By Deacon Don Griffith
Our Lord’s words are difficult for the Jews to hear because it goes against what is known to them–“Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Our Lord continues to challenge those who follow Him, even some who claim to be Catholic when we hear Him say “this is My body” and it still looks like bread. But this is faith. Yet, faith and reason are not opposed, so I’ll try to provide some reasons to help fortify the faith we profess.
In the book Faith of Our Fathers, Cardinal Gibbons wrote that there are three categories of scripture that talk about the Eucharist in the New Testament- they are the promise, the Institution, and the use among the faithful. The Bread of Life discourse that we have been hearing belongs to the category of the promise. When our Savior says to the Jews “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die,” He wishes to affirm the superiority of the food which He would give over the manna with which the children of Israel were nourished. If the Eucharist were merely commemorative bread and wine, then instead of being superior it would really be inferior for manna is supernatural heavenly miraculous food, while bread and wine are a natural earthly food. St. John Chrysostom says that our Lord also mentions specifically in the desert because the manna only lasted for a short while, until the children of Israel reached the land of promise. This bread that the Lord gives us- His body blood soul and Divinity- entrusted to His holy church, and is provided to us each day from her altars stays with us for the entire pilgrim journey of His Church even until the end of the age. We cannot separate the promise from the institution from its usage, just like we cannot read the books of the holy bible isolated and disconnected from the other parts of the holy bible and isolated and disconnected from the Church which has the promise of the Holy Spirit to authentically interpret God’s word.
Suppose we hear just take Jesus’s words for what they are, He said do this in memory of me. The Holy Catholic Church does take Jesus’s words for what they are: she’s the one who guards what has been entrusted to her; she’s the one who believes the bread and wine become truly his body, blood, soul, and divinity; she’s the one who understands that when He said do this in memory of Me, He said it to the apostles whom He had ordained and that by an unbroken chain of Apostolic succession down to Christ’s holy priest in our midst here this day, it is His priests who allow Christ to use their hands to call down the Holy Spirit and to take the bread and break it; and it is His priests who allow Christ to use their voice to speak His words so that these offerings may become for us the body, blood, soul, and divinity that we may have life eternal and a pledge even now of Union with God to which all are drawn.
When we pray, when we read the Bible, a longing wells up in our hearts. Just as a husband and wife who love each other and happen to have some geographical distance between them, they may write, or call, or facetime, or use whatever app they are using in our day, a longing for the other wells up within their heart. This longing cannot be satisfied by a phone call, or an app- it craves a oneness, a union. Venerable Fulton Sheen writes that if human love craves this oneness, should not divine love? If husband and wife seek to be one in the flesh, Should not the Christian and Christ crave for that oneness with one another. The memory of the Christ who lived 20 centuries ago, the recalling of his mercy and miracles through memory, the correspondence with him by reading the scriptures all these are satisfying but they do not satisfy love. Every heart seeks a happiness outside it and since perfect love is God then the heart of man and the heart of Christ must in some way fuse. This aspiration of the Soul is fulfilled in the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is no coincidence that in those Eucharistic miracles in which our Lord has lifted the veil, so to speak, and has allowed us to see reality with our physical eyes, that it is the living tissue of a human heart.
By Deacon John Hackett
From our gospel today, we heard: “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.” Well, lets see what we can make of all that today…
Several years back Brenda Peterson, a nature writer wrote a book of essays entitled, Nature and Other Mothers. Her first entry was wonderfully named, In Praise of Skin. In it, she tells how at one point in her life she was afflicted by painful skin rashes. Like the woman with the hemorrhage in the gospels, she tried every possible doctor but found no cure. Medication after medication proved ineffective, and eventually the doctors ran out of things to do. The rash would always come back.
One day her grandmother assessed her situation and pronounced a more ancient and accurate diagnosis: “Skin needs to be touched!” she said. Her grandmother then began to give her regular skin massages and these did what the more sophisticated medicines just couldn’t do. They cured her.
Now…I’m sidin’ with Peterson’s grandmother: Skin needs to be touched!
Of course God knows that better than anyone. It’s why Jesus gave us the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, skin gets touched. The Eucharist isn’t abstract, a theological instruction, a creed, a moral precept, a philosophy….or even just an intimate word. It’s bodily, an embrace, a kiss, something shockingly physical.
Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, (one of my favorite authors) is a prolific author and his books are popular throughout the English-speaking world One of his most famous books: The Holy Longing won The USA Catholic Press Book award for 2000, for the best hardcover book in spirituality. In reference to this book Sister Helen Prejean, Author of Dead Man Walking (which some of you may have read) makes this statement about his book … At last a dynamic understanding of how the paschal mystery plays in our own lives. Well, at any rate, here is what Fr. Rolheiser has to say about the physical presence in the Eucharist.
For whatever reasons we tend to shy away from admitting how radically physical the Eucharist actually is. St. Paul didn’t share that fear. For him, the physical communion that takes place in the Eucharist, between us and Christ (as well as among ourselves), is as real and radical as sexual union. For instance, Paul (in 1st Corinthians, chapter 6) argues against sex outside of marriage by saying that our union with Christ and each other in the Body of Christ is so intimate and real that, in effect, we would prostitute that Body if we had illicit sex. Pretty strong words wouldn’t you say! But they’re predicated on a very earthy conception of the Eucharist. And you see, the early church followed Paul on this. They understood the Eucharist as so real, so physical, and so intimate, that they surrounded it with the taboos of privacy, reverence, and reticence that we reserve for sexual intimacy.
