The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Bread of Life Discourse III: Bread for the Journey

Today’s readings

You may have heard of Viaticum, which we generally think of as one’s last Communion. Indeed, the Church encourages us by precept of the Church to receive Holy Communion in our last moments, if at all possible.  The word viaticum is Latin for “bread for the journey.”  So in our last moments, when we set out on our journey to the life that is to come, we are fed with that Food that sustains us.  It’s a commendable practice and I highly encourage it.

Today we see the Scriptural basis for viaticum, that bread for the journey.  In the first reading, the prophet Elijah has had just about enough, thank you very much.  Despite some successes in preaching the word of the Lord, he has felt that he is a failure.  Today’s reading comes after Elijah, with God’s help, just defeated all the prophets of the false god Baal in a splendid display of pyrotechnics on Mount Carmel.  It’s a wonderful story that you can find in chapter 18 of the first book of Kings, and your homework today is to go home and look it up!  I promise, you’ll enjoy the story.  Well after that outstanding success, one would expect Elijah to go about boasting of his victory.  Instead, Jezebel, the king’s wife and the one who brought the prophets of Baal to Israel in the first place, pledges to take Elijah’s life.  Today’s story, then, finds him sitting under a scraggly broom tree, which offered little if any shade, and praying for death.  For him it would be better for the Lord to take his life than to die by Jezebel’s henchmen.  The Lord ignores his prayer and instead twice makes him get up and eat bread that God himself provides, so that he would be strengthened for the journey.  In the story that follows, Elijah will come quite face-to-face with God, and be refreshed to go on.  But he can’t do that if he starves to death under the broom tree.  Sometimes God does not give us what we ask for, but exactly what we need.

Our Gospel reading takes us back to Saint John’s “Bread of Life Discourse.”  We usually read from the Gospel of Mark during this liturgical year, but since Mark is shorter than Matthew and Luke, we have a five-week opportunity during the summer to hear John’s Eucharistic Theology beautifully told in the sixth chapter of his Gospel.  We began two weeks ago with the feeding of the multitudes; then last week the multitudes sought Jesus out so they could get more of the same and Jesus sets out to feed their spirits.  At the end of last week’s Gospel, Jesus told them that Moses didn’t give them bread from heaven, but rather God did; and then he made a very bold claim: “I am the bread of life.”  So this week, the people are angry with Jesus for that claim, for saying that he came down from heaven.  They murmured because they knew his family, and surmised that he couldn’t have descended from heaven.  They didn’t yet understand the depth of who Jesus was.  They were so hungry that they didn’t realize that the finest spiritual banquet stood right before them.

The thing is, spiritual hunger is something we all face in one way or another.  We all have very difficult journeys to face in our lives.  Whether we’re feeling dejected and defeated like Elijah, or feeling cranky and irritable like the Ephesians, or whether we’re just feeling superior and murmuring like the Jews in today’s Gospel, spiritual hunger is something we all must face sometime in our lives.  From time to time, we all discover in ourselves a hole that we try to fill with something.  Maybe we try to fill that up with alcohol, or too much work, or too much ice cream, or the wrong kind of relationships, or whatever; and eventually we find that none of that fills up the hole in our lives.  Soon we end up sitting under a scraggly old broom tree, wishing that God would take us now.  If we’re honest, we’ve all been at that place at one time or another in our lives.

We disciples know that there is only one thing – or rather one person – that can fill up that emptiness.  And that person is Jesus Christ.  This Jesus knows our pains and sorrows and longs to be our Bread of Life, the only bread that can fill up that God-sized hole in our lives.  We have to let him do that.  But it’s not so easy for us to let God take over and do what he needs to do in us.  We have to turn off the distractions around us, we have to stop trying to fill the hole with other things that never have any hope of satisfying us, and we have to turn to our Lord in trust that only he can give us strength for the journey.  Jesus alone is the bread that came down from heaven, and only those who eat this bread will live forever, forever satisfied, forever strengthened.  It is only this bread that will give us strength for the arduous journeys of our lives.

Because this Food is so important to us, because it is such a great sign of God’s presence in our lives, we should be all the more encouraged to receive the Eucharist frequently and faithfully.  Certainly nothing other than sickness or death should deter us from gathering on Sunday to celebrate with the community and receive our Lord in Holy Communion.  We should all think long and hard before we decide not to bring our families to Sunday Mass.  Sometimes soccer, football, softball and other sports or activities become more important than weekly worship, as if Mass were just one option among many activities from which we may choose.  Or maybe we decide to work at the office or around the house instead of coming to Church on Sunday, a clear violation of the third commandment.  I realize that I may well be preaching to those who already know this, and I realize that it’s hard, especially for families, to get to Church at times, but this is way too important for any of us to miss.  It is Jesus, the Bread of Life, who will lead us to heaven – the goal of all our lives and our most important journey, – and absolutely nothing and no one else will do that.

It all comes down to what we believe.  If we believe that Jesus is the Bread of Life, then why on earth would we ever want to miss worship?  If he is the only way to heaven, why would we think to separate ourselves from him?  Our Church teaches us that this is not just a wafer of bread and a sip of wine that we are receiving; we believe that it is the very real presence of our Lord, his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, under the mere appearance of bread and wine.  Because this is our Lord we are receiving, we should never allow anything to take its place.  Because this is our Lord we are receiving, we must return to this Eucharist every week, every day if we are able, acknowledging the great and holy gift that He is to us.

We will come forward in a few minutes to receive this great gift around the Table of the Lord.  As we continue our prayer today, let us remember the advice God gives to Elijah: “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate with great joy one of the most wonderful feasts on our Church calendar, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  Through this greatest of all gifts, we have been made one with our God who loves his people beyond all imagining.  We experience this love in perhaps one of the most basic ways of our human existence, which is to say by being fed.  Learning to satisfy our hunger is one of the first things we learn; we learn who we can depend on and develop close relationships with those people.  Today’s feast brings it to a higher level, of course.  The hunger we’re talking about is not mere physical hunger, but instead a deep inner yearning, a hunger for wholeness, for relatedness, for intimate union with our God.  This is a hunger that we all have, and despite our feeble attempts to do otherwise, it cannot be filled with anything less than God.

