Before you read this, the non-binding vote in England will have happened. Brexit or remain? The question has been swirling in the British air for weeks. The Scottish people had a similar vote in 2014: Leave union with England or not? Before that, in 1997, when Hong Kong was to revert to being part of China, and people had no choice in that outcome, individuals and groups asked the question for themselves “Do we stay or do we go?”
When marriages teeter, relationships fray, academic pursuits or work are not satisfying, do we stay or do we go?
These are our very human questions, based on the choices we’ve made and the choices before us. In the best of all possible worlds, we choose again the choices we have already made, but the outcome depends on so much: the life-giving quality of the choices we have made, the choices our partners have made, our willingness to stay the course and build with others life to the full. In Christian terms, those choices are stirred in us by God, if we allow it. The best in Christian life is summed up in the call to do our part to build up the reign of God – or as some of contemporaries call it “the kindom of God.” I like this term “kindom of God” because it bespeaks not only our relationship to God (as in “the kingdom of God”), but our relationship to God and to one another. We embrace God when we embrace one another. We are kin and therefore, we stay, not go.
Jesus posed that same question to his disciples. Will you stay or will you go? Remember? Just after Jesus had promised himself as food and drink for them in John 6, many listeners found this a hard saying. They walked away. Jesus turned to his disciples with the same question “Do you also want to leave?” (John 6.67) Jesus acknowledged their freedom. Whether he wanted them to stay was not the point. They had the right to choose. So do we. In all those issues that really matter in our lives, including our relationship with our Risen Lord, we can stay or go.
Many Catholic Christians today have walked away from active life and worship in parishes, for a wealth of reasons. Have they gone away from Christ or just from the institutional church? Jesus offered His body and blood for our nourishment on the journey. Where does one find that nourishment except in community worship at Eucharist. “But I can be one with Christ in other ways.” Yes. But when believers have chosen another path, they may not even recognize their hunger and run the risk of becoming spiritually weak from that hunger, and disoriented from their deepest God-given values. “Not true. I’m fine.” It’s between you and God, of course, but don’t forget the community that needs your staying power, profound questions and courage. It is as daring to stay as to go. Maybe more so.
From earliest times, believers have chosen to go away. Some returned, others did not. God can be met everywhere. God in Christ is met in a special way at the Table of the Lord. Returnees are welcome alongside those who have never gone away. Life is richer when we are at the Table together. Stay or come back. “Lord, to whom shall we go? …We are convinced that you are the Holy One of God..” (John 6.67-68)~ Sister Joan Sobala