Of course, we tend to shy away from that kind of talk. Partly that’s understandable. It’s hard to be comfortable religiously with how Christianity understands the physical and the bodily. As you may know, Pope John Paul II took a real look at that in his “Theology of the Body” You see, Christianity is the most earthy of all religions. It doesn’t call you out of the physical, out of the body, or out of the world. Rather Christ enters the physical, becomes one with it, blesses it, redeems it, and tells us that there is no reason to escape from it.
But again, even though it is entirely scriptural, something about that just goes against the grain. Christ’s relationship to the physical scandalized his contemporaries (“This is intolerable language!” is what the crowds said when Jesus spoke of the physical character of the Eucharist in John’s Gospel…remember that thing he said…you have to eat my flesh)….it’s still a bit hard for us to accept today. But it’s also a wonderful part of Christianity. In the Eucharist, our skin gets touched.
And, given all our tensions, we need that touch frequently …even daily. The late American essayist and novelist, Andre Dubus, once wrote a wonderful little piece as to why he went to Eucharist regularly, despite the critical circles he moved in:
He writes: “This morning I received the sacrament I still believe in… at seven-fifteen the priest elevated the host, then the chalice, and spoke the words of the ritual, and the bread became flesh, the wine became blood, and minutes later I placed on my tongue the taste of forgiveness and of love that affirmed, perhaps celebrated, my being alive, my being mortal. This has nothing to do with immortality, with eternity; I love the earth too much to contemplate a life apart from it, although I believe in that life. No, this has to do with mortality and the touch of flesh, and my belief in the sacrament of the Eucharist is simple. Without touch, God is a monologue, an idea, a philosophy; he must touch and be touched, the tongue on flesh, and that touch is the result of the monologues, the idea, the philosophies which led to faith; but in the instant of the touch there is no place for thinking, for talking…the silent touch affirms all that, and goes deeper: it affirms the mysteries of love and mortality.” End of quote.
In ending…skin heals when touched. It’s why Jesus gave us the Eucharist.!
Spirit of Cooperation
By Deacon Mike Jacobs
19th Sunday “B”; Jn 6:41-51; 1Kg 19:4-8; Eph 4:30-5:2
Two verses have been going through my mind all week. “Today listen to the voice of the Lord, harden not your heart” and “speak Lord your servant is listening. “ Today we hear the Lord speak to us through the Gospel, “They shall all be taught by God. Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me”. Did you hear these words and do you believe and understand your Father in heaven. We go to school to get knowledge and when we enter the world to work we come to understanding and when we come here and listen and are feed, we get wisdom, we encounter the living God.
Wisdom is the gift that gives appreciation for spiritual, divine things. It is nourished by the Eucharist. But one part of the Eucharistic celebration proclaims in a special way the value of what is created and human. And surprisingly this, too, is wisdom. To see the ability of the human to be made divine is to appreciate the divine value of what is human.
The basic principle for understanding Jesus is “fully human, fully divine.” And this gives us the basic rule for understanding the Church, our own reality as people who share in the life of God by grace, and for evaluating Christian behavior. In everything we see or say about ourselves or the church and in every judgment we make about the way we should act as Christians, we must be careful to fully accept and fully respect what is human in us and what is divine.
The prayer during the preparation of the gifts of bread and wine (Offertory) during Mass expresses strikingly our belief in the value of all that is created, of everything human; “God of all creation… this bread… which earth has given and human hands have made… this wine, fruit of the vine and work of human hands…” We believe that these created things, produced by human labor, can actually become for us “spiritual drink” and “bread of [divine] life”, and that we can “share in the divinity of Christ” who took flesh to “share in our humanity.”
Jesus’ own people could not believe that someone so human could be divine: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven’? “ The sinfulness of the clergy and hierarchy in the sixteenth century led many Christians to take the protesting (or “protestant”) stance that God could not endow flawed human beings with the divine power we associate with priestly ministry or the teaching authority of the pope and bishops. The protestant rejection of the Church was actually a rejection of human nature’s capacity to be the instrument of divine action by grace. Whatever affirmed the value of human being as real cooperators with God in the work of redemption was looked on with suspicion. The first victim was the Church herself, and then the sacraments (especially Eucharist and Reconciliation) and veneration of human saints, especially Mary, the human mother of God.
All of us get discouraged at times with human nature in general and our own in particular. We feel like Elijah: “It is enough; now. O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” But to give in to this discouragement would be to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” Saint Paul urges us to believe that we can “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us.”
We do not just believe this; we express our belief by an action, a choice, which would not make sense without. Believing the Baptism has made us truly one with Jesus who “handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God,” we offer ourselves to God together with him to be used to give divine life to others. In Christ and with Christ we “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God,” our “flesh for the life of the world.” We commit ourselves to giving flesh to his words in life-giving acts of witness.
This is the Catholic “altar call”. At the Presentation of Gifts we place bread and wine on the altar as symbols of ourselves. During the reading we offered our minds to be transformed by God’s word. Now, as we offer the bread and wine to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, we offer ourselves to be so transformed into the perfect likeness of Christ, whose body we become at Baptism, that everything we say and do will bear witness to the Gospel. To appreciate in faith the value of the offering is to experience the gift of wisdom.
Lord, as many grains of wheat are ground together, mixed with water and baked with fire to become one bread, we ask you to form your Church by the water of Baptism and the fire of the Holy Spirit, that we might give life to the world. Almighty and ever-living God, your Spirit made us your children, confident to call you Father. Increase your Spirit within us and bring us to our promised inheritance. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. One goes, forever and ever. AMEN