What we see in our God is one who has always desired deep union with his people.  Salvation began with the creation of the whole world, the saving of Noah and those on the ark, the covenant made with Abraham, the ministry of the prophets, and ultimately culminated in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the whole world.  God never lost interest in his creation; he didn’t set the world in motion and then back off to leave everything to its own devices.  God has time and again intervened in human history, offering us an olive branch, seeking renewal of our relationship with him, and bringing us back no matter how far we have fallen.

God has repeatedly sought to have a covenant with us.  Eucharistic Prayer IV beautifully summarizes God’s desire. It says: “You formed man in your own image and entrusted the whole world to his care, so that in serving you alone, the Creator, he might have dominion over all creatures. And when through disobedience he had lost your friendship, you did not abandon him to the domain of death.  For you came in mercy to the aid of all, so that those who seek might find you.  Time and again you offered them covenants and through the prophets taught them to look forward to salvation.”  And unlike human covenants, which have to be ratified by both parties, and are useless unless both parties agree and commit to them, the covenant offered by God is effective on its face.  God initiates the covenant, unilaterally, out of love for us.  Our hardness of heart, our sinfulness, our constant turning away from the covenant does not nullify that covenant.  God’s grace transcends our weakness, God’s zealous love for us and constant pursuit of us is limitless.

Today’s Liturgy of the Word shows us the history of the covenant.  The first reading recalls the covenant God made with the Israelites through the ministry of Moses.  The people agree to do everything the Lord commanded, and Moses seals the covenant by sprinkling the people with the blood of the sacrifice and saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.”  The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews makes the point that if the blood of sacrificed animals can bring people back in relationship with God, how much more could the blood of Christ draw back all those who have strayed.  Christ is the mediator of the new covenant, as he himself said in the Gospel: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

And so we, among the many, benefit from Christ’s blood of the covenant.  The preface for the Eucharist Prayer today says, “As we eat his flesh that was sacrificed for us, we are made strong, and, as we drink his Blood that was poured out for us, we are washed clean.”  God’s desire for covenant with us cannot be stopped by sin or death or the grave because his grace is mightier than all of that.

We disciples are called then to respond to the covenant.  Having been recipients of the great grace of God’s love, we are called to live the covenant in our relationships with others.  Which isn’t always the easiest thing to do.  Sometimes people test our desire to be in covenant with them; sometimes they don’t even want to be in covenant with us.  But the model for our relationships with others is the relationship God has with us.  And so sometimes we have to unilaterally extend the covenant, even if the other isn’t willing, or doesn’t know, that we care for them.  God wants to offer the covenant to everyone on earth, and he may well be using us to extend the covenant to those he puts in our path.

We do this in so many ways.  Here at Saint Mary’s, one of the important ways we do that is through the Interfaith Food Pantry which serves so many families each month.  Often food pantry donations dwindle in the summer when we are thinking about other things, or are away on vacation.  But the need for their ministry does not change.  One important way that we can extend the covenant of grace that we have received is to feed the hungry.  I would like to invite all of you to think about a donation of food for the poor the next time you do your grocery shopping.  It will go a long way to helping needy families through the summer months.

God’s covenant with us is renewed every day, and celebrated every time we come to receive Holy Communion. When we receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we are renewed in the covenant, strengthened in grace and holiness, and brought nearer to our God who longs for us.  We who are so richly graced can do no less than extend the covenant to others, helping them too to know God’s love for them, feeding them physically and spiritually.

The Psalmist asks today, “How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me?”  And the answer is given: by taking up the chalice of salvation, drinking of God’s grace, renewing the covenant, and passing it on to others.  May the Body and Blood of Christ keep us all safe for eternal life!

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate with great joy one of the most wonderful feasts on our Church calendar, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Through this greatest of all gifts, we have been made one with our God who loves his people beyond all imagining. We experience this love in perhaps one of the most basic ways of our human existence, which is to say by being fed. Learning to satisfy our hunger is one of the first things we learn; we learn who we can depend on and develop close relationships with those people. Today’s feast brings it to a higher level, of course. The hunger we’re talking about is not mere physical hunger, but instead a deep inner yearning, a hunger for wholeness, for relatedness, for intimate union with our God. This is a hunger that we all have, and despite our feeble attempts to do otherwise, it cannot be filled with anything less than God.

What we see in our God is one who has always desired deep union with his people. Salvation began with the creation of the whole world, the saving of Noah and those on the ark, the covenant made with Abraham, the ministry of the prophets, and ultimately culminated in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the whole world. God never lost interest in his creation; he didn’t set the world in motion and then back off to leave everything to its own devices. God has time and again intervened in human history, offering us an olive branch, seeking renewal of our relationship with him, and bringing us back no matter how far we have fallen.

God has repeatedly sought to covenant with us. Eucharistic Prayer IV beautifully summarizes God’s desire: “You formed man in your own image and entrusted the whole world to his care, so that in serving you alone, the Creator, he might have dominion over all creatures. And when through disobedience he had lost your friendship, you did not abandon him to the domain of death. For you came in mercy to the aid of all, so that those who seek might find you. Time and again you offered them covenants and through the prophets taught them to look forward to salvation.” And unlike human covenants, which have to be ratified by both parties, and are useless unless both parties agree, the covenant offered by God is effective on its face. God initiates the covenant, unilaterally, out of love for us. Our hardness of heart, our sinfulness, our constant turning away from the covenant do not nullify that covenant. God’s grace transcends our weakness, God’s jealous love for us and constant pursuit of us is limitless.

