. In a recent homily at the Santa Marta residence, he told those attending Mass, "You are hurting the Church if you are lukewarm. ... Such Christians do great harm because their Christian witness is a witness which ultimately disseminates confusion, disseminates a negative witness. These are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold. ... Our Lord says in the end times that he will vomit such people out of his mouth."
My brothers and sisters, Pope Francis does not say these things to frighten you, and neither do I say these things to frighten you. I say them because I love you, and as your father, I want what is best for you. I do not want you to end up as vomit. I want you to have eternal life. The reason that the Church is suffering today, the reason that the Church is shrinking today, the reason that parishes are closing is all because of lukewarm Catholics — those Catholics who do not love the Faith enough to learn it; who do not love the Faith enough to proclaim it; who do not love the Faith enough to practice it; and who do not love the Faith enough to defend it when it is attacked.
I do not say these things to chide you, but to challenge you to live up to your Christian calling to be effective witnesses to Christ. We are at war with the world, and we are losing because those who are supposed to be fighting have abandoned their posts or have gone over to the enemy. Saint John described it well when he wrote in his First Epistle, "Those who have gone out from us were never really one of us." These are the lukewarm — those with one foot in the Church and one foot in the world. You cannot live in such a way. If you do that, then it will not be long before both feet will be firmly planted in the world. For when the time comes for choosing, you will choose the world against the Church. One cannot serve both God and mammon. He will love one and hate the other.
The time for choosing is now. Whom will you serve? Today I leave you with the words of our Patriarch, Joshua, who said to the Israelites thousands of years ago, "If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD ... choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
Father Roman Manchester is a priest in the diocese of Providence, Rhode Island. His homilies can be heard here.