The Real Presence

21st Sunday in O.T. (B); August 26, 2018

Jos 24:1-2a,15-17b,18b   Ps 34   Eph 5:21-32   Jn 6:60-69

Deacon Jim McFadden

 

Today, we come to the end of that extraordinary Eucharistic discourse, which has been our focus for the last several weeks. Jesus is speaking at the Capernaum synagogue and his speech is the most remarkable teaching of the Eucharist anywhere in the Bible.

Last Sunday Jesus laid out in unnerving, straight-forward fashion the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence. Now, when his audience balked at his words, Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (Jn 6:53). And, as was mentioned last time, the Greek word for “eat” was trogein, which means to “gnaw, to munch.” And, then seemingly to rub it in, he goes on to specify that “my flesh is real food and my blood is true drink” (v. 55). They wanted polite, safe symbolism and metaphor, and he gives them in your face realism. That’s where our passage ended last week and sets up our reading for today.

Today’s Gospel begins, “Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?” (vs. 61-62). Strong language, isn’t it? “Does this shock you?” Bear in mind, if Jesus was simply trading in symbolic or metaphorical speech, why would anyone be particularly disconcerted or shocked? I mean, who gets upset at a metaphor or find a saying hard? The disciples were balking; they were murmuring because they knew that Jesus was not trading in symbolic speech.

Now, we get a sense of what’s at stake here when we attend to the next words that come out of Jesus’ mouth: “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (v. 62). At first blush, that’s a strange come-back whether what he’s saying is metaphorical, symbolic, or real.   He says, “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” What sense does that make right here?

Remember, that the claim of John’s Gospel announced in the very beginning of his Prologue is that Jesus is the very Word of God become Flesh: “In the beginning was the Word, the Word with God, and the Word was God, ….and that Word became Flesh and dwelt among us” (vs. 1:1,14ab). Jesus is emphatically not one more in a long line of prophets, bearers of the word; rather, he is the very Word that the prophets bore. He’s not like one of the Patriarchs or heroes of the faith. Rather, he’s the one who called the patriarchs and to whom the heroes bore witness. That one, that Word came down from heaven and pitched his tent among us. This is precisely why a mystical relationship to him matters. If he were just another prophet, then he would have taught great truths and he may have engaged as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel often did in fine metaphorical speech. There’s nothing strange or hard-to-take about that. But, Jesus, precisely because he is the Word made Flesh is pressing towards something else. Something deeper and more strange.

He is the one who has come from the very inner life of God in order to invite us to share in that life. And, therefore, he is the vehicle by which we are inserted into the very life of God.

Now, listen to his words: “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” Do you see now the import of those words? The bread that he is going to give us is his very flesh or Self, which is the means by which we are mystically united to him in his heavenly reality.

You see, this is Christianity in a nutshell: we get across to the spiritual life of God precisely through the Flesh, through the Body of this Jesus. If he were just one more prophet, he’d be pointing to the spiritual reality of God. He’d be speaking a word about it. But, since he is the Word made Flesh, his Flesh becomes the vehicle by which we enter into the heavenly reality of the Word.

Now, his audience, the Jews of the 1st century Palestine, are perfectly at home with prophets, spokespersons, mystics. But, when a human being says that he is the vehicle by which people participate in the life of heaven, that’s very disconcerting stuff! What’s going to happen?

Listen to the Gospel: “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (v. 66). So, its gone up and down the Christian centuries. The teaching of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist has, indeed, been from this speech on a standing or falling point. People begin to fall away from him precisely when he announces this doctrine. A prophet using metaphor; a prophet bearing the word—no problem with that: who’s going to walk away over a metaphor? But, this language is so strange and so disturbing that many of them fall away.

But, did you notice that Jesus introduces this Eucharistic teaching at the end of his public ministry, not at the beginning. Why? As a teacher par excellence, Jesus was drawing people gradually into the deeper mysteries of the Faith, less they reject a teaching out of misunderstanding.   But, there are some teachings, such as the Eucharist, that are hard to fathom; they are out of the ordinary.