Today’s Liturgy of the Word shows us the history of the covenant. The first reading recalls the covenant God made with the Israelites through the ministry of Moses. The people agree to do everything the Lord commanded, and Moses seals the covenant by sprinkling the people with the blood of the sacrifice and saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.” The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews makes the point that if the blood of sacrificed animals can bring people back in relationship with God, how much more could the blood of Christ draw back all those who have strayed. Christ is the mediator of the new covenant, as he himself said in the Gospel: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

And so we, among the many, benefit from Christ’s blood of the covenant. The preface for the Eucharist Prayer today says, “As we eat his flesh that was sacrificed for us, we are made strong, and, as we drink his Blood that was poured out for us, we are washed clean.” God’s desire for covenant with us cannot be stopped by sin or death or the grave because his grace is mightier than all of that.

We disciples are called then to respond to the covenant. Having been recipients of the great grace of God’s love, we are called to live the covenant in our relationships with others. Which isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Sometimes people test our desire to covenant with them; sometimes they don’t even want to be in covenant with us. But the model for our relationships with others is the relationship God has with us. And so sometimes we have to unilaterally extend the covenant, even if the other isn’t willing, or doesn’t know, that we care for them. God wants to offer the covenant to everyone on earth, and he may well be using us to extend the covenant to those he puts in our path.

We do this in so many ways. Here at Notre Dame, one of the important ways we do that is through our food pantry which serves over 60 families each month. Our Food Pantry has the distinction of bringing the food donations to the families, which is so helpful to those who do not have reliable transportation. Over the past months, our food donations have dwindled, and we were hopeful of a large donation from the food drive by the Clarendon Hills Post Office, but it was not as large as we had hoped. During the summer months, food donations tend to dwindle further, although the need for them does not. One way that we can extend the covenant of grace that we have received is to feed the hungry. I would like to invite all of you to bring a bag of food for the poor next week, even though this is not our regular food pantry collection week. It will go a long way to helping needy families through the summer months.

God’s covenant with us is renewed every day, and celebrated every time we come to receive Holy Communion. When we receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we are renewed in the covenant, strengthened in grace and holiness, and brought nearer to our God who longs for us. We who are so richly graced can do no less than extend the covenant to others, helping them too to know God’s love for them, feeding them physically and spiritually.

The Psalmist asks today, “How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me?” And the answer is given: by taking up the chalice of salvation, drinking of God’s grace, renewing the covenant, and passing it on to others. May the Body and Blood of Christ keep us all safe for eternal life!

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today’s readings

Today’s feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is an incredible privilege for us to celebrate.  That our God, who is higher than the heavens and more glorious than anything we could ever possibly imagine, would give himself to us, his creatures, so completely that we would have him as our food and drink, sustenance for body and soul, into eternity, is a mystery almost too wonderful to comprehend!  Yet that is what we gather to call to mind this weekend.

In the Gospel reading today, we see just exactly how wonderful a miracle the Eucharist is.  A large crowd has gathered to hang on the words of Jesus, and to see what he might do next.  The disciples, however, become fearful because it is late in the day, and they know they have only a mere five loaves and two fish, and that’s never going to be enough to feed all those people.  They fear, I think, that the crowd may get ugly when they realize there is nothing to eat and it’s too late to go buy anything in the surrounding area.

So they come to Jesus and tell him to cut the homily short and dismiss the crowds so they can run off and get some food.  But Jesus turns it all around on them.  “Give them some food yourselves,” he says.  And I can just imagine the disciples freaking out!  But Jesus knows where this is going and is fully aware of what he intends to do.  So ignoring their lack of faith, he has them bring the meager five loaves and two fish that they do have, and he makes of it a feast that is enough, and actually more than enough, to feed the hungry crowd.

This is a great story and we’re very familiar with it, I’m sure.  But you know how this goes.  The commands of Jesus are never just for those who heard them the first time.  Instead he says the very same thing to us: “Give them some food yourselves.”  His intent is that we who have been fed superabundantly on his own Body and Blood, would go then and be Christ for others, feeding them in ways too wonderful to imagine.  But how would something like that even be possible?

And that’s the reaction I think that some of us have when we are faced with the rather daunting prospect of sharing of our time, talent and treasure.  But that’s exactly what Jesus intends for us to do.  “Give them some food yourselves,” he says, and we are called upon to respond.

Now some of us perhaps don’t share out of selfishness.  I hope that’s not true, but it does happen.  And we know very well what Scripture teaches about that: we have to get over ourselves and remember who gave us what we have in the first place, and be as generous to others as God has been to us.  We are taught that selfishness leads only to unhappiness in this life and eternal unrest in the life to come.  We know this.

But I really think that of those who don’t really give of their time, talent and treasure, it’s because of a belief very similar to what the disciples had in the Gospel today.  I think some of us don’t give of ourselves because we feel like we only have very little to give, kind of like the five loaves and two fish, and how on earth is that even going to be at all helpful in the face of such great need?  Better that we send everyone on their way to fend for themselves as best they can.  But Jesus didn’t accept that from the disciples and he isn’t having any of that from us either.  “Give them some food yourselves.”

Because not offering something – be in an hour or two of time a week or even a month, or a very small percentage of what we earn – because we don’t think it’s enough to do anything very much is tantamount to a lack of faith.  That’s what exasperated Jesus when he saw it in his disciples.  And he wants us to be better than that.  He wants us to see that whatever little bit we can give can become enough, and more than enough, to feed every need we can see, if we entrust it to his hands.

Jesus isn’t asking us to put an end to hunger; he’s asking us to feed one hungry person.  He isn’t asking us to solve the problem of homelessness; he’s asking us to help the youth group build a house in the poverty stricken parts of Jamaica and Kentucky this summer.  He isn’t asking us to single-handedly balance the parish’s budget; he’s asking us to give whatever we can and trust that others will too so that the parish can accomplish its mission.  Everyone can give something: time, talent and/or treasure.  I tell the folks in the nursing home that they can give of themselves just by being patient with their neighbors and being present to their friends and family.  Everyone can give someone some food themselves.

