By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO | Published September 4, 2015
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.”
Jn 6: 67-69
William Golding was a British author, best known for his novel “Lord of the Flies,” an examination of the forces of brutality and civility as played out through the experiences of young boys who are marooned on a tropical island. Golding was deeply skeptical of the allegedly higher state of rationality being powerful enough to hold sway over and contain human barbarity. The novel is a grim account of what happens when social and familial networks dissolve.
I had to read the book in my sophomore year of high school. I saw the movie some years later. But during my sophomore year, which was from 1963-1964, this country was being torn inside out. The Vietnam War was escalating, and racial hatreds were raging out of control, which would eventually lead to the riots, many deaths and the looting of cities.
President Kennedy was assassinated. The 1960s were to go down as being one of the most tumultuous decades in American history.
It was also the time of the Second Vatican Council. The second of what would eventually be four sessions met in 1963. It was and is a council through which the church finally entered the life streams of the modern world. And to its credit, it is still listening, feeling, finding its way in a world that is radically new for all of us—for peoples of all faiths, all walks of life.
In order to better grasp its bearings, some scholars in the church tried to see as clearly as possible back to the ancient past, to rediscover the roots of Christianity and to revivify them, plant them in the soils of the 20th century. It was their hope that the Jesus of the past could enlighten the way for the Christians of the modern era.
But there were other scholars who looked ahead, and as they read the ancient texts, they took heart in the faith-based truth that Jesus is alive, active in history, always ahead of us, asking us to follow, to have faith, even when the times are terribly dark and the things we hope for are not enough, if not useless. It is then that we learn what it means to walk by faith, and not sight.
The words of Simon Peter are telling in this regard. He knows he has nowhere else to go—there is no one else to follow. He takes the words and life of Jesus to heart, living mysteries that shine with the gift of eternal life. It is an offer of life here and yet to come. And he follows with the gifts he has been given of faith, hope and love. His road was not an easy one but it was a sure one.
Looking back, history is riddled with tragic examples of people whose lives were maimed or ended by hatred. The barbarity of “Lord of the Flies” is not at all far from us. But in the worst of times, Jesus isn’t either. He went through it and lives in it and beyond it—and asks us not to lose heart and abandon him. There is only one road that leads us to eternal life and when we choose to leave that road, we risk losing the only life we have.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at www.abbeystore.com.