So, Jesus started his catechesis with something more accessible, such as the Sermon of the Mount and then he drew people gradually into the secret, mystical doctrines. Again, Jesus wasn’t trying to keep things from people, but he was trying to draw them in a disciplined way.   The disciples and apostles are ready to accept Jesus’ teaching that are so strange and radical. The question is do they trust Jesus? Do they believe in him. We can sense this tension in Jesus’ speech at Capernaum.   Listen now as he speaks to the Apostles: “Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” (v. 67). This is an extraordinary moment in the New Testament. Here are his most intimate disciples. The outer circle of disciples had wandered away, but now he turns to the Twelve, his intimate followers, and he asks, “Do you want to leave?” In other words, do you find this teaching of mine too much to take? He had been gradually drawing them into communion, hadn’t he? Think of the “come and see” moment in the beginning of John’s Gospel, when he told two of the disciples of John the Baptist to “come and see” and they stayed with him. Think of how he’s trained them through his moral and spiritual teachings. Think of how through signs and miracles he has taught them more and more who he is.

Finally, he comes to this sublime mystery of the Eucharist. He’s been intentionally and effectively drawing them into the mystery of who he is, which is the ground of the Eucharist. He has been keeping that secret from them until now. And, now that he’s revealed it, many have fallen away and he wonders if his inner circle, the Twelve, are going to fall away too.

We’ll close with Peter’s response which is so powerful and moving: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (v. 68). Peter has sensed the truth of it though probably he couldn’t articulate it very well at this time. Though he probably didn’t understand it, he sensed the truth of this. And, speaking for the Church, the Twelve, he says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” It’s about the Eucharist and the successor of Peter to this very day still speak that confession: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” We’ve sensed in this revelation the deepest truth. And that’s why this Eucharist teaching we’ve been looking at the last several weeks remains so central as to what it means to be a Catholic. It’s how we are drawn into the very life of Christ. AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Eucharist: The Way and the End

19th Sunday in O.T. (B); August 12, 2018

1 Kgs 19:4-8   Ps 34   Eph 4:30-5:2   Jn 6:41-51

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

Homer’s Odyssey…Herman Melville’s Moby Dick…Jack Kerouac’s On The Road—all have something in common: as the main characters make their way through their respective narrative, they point to the journey of life and remind us that we are on a journey.

            In our first reading from the 1st Book of Kings, we hear about Elijah’s life journey. At the high point of his life, he faces down the prophets of Ba’al, the pagan god. Elijah is on the top of Mount Carmel with 400 pagan prophets and challenges them to a prophetic duel: he says, let’s prepare a sacrifice; you call upon your god and I’ll call upon mine and we’ll see who responds. It’s a great confrontation; a real test. You can just imagine how contemporary publicists would promote this duel!

The priests of Ba’al really get into it: they pray, dance themselves into a frenzy as they call upon their god. Nothing happens. Elijah taunts them: “So, maybe they’re taking a nap; maybe he’s deaf. Keep calling him.” So, they work themselves into a frenzy: they call and call, slash themselves with swords and spears until they are a bloody mess; of course, nothing happens.

Elijah calls upon Yahweh just once, who brings down fire to consume the sacrifice, proving that there’s only one true God, Yahweh. With that, Elijah has the astounded crowd take the 400 prophets to the brook Krishon, where he slits their throats. Talk about winner take all!

Well, Queen Jezebel is not a happy camper having 400 of her prophets humiliated and slaughtered; so, she had to do something. Jezebel is married to King Ahab, who is a follower of the god Ba’al. If Ba’al is discredited, they will be as well; so she sends her secret police and troops after Elijah, who is now on the run. He is fleeing for his life and if they catch him, they will murder him.

Our first reading opens to this part of Elijah’s journey: Elijah “went a day’s journey into the desert until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kgs 19:4). His life, which had just come to a high point with the confrontation of the prophets, is now bottomed out: he’s discouraged and saddened, and so depressed, he wants God to take his life—he wants to die. He is tired of running

The prophet’s prayer for death is not heard. His mission has not yet been completed. Then an angel of the Lord, a messenger from God, comes to him twice, offering him food and drink:

But then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat. He looks up and there at his head is a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he eats and drinks, he lays down again, but the angel of the Lord comes back a second time, touches him, and orders, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” (vs. 5b-7). It’s not uncommon for God to reveal something in a dream or that people are roused from sleep in order to accept a mission from God.