Today’s Gospel miracle isn’t just a nice story that we are meant to admire from the distance of a couple of thousand years.  We are meant to live it and experience it in the here and now by receiving the generous gift of God poured out most perfectly in his Body and Blood, by giving what we can give, and by trusting that God can make something truly great happen with what we have offered.  Give them some food yourselves.

The Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time (Bread of Life Discourse V)

Today’s readings

Life calls us to make some very difficult decisions sometimes.  Who will we vote for?  What school will we choose for our children?  Is this the person I should marry?  Is this job the right one for me right now?  In today’s readings, though, the players are making a very basic choice: whom will they serve?  It seems like the answer should be easy – God, of course – but for the people of that time, and if we’re honest, for all of us, there are certainly distractions to true worship.

The Israelites were certainly tempted to worship the so-called gods of the lands they moved into.  That would have made it easier for them to get along, but more importantly, would have provided economic benefits as they allied themselves with the native peoples.  For those who had been following Jesus, they couldn’t get past the hard teaching that he was the Bread of Life, come down from heaven, so many of them turned away.  And for people in our own time, don’t we all find excuses to turn away?  Living our faith is sometimes inconvenient because we can’t get the kids to their sports and still come to Mass, or it’s uncomfortable because we are embarrassed to live our faith and stand up for truth when business or social relationships call us to do what we know we should not.

Everyone at some point has to answer the questions we hear in our first reading and our Gospel today:  Decide today whom you will serve.  Do you also want to leave?

Today’s Gospel reading is the conclusion to the five-week study the Church has given us of the sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, which we commonly call the Bread of Life Discourse.  We began back at the end of July, when Jesus fed the multitudes with five loaves and two fish.  The crowds pursued him because they wanted more, and Jesus gave them food of another kind: spiritual teaching about what really feeds us.  In these last couple of weeks he has told them that he himself is the Bread of Life, that if one desires to avoid hunger in eternity, they need to partake of his own Body and Blood, because he is the true bread that came down from heaven.

The people have had two problems with this: first, they objected to him saying he had come down from heaven.  Many of them knew his family, and some probably knew him since childhood.  How then could he claim to have come from heaven?  Secondly, the prospect of eating his Body and Blood was repulsive to them.  They were so scandalized that, of the thousands he had fed, most of them returned home now, and even many of his disciples said goodbye.  So he poses the question to his Apostles – the chosen Twelve: – Do you also want to leave?  Speaking for the rest, Peter professes faith that Jesus is the only One to whom they can turn, that he is in fact the Holy One of God.

The situation is not that different from the one Joshua addresses in our first reading today.  Joshua took over leadership of the people after Moses died, and he is now showing his leadership style.  He will not be a leader that forces the people to do one thing or another.  Instead, he points out the many wonderful things God has done for the people.  This is the God who led them out of Egypt and sustained them through the desert journey.  This is the God who led them into the Promised Land, the land he promised their ancestors he would give them.  And now that they have received the many benefits of God’s mighty promises, it’s time for them to make a choice.  Will they serve the so-called gods of the pagan inhabitants of the land, or will they serve the Lord their God, who gave them so much.  For Joshua, the choice is easy: “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Peter and Joshua have it right.  They know the real source of grace, they know the One true God, they know the source of everlasting food and drink, and they choose accordingly.  And now the question is ours.  We have all of us been on a five-week-long Eucharistic retreat.  If you’ve missed any part of it, I encourage you to go back and read all of the sixth chapter of John.  It will take you ten or fifteen minutes if you read it nice and slow.  And as we stand here at the end of it all, we too have to make the decisions we hear in today’s Liturgy of the Word: decide today whom you will serve; what about you, will you also leave?

It’s a critical question for us.  Because there are lots of entities in our world that are vying for our servitude.  Will we serve the so-called gods of the people in whose country we live?  We who are disciples are aliens here; this is not our true home.  So what’s it going to be?  Are we going to serve the gods of relativism, of greed, and the culture of death?  Will we turn away and no longer follow our Lord?  Or will we recognize with the disciples that there is no one else to whom we can turn and say with Joshua, “we will serve the Lord?”

At one point or another in every disciple’s life, he or she has to answer this question.  For me, it came in my early thirties, when I had been going to Willow Creek Church with some friends.  I was attracted, as many are, to the music and the preaching and I had many good experiences there.  There came a point in which I felt like I had to make a decision between the Catholic Church and Willow Creek, and I spoke to my pastor about it.  We went back and forth for a while and finally Father Mike put it very bluntly: “I don’t think you would ever stand in that chapel and say Jesus wasn’t present there.”

Shortly after that, I went to Willow Creek while they had their monthly “Lord’s Supper” service.  And that was part of the problem: it was monthly, not every week, certainly not every day.  And it wasn’t Jesus: it was just bread and wine that was a mere symbol of the Lord’s Body and Blood.  They had to project the Lord’s Prayer on the screen, because people didn’t just know it.  And the speaker in his sermon, apparently an ex-Catholic, made light of the Sacrament of Penance.  And in that moment, I knew Father Mike was right.  Christ is present in the Tabernacle, he is present on the altar, present in the sacraments, and there is no way in the world I could ever live without that.  I couldn’t turn away, and I would serve the Lord in the Catholic Church.  Who would ever guessed it would have led me here today!

And so I leave you with the same question Joshua posed to the Israelites and Jesus posed to his Twelve.  You have been fed at this table on the Bread that came down from heaven; the holy Bread of eternal life, the Body and Blood of our Savior God.  Yes, there are distractions out there, but we all know deep in our hearts where the true food is.  So will you also leave?  Decide today whom you will serve.  As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!

Vespers for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

During World War II, the officers of the Third Reich’s secret service forcefully recruited many 12- and 13-year-old boys into what was called the Junior Gestapo.  The harshly treated boys were given only inhumane jobs that they were to perform without rest or complaint.

