Homilies on the Eucharist in John 6
August 5, 2012 – Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
Beginning last Sunday, and continuing for the next four weeks, John 6 is inserted in the Sunday readings during the summer, which are otherwise devoted to Mark. John 6 the great discourse on Jesus giving himself as our food and drink, the promise of the Eucharist, which we are here celebrating. This provides opportunity to concentrate consistently, so everyone can hear the same reflections. Our faith speaks of the Eucharist as the summit and source of the Christian life and mission. Using the clues Jesus gives us, we are going to explore something of how what you are doing here and now in the Sunday Mass is the summit and source of your life, and the summit and source of what you do.
You’ve heard the expression that something is an acquired taste. As a child I can remember intensely disliking cheese, fish, and coffee, along with a whole lost of things that I never tried because the thought of them was disgusting. I was almost middle-aged before I could bring myself to try escargot or raw fish, both of which I have since learned to enjoy – on special occasions, at least.
It may sound strange, but God’s gifts are an acquired taste. We are so used to praying about what we want, that I wonder how many of us ever think about praying to develop a taste for what God wants.
And yet, that is where we have to start if we are to develop an understanding of the Eucharist.
Last week we heard the story of the miraculous feeding of five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish. This week we see the crowd chasing around the lake after Jesus, because they want more. And Jesus, as we will hear over the coming weeks gives them more, but not what they expected.
He recalls the story of giving the manna in the desert, and the desires and expectations of the grumbling Israelites. God made it clear, that he exceeded their expectations. But in a gentle way, a non imposing way.
Like the dewfall– notice how it’s described. . . . The image of dew is not powerful, like a flood or a rainstorm. It is gentle, but reveals, in the image of the manna, the power of God to transform and to nourish. And in the second Eucharistic Prayer, which was word deliberately to recall this gift of manna as it prefigures the gift of the Eucharist, that’s exactly how we pray for the gentle, yet transforming action of the Holy Spirit.
Similarly, the people who wanted Jesus to satisfy their needs. He went beyond their expectations. They asked for something, and he gives them someone – himself.
And that’s precisely what happens in the Eucharist.
Remember the definition of a sacrament in the catechism many of us first learned our faith from: an outward sign that gives grace. Jesus spoke of his feeding of the 5000 as a sign, but he wants to draw us deeper, into the gift of new life that is the gift of his presence, himself.
As we begin to look more deeply at the Eucharist over the next few weeks, I’d like to suggest we begin with the question, what might it mean in you own life, to put aside our own wants and even needs, and acquire a taste for God himself, as revealed in the person and presence of Jesus. That’s what’s given – and given freely — in the Eucharist. The invitation is presented to us. Come, taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
August 12, 2012 – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19:4-8
Text of Deacon Eric Stoltz’s homily: Gift of God and Work of Human Hands.
August 19, 2012 – Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
We continue our journey through John 6, to see what Jesus says about his gift of his body and blood in the Eucharist.
One thing is clear if we take Jesus at his word: when we receive celebrate the Mass and receive Communion, he is really and truly here. He won’t let us understand this gift and command to eat his flesh and drink his blood in any except a real way. By repeating the command, and even, as we’ll see next week, by letting those who found what he said unacceptable walk away, he makes it clear he meant what he said.
You and I cannot escape from or water down the reality that, when we receive Holy Communion, it is Jesus Christ whom we receive. When you say “Amen” to the consecrated host and the chalice of the Precious Blood in receiving Communion, by that Hebrew word “amen,” you are saying yes to Jesus Christ who is coming to you personally. When you receive the consecrated host in your hand or on your tongue, and when you drink from the shared cup of consecrated wine, it is Jesus Christ, his body and blood, that you are eating and drinking. Just as he commanded. That’s what we have just heard him say.
But there’s more . . . a lot more. The implications of this eating and drinking are both expansive and profound, wide and deep. Today, I’d like to look at some of them with you.
First, our food, our nourishment. We become what we eat. We are nourished to sustain his life in us, and to energize our sharing in his mission. Not just on receiving end. Just like we don’t eat merely to enjoy food for ourselves; we eat in order to sustain our life, and give energy for our work.
