“Do you also want to leave?” (John 6:67)
That was the question Jesus posed to his apostles. It was in the evening after he had fed 5,000 in the miracle of the loaves and fishes. He had just told his followers that “I am the living bread which came down from heaven….if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” (6: 51) This was a hard saying, they said among themselves. Too hard to believe. And many walked away from him.
So Jesus then turned to his closest followers, his apostles, and asked them if they were going to leave as well.
We live in a world that challenges faith every day. There are places where the challenge is open, cruel and violent. As Pope Francis has stated, we are in an era of martyrdom little different from the early days of the Church.
We also face the challenges to faith that do not come from the sword. And many of us face this challenge every day. It’s the challenge of both an aggressive atheism, as well as a benign secularism that tempts us to indifference. Both try to lure us to live with the crowd, to live as if Jesus did not matter, to walk away because the faith has hard sayings in the face of our culture.
Fortitude is the virtue of living true to Jesus in good times and bad. Fortitude gives us the strength to believe and act on our beliefs when everything about us is saying that we should walk away from the hard sayings.
It was Peter who answered for the apostles when Jesus asked if they would leave, if they would walk away from Him. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” he said. “You have the words of eternal life.” (6:68)
That is the assent we need to make every day with strength and fortitude. Because we know that in Jesus we have the words of eternal life.