After the war ended, most had lost contact with their families and wandered aimlessly, without food or shelter.  As part of an aid program to rebuild postwar Germany, many of these youths were housed in tent cities.  There, doctors and nurses worked with them in an attempt to restore their physical, mental and emotional health.

Many of the boys would awaken several times during the night screaming in terror.  But one doctor had an idea for handling their fears.  After serving the boys a hearty meal, he’d tuck them into bed with a piece of bread in their hands that they were told to save until morning.  The boys began to sleep soundly after that because, after so many years of hunger and uncertainty as to their next meal, they finally had the assurance of food for the next day.

On the last day of my dad’s life a little over four years ago, I gave him Holy Communion for what would be the last time.  He was able to pray with us, and was so grateful to receive the Sacrament of Jesus’ own Body and Blood.  We call that last Communion Viaticum which, in Latin, means “bread for the journey.”  Like the former Junior Gestapo boys who slept soundly because they knew they had food for the next day, my dad was able to rest in Christ knowing that he would be able to eat at the heavenly banquet table.

On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are called to take comfort in the many ways God feeds us.  He gives us bread for today: the stuff we really need, and he gives us bread for eternity: the promise of the banquet of God’s heavenly kingdom.  On this solemn feast, we thank God for his gift of the Eucharist, that sustaining sacrifice which gives us strength to live the Gospel.  We also give thanks today for our diocesan Year of the Eucharist, which we have just completed, and for the many ways we have grown this year in our devotion to the Holy Eucharist.

The gift of the Eucharist comes today also with a commandment, as we have just heard in our reading from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  “Do this in memory of me,” Jesus tells us.  We hear it every time we come to Mass.  And maybe that seems like a bit of a no-brainer.  Sure, we’re here, we’re celebrating the Eucharist, we’re doing it in memory of you.  But I think that Jesus’ commandment goes a little deeper than that, as his commandments often do.

We have to always call to mind during our celebration of this great sacrament, that when Jesus broke the bread and told us to do it in memory of him, he was alluding to what he would soon do up there, on the cross.  He gave willingly laid down his life, so that we could have the hope of eternal life.  So we too have to be willing to lay down our own lives for our brothers and sisters, giving ourselves for them.

Worshiping Christ in the Blessed Sacrament means that we have to be able to acknowledge Christ in our brothers and sisters.  We have to treat them as we would like to be treated, to reach out to them when they are in need, to love them even when we would rather not.  This Eucharist that we receive is the sacrament of charity; charity in the sense of loving completely, without counting the cost.

Jesus gives us seemingly-simple gifts: bread and wine.  These are not unlike the bread that sustained those young German boys through the recovery of the horror they lived.  But these gifts are also complex in their transcendence, giving us strength to lay down our lives for others, giving us peace as Viaticum, giving us hope of eternal life around the table of God’s heavenly banquet.

As we move forth into the coming year, strengthened by our celebration of the Year of the Eucharist, let us pray together the prayer that has led us through this year:

Jesus, may all that is you flow into me.
May your Body and Blood be my food and drink.
May your passion and death be my strength and life.
Jesus, with you by my side enough has been given.
May the shelter I seek be the shadow of your cross.
Let me not run from the love which you offer,
but hold me safe from the forces of evil.
On each of my dyings shed your light and your love.
Keep calling to me until that day comes,
when, with your saints, I may praise you forever. Amen.

Lord Jesus, Bread of Life and Covenant of Love –
R.  Nourish us with your Body and Blood

Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament –
R.  Pray for us

 

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today’s readings

During World War II, the officers of the Third Reich’s secret service forcefully recruited many 12- and 13-year-old boys into the Junior Gestapo. The harshly treated boys were given only inhumane jobs that they were to perform without rest or complaint.

After the war ended, most had lost contact with their families and wandered aimlessly, without food or shelter. As part of an aid program to rebuild postwar Germany, many of these youths were housed in tent cities. There, doctors and nurses worked with them in an attempt to restore their physical, mental and emotional health.

Many of the boys would awaken several times during the night screaming in terror. But one doctor had an idea for handling their fears. After serving the boys a hearty meal, he’d tuck them into bed with a piece of bread in their hands that they were told to save until morning. The boys began to sleep soundly after that because, after so many years of hunger and uncertainty as to their next meal, they finally had the assurance of food for the next day.

On the last day of my dad’s life a little over three years ago, I gave him Holy Communion for what would be the last time. He was able to pray with us, and was so grateful to receive the Sacrament of Jesus’ own body and blood. We call that last Communion Viaticum which, in Latin, means “bread for the journey.” Like the former Junior Gestapo boys who slept soundly because they knew they had food for the next day, my dad was able to rest in Christ knowing that he would be able to eat at the heavenly banquet table.

On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are called to take comfort in the many ways God feeds us. We know that when we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we will receive all that we need and more, because our God loves us and cares for us. But to really trust in God’s care can sometimes be a bit of a scary moment.

It was certainly scary for the disciples, who asked Jesus to “dismiss the crowds” so that they could go into the surrounding cities and get something to eat. They were afraid for the crowds because they had come to the desert, where there was nothing to eat or drink. They were afraid for the crowds because it would soon be dark and then it would be dangerous to travel into the surrounding cities to find refuge and sustenance. And, if they were to really admit it, they were afraid of the crowds, because all they had to offer them were five loaves of bread and two fish – hardly a meal for the Twelve, let alone five thousand.

But Jesus isn’t having any of that. Fear is no match for God’s mercy and care and providence, so instead of dismissing the crowds, he tells the disciples to gather the people in groups of about fifty. Then he takes the disciples’ meager offering, with every intent of supplying whatever it lacked. He blesses their offerings, transforming them from an impoverished snack to a rich, nourishing meal. He breaks the bread, enabling all those present to partake of it, and finally he gives that meal to the crowd, filling their hungering bodies and souls with all that they need and then some. Caught in a deserted place with darkness encroaching and practically nothing to offer in the way of food, Jesus overcomes every obstacle and feeds the crowd with abundance. It’s no wonder they followed him to this out of the way place.

