For St. Thomas Aquinas, the will is most rightly used when God’s glory becomes more manifest in our world. In other words, what becomes particularly important, is that when it comes to choosing, ultimately every choice we make can only be evaluated with regards to the purpose for which the choices were made. Do our choices help us to move closer to God, to enter more fully in a relationship with Jesus, or do they lead us farther away from Jesus?
This idea is not a great deal different than the old answer to the question about why God made us, in the Baltimore catechism. Why did God make us? Those of you who have a particular amount of life experience probably remember the answer. God made us to know, love and serve him in this life, and to live forever with him in the next. This is to say, then, that every choice we make, becomes a good or bad based primarily on whether or not it leads us closer to God or draws us farther away from God.
This helps us to understand the first reading. In it, Joshua calls the question. Will you serve the Lord or not? This is because it is tremendously important to recognize the choice to serve the Lord is intended to be in “all in” choice. In other words the most profound choice that we make to serve God is the fundamental choice that lasts our entire life.
And it is this choice, in fact, the Joshua sets before the people today. Will they be served by pursuing self-interest, or will they seek to serve God by placing their lives in the hands of God? The answer comes when they appreciate all the blessings that have been a part of their lives. Many of us have received significant blessings. But it’s not enough simply to receive these blessings, because it can be the case that we simply don’t see them or appreciate them. Rather, we must remind ourselves again and again of the importance of recognizing how it is that God has blessed us in our lives, and to be thankful people for what he has done for us.
It is in this sense that this fundamental choice helps us to understand what it means to be free. St. Paul writes about the challenges faced by people who do not fully comprehend what freedom really is. Freedom must be more than simply the ability to choose this particular thing or that particular thing. It must be understood in a much broader context where we understand that freedom is primarily about the ability which enables us to become the persons that God intends us to be. It means we can couch our ultimate decision for or against God up against the ultimate purpose in our lives.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case in our lives. We know that too often we don’t choose to draw closer to God, we don’t choose to enter more fully and completely and deeply into the relationship that God intends for us to have with him. Rather, often for something short-term and fleeting, we make a choice that takes us away from God. The ultimate irony is that this latter choice which leads us away from God, results in our being less free. St. Paul indicates this when he tells the people in his letter that they have been slaves to sin their whole life long.
Like Joshua, the choice for St. Paul is dramatic and clear. It is that we choose Christ, or re-choose a long set of regulations and rules that we can’t possibly fulfill on our own. It is against this background that we can understand both the second reading in the gospel. Ultimately, our choice for God, is our response to the vocation we were given at our baptism. For some, even most, such a choice for Christ is a choice to become like Jesus Mary and Joseph, a holy family. In fact, it is not overly dramatic at all to say the purpose of marriage as a vocation is precisely so that the couple and their children will grow in holiness in the way in which God intends for them to live with him forever. The purpose of this vocational call of baptism, is nothing less than an eternal relationship with God that make sense of every other aspect of our lives.
It is for this reason, that the second Vatican Council referred to the family as a domestic church. A husband loves his wife just as Christ loves the Church and both mother and father become holier in the way in which they raise their children to be closer to God. And so in its most beautiful sense, marriage is most importantly that invitation to discover who one truly is. Or put another way to discover that one becomes more themselves by virtue of this relationship they enter into an marriage.
For the disciples in the gospel, this question could not be made more clear. Many of the people who heard Jesus in today’s gospel think he speaks like a crazy man. We can lose the sense of how dramatic are these words of Jesus because we have become so familiar with the understanding of what it means to be the Eucharist. Christ becoming truly present to us each Sunday under the appearance of bread and wine so that we can at receive his body and blood.
But to those who heard Jesus in today’s gospel for many of them, this was all too much. Was Jesus calling them to become cannibals? And so many leave. And then comes the dramatic moment in the Gospels, when Jesus turns to the disciples and asks of them about their intentions. Will you also leave?
This is at the heart of the question for us to consider today. Will we, as Joshua did in the first reading choose to serve God, or we like so many in the gospel walk away from Jesus? Because the disciples have already made this choice in their hearts to follow Jesus and to enter into this deep relationship with him, they’ve already answered the question. They have nowhere else to go.
And so today Jesus posed this question to us. Let us pray that we too might come to the experience of so many what is powerful and profound relationship with Jesus, so that we may proclaim, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”