Many of you know I was not born into a Catholic family. The faith of my family was Protestant, “Bible-belt Christian”. I can recall the moment of my first conversion to the Catholic faith, as it was a powerful moment for me at age 17. I was driving one night, discerning my faith, reflecting on the Virgin Mary as I drove. There was a struggle within me. Then, I made a decision. I came to a conclusion that changed my life. I chose. It was an emotional moment. My tears begin to flow. I had to pull over to the side of the road and just cried. The moment was very emotional, but it was the result of a decision, a personal choice, like I had been sitting on the fence, but then I realized I had to choose. I could not remain undecided. I chose Mary and everything she chose. I decided I could not live without Mary. Therefore, I chose her Son, and I chose His Church. These things were inseparable. So, it forced me to decide. My life began a new direction as I began to live for the Eucharist, and the Sacramental Life of the Church.
Faith is a choice, not an emotion. My emotion was the result of the decision. The emotion would have been meaningless without the decision. I had to choose. “Undecided” was not an option.
We see this moment of decision in the first reading from Deuteronomy. Moses had died. The people had followed Moses. Joshua was Moses’ assistant, and now he became the leader of the Israelites. After Moses’ death, it was Joshua who led the Israelites into the Promised Land, or Canaan, the land of the Amorites between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Israelites had been led out of Egypt by Moses. Egypt had been home to the Israelites for four hundred years. Egypt was a pagan country with pagan gods. Now the Israelites were going from one pagan country, Egypt, into another pagan country, the promised land, Palestine, or Canaan. Much of the story of the exile out of Egypt was about purifying the people of their pagan beliefs. But, Joshua knew they would be in spiritual danger once again as they entered into the “pagan” promised land. Joshua knew that faith was a clear-eyed decision, so he called all the leaders of the Israelites to an assembly to choose.
Joshua addressed all the people:
“If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve,
the gods your fathers served beyond the River, (The pagan gods of Egypt)
or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. (The “Promised Land of Canaan)
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua forced them to make a public decision before they went about settling in this “promised land” with its pagan religion and gods.
Joshua is showing a human reality. We are faced with important choices, vows or promises throughout our lives. But things can change after a conversion moment. Faith is a good example. We don’t just have ONE conversion. Our faith life is a series of conversion experiences. Faith conversion is a decision that must be renewed over and over throughout our lives. We grow spiritually and we face new challenges.
In the case of the Israelites and Joshua, this event came forty years after the Exodus from Egypt. Most of these Israelites with Joshua were the children and grandchildren of those who had come out of Egypt. Before Joshua could release them to occupy the Promised Land, he had to bring them back to a moment of decision and conversion. This was a key moment. If this moment had not happened, forcing them to boldly choose between paganism and God, Israel may never have come to exist, or endure.
Joshua told the people. Choose now. Pagan gods – – or God.
“As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
And the people responded,
“…we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”
Even today, in the practice of our Catholic faith, we are called upon to renew our faith publicly. Every time we come together for Sunday Mass, we repeat our Creed. Each year we repeat our Baptismal Promises at Easter. We have the Sacrament of Confession for our reconciliation with God when we have strayed from our promises and obedience to God.
There is another moment of decision which we witness in the Gospel today. We’ve been reading at Mass for several weeks John chapter 6, with Jesus’ teachings about the Eucharist. Jesus taught about the Eucharist in the synagogue in Capernaum.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
By this time Jesus had many “disciples” in addition to the Twelve.
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?
This was a moment of decision for many. We read,
… 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?”
This was a challenge to the Twelve. Like Joshua before him, he was saying, “Decide now”, “Decide today”. “Do you 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.”
Thank God for Peter. Without Peter, there may have been no disciples to continue Christ’s mission. Without Joshua, there may not have been a nation of Israel. These were moments for bold choices, decisions for life, for eternal life. Lives were changed. Nations and faith communities were born in these moments. Entire nations and peoples were directed toward God and Eternal Life in Heaven. These are critical conversion moments, not emotional choices. These moments are pivot moments that actually change and commit the rest of our lives. The is no turning back. We may have doubts, but we have to make choices.
As for me, I choose the Eucharist and the Sacramental Life of the Church. I choose to be reconciled to Jesus and his Church.
Now, you choose.