So, the angel of the Lord directs him to Mount Horeb, (which is another name for Mt. Sinai, the holy mountain). In the strength of the mysterious food and drink, Elijah walks forty days, which is a very significant number, which signifies completeness. Elijah is able to walk forty days in the wilderness just on the strength of that miraculous food, which sustains him.   He travels to the mountain to receive a revelation just as his ancestor Moses did. So, we have a story that begins with desperation and ends with the prophet once again actively involved in the affairs of God.

When Elijah wants to give up, he is given food and drink.   He receives the power to move forward and he receives a renewed sense of direction and reaches his destination, God’s holy mountain.

People of God, we’re not being pursued by the agents of Jezebel, but can’t we identify with the prophet Elijah? I think most of us can. Many of us, especially those who have lived a while, reach this point: “Life is really hard. I don’t have any energy; the enthusiasm for life is not there anymore. Its all I can do to get through the day. Life has beaten me up. There’s only so many psychological blows I can handle. On top of that I have lost my sense of direction or purpose.” A lot of us become like Elijah the prophet.

When we hit bottom like this, what do we need? The same thing Elijah did: sustenance for the journey and a renewed sense of direction and purpose. Today’s gospel, mirroring the Elijah story, tells us clearly where we can find it: in Jesus, who said, “I am the living bread…anyone who eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:51). Notice two things: Jesus, the living bread, is both the means and the end. He’s both sustenance for the journey and he is the destination. Church, the Eucharist is this reality: it is both the means and the end of our journey.

Notice something peculiar: Jesus refers to himself as “living bread.” Now bread is many things: it’s fresh, savory, and pleasant to smell and taste, but, it’s not alive. If you went to a super-market and asked where you can find the “living bread section,” they’d look at you oddly. When you eat bread, it becomes absorbed into your body becoming muscle and bone; in a way, you could say it has become “living bread” as it has become assimilated into you.

But here, it works the other way: as we celebrate the Holy Mass, we enter into the dynamic energy of God when we offer ourselves as gift symbolized by the bread and wine. In return we receive the self-gifting, the Real Presence of Christ. When we consume the Eucharist, we don’t make bread become alive; rather, that consecrated, heavenly bread makes us become alive because it assimilates us to it! When we consume the Eucharist, we are made into the Body of Christ. When we receive Holy Communion, we are receiving the Body, the Blood, the soul, and the divinity of Christ. When that happens, we are drawn into his being, into his life. We now have the means to see as Jesus sees and to live a life similar to his: to value all we do as serving the Father.

Brothers and sisters, the Eucharist is also the end: we have a taste of heaven on earth, because we enter into the mystery of God. Through the Eucharist, we experience heaven in space and time. We experience a oneness with God, each other, and all of Creation. We experience a fullness of self, because we are one with God—which is what our heart desires now and forever!

So, if you want to have sustenance and courage for the journey, make the Eucharist, the living bread, the very center of your life. If you want the joy and satisfaction of a life fully imbued with God, receive Jesus’ gift of living bread.

Amen.

           

 

 

 

Jesus: the Giver and the Gift

The Bread that Satisfies

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time; August 5, 2018

Ex 16:2-4,12-15 Ps 78     Eph 4:17,20-24    Jn 6:24-35

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

            This Sunday we continue our reflection of Chapter Six of the Gospel according to John. After the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the people went in search of Jesus. The crowd seems to be following Jesus from one side of the lake to the other; wherever he is, they are there as well. As we reflected last Sunday, the presence of the crowd symbolizes our deep desire for wanting genuine Life—one of purpose, meaning, and joy.

In the initial stage of encounter with Jesus, our Lord was well aware of the motive of their great enthusiasm in seeking him and he made clear their intention. They were following him because they have seen him do a miracle and they wanted more bread: “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled” (Jn 6:26). Similarly, we can oftentimes come to church to feel good, to get our healing, and to get our needs met. The worst form of this attitude is the Prosperity Gospel in which Faith becomes an avenue to material enhancement.

Such an attitude runs counter to John’s Gospel, which is directed against a me-centered religion, which is really one of cheap grace. Well run parishes and homilies that are easy to listen to may appeal to us at first, but they do not satisfy our deep spiritual hunger. Jesus knew that people wanted a quick fix and easy answers instead of entering into the mystery with heart and soul open to receiving the new life that discipleship would bring.

