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Christ Our Teacher & Our Voice

Jennifer Manning

As a high school teacher of Catholic morality, I’ve encouraged my students to look for pressing moral issues beyond the classroom and the Catechism. They usually find examples in everything from news broadcasts to episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Over the past week or so, though, there has been an onslaught of questions:

“Why is the Catholic Church being questioned about torture?”

“Why are news reporters calling an execution ‘botched’ if it still resulted in the death of the inmate? Does this mean they are against the death penalty?”

“What is a Satanic black mass and what is Harvard doing hosting one?”

It’d be exhausting if it weren’t evidence of something great happening.

These young people, at the age of 16, are seeing and caring about things that most people just ignore. In typical (or not-so-typical, maybe) teenage fashion they are challenging the misleading reports they are hearing on these issues and others. I do my best to equip them with ways to answer these questions, and one strategy we employed recently was looking at the way that Jesus himself handled opposition.

How exactly did Jesus react when he met grave opposition? We studied John 6, the Bread from Heaven discourse, arguably one of Christ’s most challenging teachings. It is here that Jesus tells the disciples, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). And the people immediately begin grumbling amongst themselves Psh. He can’t be the Bread from Heaven. We know this guy. We know his family. He is just like one of us. But rather than shy away from his message, Christ calls them out of their ignorance. “Stop murmuring,” he says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (John 6:51). Notably, the Greek verb Jesus uses here is from the verb esthi?, which somewhat innocuously means “to eat.”

But the people (understandably) continue to protest. How can this man give us flesh to eat?

Jesus had a few choices here. He could have backed down, could have simplified the teaching. Sorry, everyone, for the confusion. Did I say “eat my body?” I meant that my body is a symbol of the Bread from Heaven. Nobody panic! Keep following me! Look, here's some loaves and fishes!

Jesus, of course, does the opposite. He teaches even more explicitly, affirming, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” The Greek word Jesus uses here is tr?g? which means “to gnaw or to crunch.”

The lesson here? When people were challenged by Jesus’ teachings, he didn’t give up. In fact, he pushed them even further. He refused to do what would have been easy or popular. For obvious reasons, Jesus’ teaching about eating his body and blood proved to be too much for some people. Scripture tells us that “As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (John 6:66). But still he persisted, asking his apostles, “Do you also want to leave?”

The Church is called to be a prophetic voice. As Elise Italiano wrote recently, “..it is the very mission of the Church to encourage the world not to lower its moral barometer, not to give up on virtue, character, or charity.” So we, the Church, must continue to challenge the false ideology which claims that Church teaching that protects women and children from the pain of abortion is tantamount to torture. We – you and I – must continue to fight for the dignity of every human life and for respect for all religions, including our own. We, the Body of Christ, the members of the Church, are called to challenge the status quo. Maybe we are not on the U.N. Committee Against Torture, or a trustee at Harvard, or a legislator who has the power to grant pardons. But we can be those ordinary people who speak up – in our families, workplaces, schools – and continue to call each other to be more. And perhaps we can remember to draw inspiration from the ministry of Christ himself.

Topics: Abortion , Church teaching , Current Events , Education , Faith , Scripture

Jennifer Manning is a Catholic schoolteacher in Massachusetts and a volunteer with Catholic Voices USA.

View all articles by Jennifer Manning

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