The disciples had to be amazed at this turn of events, and perhaps it was an occasion for them of coming to know Jesus and his ministry in a deeper way. They were fed not just physically by this meal, but they were fed in faith as well. In this miraculous meal, they came to know that their Jesus could be depended on to keep them from danger and to transform the bleakest of moments into the most joyous of all festivals. But even as their faith moved to a deeper level, the challenge of that faith was cranked up a notch as well. “You give them something to eat,” Jesus said to them. Having been fed physically and spiritually by their Master, they were now charged with feeding others in the very same way.

Christ has come to supply every need. In Jesus, nothing is lacking and no one suffers want. All the Lord asks of the five thousand is what he also asks of us each Sunday: to gather as a sacred assembly, to unite in offering worship with Jesus who is our High Priest, to receive Holy Communion, and to go forth to share the remaining abundance of our feast with others who have yet to be fed. After the crowd had eaten the meal, that was the time for them to go out into the surrounding villages and farms – not to find something to eat, but to share with everyone they met the abundance that they had been given. So it is for us. After we are fed in the Eucharist, we must then necessarily go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord by sharing our own abundance with every person we meet.

You might do that by participating in a small faith community or a bible study, sharing the Scriptures and our own living faith with your brothers and sisters. Maybe you would do that by becoming an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, and dedicating yourselves to the ministry of distributing the precious gift of the Lord’s own Body and Blood each Sunday, or even volunteering to bring Holy Communion to the sick and homebound. But you could also do that by volunteering bringing food to the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry, or by volunteering to package meals at Feed My Starving Children. Sharing our abundance of spiritual blessing doesn’t have to be very elaborate. You might just bring a meal to a friend going through a hard time or visit a neighbor who is a shut-in. Jesus is the font of every blessing, and it is up to us to share that blessing with everyone in every way we can. We too must hear and answer those challenging words of Jesus: “You give them something to eat.”

What we celebrate today is that our God is dependable and that we can rely on him for our needs. Just as he was dependable to feed the vast crowd in that horrible, out-of the-way place, so he too can reach out to us, no matter where we are on the journey, and feed us beyond our wildest imaginings. Just as the Junior Gestapo boys were able to rest easy as they clutched that bread for the next day, so we too can rest easy, depending on our God to give us all that we need to meet the challenges of tomorrow and beyond. The challenge to give others something to eat need not be frightening because we know that the source of the food is not our own limited offerings, but the great abundance of God himself. We need not fear any kind of hunger – our own or that of others – because it’s ultimately not about us or what we can offer, but what God can do in and through us.

In our Eucharist today, the quiet time after Communion is our time to gather up the wicker baskets of our abundance, to reflect on what God has given us and done for us and done with us. We who receive the great meal of his own Body and Blood must be resolved to give from those wicker baskets in our day-to-day life, feeding all those people God has given us in our lives. We do all this in remembrance of Christ, proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes again.

May the Body and Blood of Christ bring us all to everlasting life.

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate with great joy one of the most wonderful feasts on our Church calendar, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Through this greatest of all gifts, we have been made one with our God who loves his people beyond all imagining. We experience this love in perhaps one of the most basic ways of our human existence, which is to say by being fed. Learning to satisfy our hunger is one of the first things we learn; we learn who we can depend on and develop close relationships with those people. Today’s feast brings it to a higher level, of course. The hunger we’re talking about is not mere physical hunger, but instead a deep inner yearning, a hunger for wholeness, for relatedness, for intimate union with our Creator and Redeemer.

What we see in our God is one who has always desired deep union with his people. We have just recently finished the Lent and Easter seasons, in which the history of God’s work in salvation history has been beautifully recalled. Salvation began with the creation of the whole world, the saving of Noah and those on the ark, the covenant made with Abraham, the ministry of the prophets, and ultimately culminated in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the whole world. God never lost interest in his creation; he didn’t set the world in motion and then back off to leave everything to its own devices. God has time and again intervened in human history, offering us an olive branch, seeking renewal of our relationship with him, and bringing us back no matter how far we have fallen.

God has repeatedly sought to covenant with us. Eucharistic Prayer IV beautifully summarizes God’s desire: “You formed man in your own likeness and set him over the whole world to serve you, his creator, and to rule over all creatures. Even when he disobeyed you and lost your friendship you did not abandon him to the power of death, but helped all men to seek and find you. Again and again you offered a covenant to man, and through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation.”

And unlike human covenants, which have to be ratified by both parties, and are useless unless both parties agree, the covenant offered by God is effective on its face. God initiates the covenant, unilaterally, out of love for us. Our hardness of heart, our sinfulness, our constant turning away from the covenant do not nullify that covenant. God’s grace transcends our weakness, God’s jealous love for us and constant pursuit of us is limitless.

Today’s Liturgy of the Word shows us the history of the covenant. The first reading recalls the covenant God made with the Israelites through the ministry of Moses. The people agree to do everything the Lord commanded, and Moses seals the covenant by sprinkling the people with the blood of the sacrifice and saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.” The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews makes the point that if the blood of sacrificed animals can bring people back in relationship with God, how much more could the blood of Christ draw back all those who have strayed. Christ is the mediator of the new covenant, as he himself said in the Gospel: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

And so we, the many, benefit from Christ’s blood of the covenant. The preface for the Eucharist Prayer today says, “As we eat his body which he gave for us, we grow in strength. As we drink his blood which he poured out for us, we are washed clean.” God’s desire for covenant with us cannot be stopped by sin or death or the grave.

