From the Priest

Fr. Stephen’s homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time:

The challenge that compilers of the daily and Sunday Mass readings face is how to keep the texts digestible in size for us, whilst not ignoring the wider context in which the passages are set. The account of the Feeding of the Five thousand is Scene I of John chapter 6 –in which Jesus introduces us to the Eucharist; the Eucharist which he will institute at the Last Supper.

The narrative today builds from the starting point in the First Reading, where Elisha works a miracle in which 20 barley loaves are multiplied so that they feed 100 people, and there was more than enough. Then comes the Gospel in which Jesus multiplies far fewer loaves and provides a picnic for 5000 people. But in verses which come later in John 6 Jesus speaks in eucharistic terms of ‘the food that endures to eternal life’. He speaks of himself as the ‘Bread of Life’, the ‘Living Bread which comes down from heaven’ of which if anyone eats he will live for ever; and he says that ‘the Bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh’.

How hard these sayings must have been for his listeners. They understood that Moses had worked the miracle of manna in the desert, which kept the Israelites alive in the wilderness for 40 years. But here is the Lord is telling them that those who eat his flesh and blood will live for ever. The crowd can only think that he is speaking of cannibalism – a most dreadful sin to the Chosen race.

We in our day have the benefit of hindsight for we know what followed on. We know that on that night at the Last Supper the Lord instituted his permanent presence within the church after his death in a unique way. He raised and blessed the bread and said: ‘This is my body’, and he raised and blessed the wine and said: ‘This is my blood’.

The Council of Trent which defined so much of our doctrine in 1545 at a defining moment of the Counter Reformation  said: ‘In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ, is truly, really and substantially contained.’ 

As our Catechism says, quoting Pope Paul: ‘This presence is called ‘real’ –  by which it is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense; that is to say it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.’ Knowing this, everything that puzzled the Jews falls into place. 

Of course we must consume his flesh and blood: for it is the ‘bread of angels’, bread from heaven, medicine of immortality, food for the journey’. When we consume the gift of his Eucharist, we receive the Lord himself.

The Second Reading speaks of the unity of Christians and, at first sight, seems a little out of place in a Eucharistic discourse. Not at all. The Church is the community for whom there is ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, through all, and within all.’ She is the liturgical and eucharistic assembly which draws her life from the Word of God and the Body of Christ, and so herself becomes Christ’s Body, which the Creed defines as ‘One, holy, catholic and apostolic’.

 

We work at our Christian duties and responsibilities. Sometimes we find it hard work. Hard to say our prayers; hard to keep up the routine; hard to come to Mass. At such times we must call to mind St. Augustine’s words: ‘If we receive the eucharist worthily, we become what we receive.’

When we have welcomed Christ into our souls at Mass, we must allow him to take over our lives. He, with the Holy Spirit, prays within us; he infuses us with his life, with his divinity, with his holiness.

We have only to co-operate; to let go, to let God.

I’m learning to let go and let God
Show me how to be me
I’m learning to let go and let God
Show me how to be free
Your yolk is easy
Your burden is light
My daily bread and my daily delight
I’m learning to let go and let God
So I can be the real me

(Jack Cassidy lyric). Christian singer and songwriter