When the crowd witnessed the multiplication of the loaves, they did not comprehend that the bread, before it was distributed, was first broken for so many. In other words, the breaking of the bread or the fracturing rite during Mass, is the expression of the love of Jesus himself for us! Before He can give Himself to us, He has to be broken, to be poured forth, so that we can receive the bread that really satisfies. All the crowd saw was the gift of the bread and they lost sight of the donor. Before this spiritual blindness, Jesus challenges them of going beyond the gift, to discover, come to know the donor. God himself is both the gift and the giver. Thus from that bread, from that gesture, the people can find the One who gives it, who is God in the Flesh. So, Jesus challenges them and us: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger,

and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (v. 35). Jesus challenges us to move beyond having our needs met, being taken care of, or being healed. Jesus tells us that “the bread of God…gives LIFE to the world”. And, to fully receive the Bread of Life, we must do what Jesus faithfully does: to do the will of the Father—to see with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to trust the Father, and to live in the Holy Spirit.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus is inviting us to open up our perspective on life, which goes beyond having our daily needs met: what we’re going to eat, where we’re going to live, what we’re going to wear, how we’re going to attain success, to build a career. To be sure, these are important and they must be attended to. But, they’re not ultimate because we hunger for another “food.”

Jesus speaks of a food that is incorruptible, that is not transitory, or ephemeral. This is the food which should be our Number One focus—we should seek it, gather it, and be willing to “sell” everything we have in order to obtain it. Jesus exhorts us: “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (v. 27). That is to say, seek salvation, the encounter with God that endures for eternity.

With these words, Jesus seeks to make us understand that in addition to our physical hunger and psychological yearnings, we have another hunger that goes to the very core of our being, which can’t be satisfied with ordinary food. It is a hunger for Life, a hunger for eternity which the goods of the world can’t satisfy because they are short-term, exclusive, scarce, and ephemeral. Jesus alone can satisfy this fundamental, primordial hunger because he is “the bread of life” (v. 35). Notice that Jesus does not eliminate the concern and search for daily food. No, he does not remove the concern for all that can make life more humane and enjoyable.   Jesus is not trying to make our lives difficult, but he is striving to address our most basic desire. Being made in the image of God, which is the source of our human dignity, we are hard-wired to be in intimate communion with God, Who is Three in One; that is, we are made in the image of a communion God who’s very nature is Love. That means that God is all about the giving and receiving of Life and we are most human when we do the same.

What Jesus is reminding us is to integrate our unique story with our ultimate purpose and end, which is to participate in eternal Life. That end is only realized in our encounter with Jesus because He is the sole and universal Savior of the world.

Jesus reminds us that in our relationship with Him, nothing is lost—that human history with its suffering, trials, and joys must be seen from the perspective of the horizon of eternity and that horizon is the definitive encounter with Jesus. And, this encounter which is most perfectly realized in the Eucharist, illuminates every single day of our human existence. If we think of this intimate encounter with Jesus, of this great gift of the Bread of Life, then all the small gifts of life, even the suffering, even the worries will be illuminated by the hope and engagement with our Lord. Nothing will be lost, everything can be integrated because (again) “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst” (v. 35).

This, of course, refers to the Eucharist, the greatest gift that satisfies the soul and the body. Meeting Jesus, welcoming Him within our lives, within our families, within our parish, within our place of work, gives hope and meaning to our journey that is often winding and full of surprises.

This Bread of Life is given to us with a challenge: as members of His mystical Body, the Church, we in turn satisfy the spiritual and material hunger of our brothers and sisters throughout the world because we are members of the Catholic, that is, universal Church. As brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus, we give witness to our brotherly solidarity with our neighbor, we render Christ and his love present amid humankind.

People of God, Jesus is the radical measure of what it means to be a human being. As Yahweh is enfleshed in Jesus (the Incarnation), we are raised to a unique relationship with Christ through the reception of the Eucharist. The meaning of human life is incredibly transformed by our capacity to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Such a reception does not mean that we are morally superior to other Christians, but it does mean that there is an intimate bond between Jesus and those who receive him in the consecrated bread and wine. We become what we eat. We become more fully the Body of Christ, the Church. And, as we receive the Bread of Life, we become the Bread of Life to the world. Amen.