We disciples are called then to respond to the covenant. Having been recipients of the great grace of God’s love, we are called to live the covenant in our relationships with others. Which isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Sometimes people test our desire to covenant with them; sometimes they don’t even want to be in covenant with us. But the model for our relationships with others is the relationship God has with us. And so sometimes we have to unilaterally extend the covenant, even if the other isn’t willing, or doesn’t know, that we care for them. God wants to offer the covenant to everyone on earth, and he may well be using us to extend the covenant to those he puts in our path. As the alternate opening prayer for today says, “May we offer to our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service of that kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit…”

We do this in so many ways. Here at St. Raphael, one of the important ways we do that is through our support of Hesed House and Loaves and Fishes. The Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry began in a closet here at St. Raphael in 1984. That year, eight families were helped. This year, as the year began, 1,800 families were helped, and that number has grown by about a hundred families a month due to this economy. Most recently, the pantry helped 2,800 families. I was privileged to offer the invocation at their 24 Hours Without Hunger event two weeks ago. The executive director expressed the organization’s deep regard for St. Raphael, noting that although so many Naperville churches currently support them, St. Raphael’s continues to be by far their largest congregational supporter.

We absolutely should feel good about the ways we show our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. But we cannot rest on our laurels, as that number of families served continues to grow, we who are able must be strong in our support of them. One of the particular needs they have in the summer months is to provide extra food for children who, during the school year, receive a free lunch at school. They want to provide additional juice boxes and healthy snacks for kids this summer. Maybe we can all buy another box of snacks or juice boxes the next time we shop. Or even add slightly to our envelope for Loaves and Fishes on the second Sunday of the month. This is a great option because every dollar we give them can buy $10 worth of food through their sources. A small effort can be a great blessing to those in need this summer.

God’s covenant with us is renewed every day, and celebrated every time we come to receive Holy Communion. When we receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we are renewed in the covenant, strengthened in grace and holiness, and brought nearer to our God who longs for us. We who are so richly graced can do no less than extend the covenant to others, helping them too to know God’s love for them, feeding them physically and spiritually.

The Psalmist asks today, “How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me?” And the answer is given: by taking up the chalice of salvation, drinking of God’s grace, renewing the covenant, and passing it on to others. May the Body and Blood of Christ bring us all to everlasting life!

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today's readings

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After my first year in seminary, during the summer, I was sent to live for six weeks in Mexico in order to learn Spanish.  I wish that endeavor had been more successful, but I did in fact come away with some experiences that have changed my way of thinking and praying.  The most profound was my realization of how unified we are as Catholics in the Eucharist.  On the very first day I came to Mexico, which was a Sunday, the family I was staying with picked me up at the Spanish school, and before taking me to the house, we went to Sunday Mass at the local Cathedral.  In many ways, it was a “foreign” experience to me: the Church itself was around 500 years old, the oldest Church I’d ever been in.  The Liturgy, of course, was all in Spanish, a language I spoke very little of at the time, having only my high school Spanish to rely on.

But as foreign as the experience was, there was also something very familiar about it.  And if you’ve ever been to Mass in a foreign country, you may well have had the same experience that I did.  Even though I didn’t understand every word, there was still a comfort that I had because the Mass was the same both here and there.  I understood that I was in the Liturgy of the Word when we sat to hear the readings.  I knew that we were in the Eucharistic Prayer at the elevation of the host and cup.  I knew that “Cuerpo de Christo” meant “The Body of Christ” when I went forward to receive Holy Communion.  Even though I didn’t understand every single word, I still felt united with the other worshippers in that Cathedral, because we had all come to the Altar to receive the Body of Christ.

“Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”  That’s what St. Paul tells the Corinthians today, and we are meant to hear it as well.  We are called to unity with one another as we gather around the Altar to partake of the one Body of Christ.  This feast was celebrated on Thursday at the Vatican, and in his homily, Pope Benedict made note of this very important aspect of the Eucharist.  “We feel the truth and the power of the Christian revolution,” he says, “the most profound revolution in human history, which we may experience in the Eucharist where people of different ages, sexes, social conditions and political ideas come together in the presence of the Lord. The Eucharist can never be a private matter. … The Eucharist is public worship, which has nothing esoteric or exclusive about it. … We remain united, over and above our differences, … we [must be] open to one another in order to become a single thing in Him.”

We may try to express our unity in many ways in the Mass.  We might all sing the same songs.  We might all stand or sit together.  We might all join hands at the Lord’s Prayer.  Those are all okay things, but they are not what unites us.  They put us on a somewhat equal footing, but that can happen in all kinds of gatherings.  The one thing that unites us at this gathering, the experience we have here that we don’t have in any other situation, is the Eucharist.  The Eucharist unites us in the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, where all division must necessarily cease.  The Eucharist is the celebration of our unity par excellence.

Having said that, there are obvious ways in which we can notice that we are not, in fact, one.  The Eucharist which is the celebration of our unity can often remind us in a very stark and disheartening way, of the ways that we remain divided with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  The most obvious of these ways is the way that we Catholics remain divided with our Protestant brothers and sisters, and in fact, they with each other as well.  The proliferation of Christian denominations is something we can soft-petal as “different strokes for different folks,” but is in fact a rather sad lament that the Church that Jesus meant to be one is in fact fragmented in ways that it seems can only be overcome by a miracle.  In our Creed we profess a Church that is “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic.”  By “Catholic” here, we may indeed mean “universal” but that does not excuse us from our lack of unity.

Another thing that divides even us Catholics from one another is by sin.  Mortal sin separates us not only from God, not only from those we have wronged, but also from the Church and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  When we have sinned greatly, we are not permitted in good conscience to receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, because we cannot dare to pretend to be one with those we have separated ourselves from through mortal sin.

This lack of unity expresses itself when all of the guests and family members cannot receive the Eucharist at weddings and funerals.  We see it painfully when we must remain in our pew at Communion time until we have been to Confession.  The lack of unity that we find ourselves in is one that is deeply painful to us, and grievously painful to our Savior who came that we might all be one. 