Second, Jesus as he is crucified and risen. That means, where he is present, he is still in his sacrifice. When you come for Holy Communion, you’re not just receiving Jesus, you are becoming one with his sacrifice. You are committing yourself to taking seriously what he said – whoever wishes to be my follower must take up his own cross and follow me. As He said yes to God the Father on the cross, so must we in all the circumstances and challenges of our life.
Third, the whole Christ. Head and members. We have to recognize him in one another, in order to recognize him in the Eucharist. In communion, you are entering into communion with the other members of His body, in fact, as he himself said, with a special relationship to those we would consider “the least,” those we would prefer to ignore or reject: “what you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.”
That’s why, after we have received Holy Communion, Mass ends very quickly. A little time for reflection and prayer. Some brief announcements about the how we at this church seek to put our relationship with the whole Christ into practice in our community activities. And that’s it. You are blessed and sent forth with the words, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” You are what you eat. Go, as a member of Christ’s body, and bring what you have received, to benefit all whom you meet this week.
August 26, 2012 – Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
It’s not easy to be a Catholic these days. Anyone who is aware of the world around us knows that there’s a lot to be sad about, or even angry about, in the reality of Catholic Church today. Look around. It seems there are a lot of reasons to leave the Catholic Church, and, perhaps, not many to stay.
Everyone has their own list of complaints about the Church, whether it’s disagreement about things that are perceived to be teachings, or scandal about the behavior of leaders. Often one person’s list is diametrically opposed to another person’s list. I’m not going to comment on those things. Anyone who’s looking, can find plenty of reasons to leave the Church.
What often amazes me is not that people leave, but that people stay. And nearly every week, I encounter somebody who is returning to the Catholic Church after a time of being away, perhaps still needing to deal with the causes of anger and alienation, but back nevertheless.
The event we just heard in the Gospel speaks directly to this. After Jesus’ long discourse on the Eucharist, including the unmitigated and unapologetic command to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have life, we find a sizable number of his friends – not his enemies, mind you – no longer able to literally “stomach” him or his words any longer. After he watched them leave, he turned and said to the Twelve whom he had chosen, and said “Do you also want to leave?” Their response did not arise out of logic or understanding what Jesus said, but out of their relationship of faith and trust in 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.”
When I ask people why they stay in the Catholic Church in spite of the problems they may have with it, or why they return in spite of past hurts or alienation, so often the answer revolves around the same two points: a sense of being chosen or called in some way, and hunger. They long for the Eucharist. Even if the experience of Mass may not always be inspiring, or intellectually or emotionally satisfying, they know that the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist in some way goes beyond any other kind of religious experience. They long for the community that is called together around the Eucharist. Even if everyone who gathers, as well as those who lead, are sinners like the rest of us, there is something here that transcends those limitations. Even if they – and we – may not always be able to name that hunger, it seems to be to fulfill the command of Jesus to eat his flesh and drink his blood. And we hunger as well for communion with one another, what we traditionally called the Communion of Saints, and which transcends the limitations of time and place.
There is a sense of “home” around the Eucharist. One of the qualities of home is always that it is never perfect. In fact, more often than not, “home” is rife with dysfunctional relationships that need to be recognized, addressed and healed, not ignored or denied. But home is still home. Reasons for conflict and division will always exist, but home hopefully can become more and more a place of understanding and mutual acceptance that rises above differences.
Home, finally, can never be closed in upon itself. A family cannot exist except in relation to the broader human family. If we are led to the Eucharist out of our own hunger, Christ will lead us outside of ourselves to recognize the hungers of others in our human family. As we reflected last week, in the Eucharist, we truly become what we receive. As we receive Christ who continues to empty himself for us, we are impelled to imitate his very self-emptying on behalf of others. We cannot do that solo, as a “lone ranger”; we can only do that in union with one another, by identifying where in our Church and in our world the work of Jesus Christ is being done, and joining together in it. Examples and opportunities abound if we open our eyes and look for them.
As we together celebrate the Eucharist, continuing to keep alive faithfulness and obedience to the command of Jesus Christ, let us look to one another and say in our hearts, “Welcome home.”