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him,” Jesus says to us today.  When we remain in him, we also remain united to one another through Christ.  This is what God wants for his Church, so today we must recommit ourselves to unity, real unity.  So if you have not been to Confession in a while, make it a priority to do that in the next week or so so that you can be one with us at the Table of the Lord.  And at Communion today, we must all make it our prayer that the many things that divide us might soon melt away so that we can all become one in the real way the Jesus meant for us.

"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.
"

On this feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, we pray that every person may one day come to share in the flesh of our Savior, given for the life of the world, and we pray that his great desire might come to pass: that we may be one.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today's readings

During World War II, the officers of the Third Reich's secret service forcefully recruited many 12- and 13-year-old boys into the Junior Gestapo. The harshly treated boys were given only inhumane jobs that they were to perform without rest or complaint.

After the war ended, most had lost contact with their families and wandered aimlessly, without food or shelter. As part of an aid program to rebuild postwar Germany, many of these youths were housed in tent cities. There, doctors and nurses worked with them in an attempt to restore their physical, mental and emotional health.

Many of the boys would awaken several times during the night screaming in terror. One doctor had an idea for handling their fears. After serving the boys a hearty meal, he'd tuck them into bed with a piece of bread in their hands that they were told to save until morning. The boys began to sleep soundly after that because, after so many years of hunger and uncertainty as to their next meal, they finally had the assurance of food for the next day.

On the last day of my dad's life about a month ago, I gave him Holy Communion for what would be the last time. He was able to pray with us, and was so grateful to receive the Sacrament of Jesus' own body and blood. We call that last Communion Viaticum which in Latin means "bread for the journey." Like the former Junior Gestapo boys who slept soundly because they knew they had food for the next day, my dad was able to rest in Christ knowing that he would be able to eat at the heavenly banquet table.

On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are called to take comfort in the many ways God feeds us. We know that when we pray "give us this day our daily bread," we will receive all that we need and more, because our God loves us and cares for us. But to really trust in God's care can sometimes be a bit of a scary moment.

It was certainly scary for the disciples, who asked Jesus to "dismiss the crowds" so that they could go into the surrounding cities and get something to eat. They were afraid for the crowds because they had come to the desert, where there was nothing to eat or drink. They were afraid for the crowds because it would soon be dark and then it would be dangerous to travel into the surrounding cities to find refuge and sustenance. And, if they were to really admit it, they were afraid of the crowds, because all they had to offer them were five loaves of bread and two fish – hardly a meal for the Twelve, let alone five thousand.

loaves fishBut Jesus isn't having any of that. Fear is no match for God's mercy and care and providence, so instead of dismissing the crowds, he tells the disciples to gather the people in groups of about fifty. Then he takes the disciples meager offering, with every intent of supplying whatever it lacked. He blesses their offerings, transforming them from an impoverished snack to a rich, nourishing meal. He breaks the bread, enabling all those present to partake of it, and finally he gives that meal to the crowd, filling their hungering bodies and souls with all that they need and then some. Caught in a deserted place with darkness encroaching and practically nothing to offer in the way of food, Jesus overcomes every obstacle and feeds the crowd with abundance. It's no wonder they followed him to this out of the way place.

The disciples had to be amazed at this turn of events, and perhaps it was an occasion for them of coming to know Jesus and his ministry in a deeper way. They were fed not just physically by this meal, but they were fed in faith as well. In this miraculous meal, they came to know that their Jesus could be depended on to keep them from danger and to transform the bleakest of moments into the most joyous of all festivals. But even as their faith moved to a deeper level, the challenge of that faith was cranked up a notch as well. "You give them something to eat," Jesus said to them. Having been fed physically and spiritually by their Master, they were now charged with feeding others in the very same way.

Christ has come to supply every need. In Jesus, nothing is lacking and no one suffers want. All the Lord asks of the five thousand is what he also asks of us each Sunday: to gather as a sacred assembly, to unite in offering worship with Jesus who is our High Priest, to receive Holy Communion, and to go forth to share the remaining abundance of our feast with others who have yet to be fed. After the crowd had eaten the meal, that was the time for them to go out into the surrounding villages and farms – not to find something to eat, but to share with everyone they met the abundance that they had been given. So it is for us. After we are fed in the Eucharist, we must then necessarily go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord by sharing our own abundance with every person we meet.

You might do that by participating in a small faith community, sharing the Scriptures and our own living faith with your brothers and sisters. Maybe you would do that by becoming Eucharistic Ministers, and dedicating yourselves to the ministry of distributing the precious gift of the Lord's own Body and Blood each Sunday. But you could also do that by volunteering to serve a meal at Hesed House, or bringing food to Loaves and Fishes. Sharing our abundance of spiritual blessing doesn't have to be very elaborate. You might just bring a meal to a friend going through a hard time or visit a neighbor who is a shut-in. Jesus is the font of every blessing, and it is up to us to share that blessing with everyone in every way we can. We too must hear and answer those challenging words of Jesus: "You give them something to eat."

What we celebrate today is that our God is dependable and that we can rely on him for our needs. Just as he was dependable to feed the vast crowd in that horrible, out-of the-way place, so he too can reach out to us, no matter where we are on the journey, and feed us beyond our wildest imaginings. Just as the Junior Gestapo boys were able to rest easy as they clutched that bread for the next day, so we too can rest easy, depending on our God to give us all that we need to meet the challenges of tomorrow and beyond. The challenge to give others something to eat need not be frightening because we know that the source of the food is not our own limited offerings, but the great abundance of God himself. We need not fear any kind of hunger – our own or that of others – because it's ultimately not about us or what we can offer, but what God can do in and through us.

In our Eucharist today, the quiet time after Communion is our time to gather up the wicker baskets of our abundance, to reflect on what God has given us and done for us and done with us. We who receive the great meal of his own Body and Blood must be resolved to give from those wicker baskets in our day-to-day life, feeding all those people God has given us in our lives. We do all this in remembrance of Christ, proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes again.