21st Sunday, Ordinary - Homily
Imagine that you’re on a hillside 2000 years ago with thousands of people, listening to Jesus. You have been following him every day. You’ve seen his miracles, witnessed his healings, and heard his teachings. His words have moved your heart and mind like no else’s. You’ve seen the crowds that follow him grow larger every day. There is a great buzz in the crowd…people are wondering, ‘is this the Messiah? Is this the One whom God has promised to send to us?’
On the hillside, Jesus is introducing a new teaching. He is talking about bread…and referring to himself. “I am the bread of life…I am the bread that comes down from heaven”. Now, it is a large crowd, and it takes a while for everyone to hear what he says; they didn’t have the sound systems like we have today. By the time everyone hears what he has been saying, some people start to question Jesus. ‘Bread from heaven? You are the son of a carpenter!’ Jesus hears this, and continues, becoming even more emphatic. “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world…whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life….my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink”.
Now, when the people around you hear this, they become angry. They take Jesus’ words literally, and don’t buy it… so they left him. They had been following him every day, but now they are walking away from him and returning to “their former way of life”. Jesus didn’t stop them. He doesn’t say, ‘wait, you all misunderstood me. I wasn’t speaking literally; I was speaking symbolically’. He does that elsewhere in Scripture: when he says to Nicodemus about being “born again”, Nicodemus asks if he needs to reenter his mother’s womb. Christ says that he is not speaking literally, but that one must be born of “water and the Spirit”. But, he doesn’t do that here. He IS speaking literally.
You look down at the closest friends of Jesus, the Apostles, and move down the hill closer to them. Jesus says to them, “do you also want to leave?” You look over at Peter, who appears to have a very dazed and confused look (like ‘Lord, I have no idea what you’re talking about…no clue’) but says, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. When you hear Peter say these words, you think to yourself, ‘has Jesus just been speaking the words of eternal life? Is this a message from Heaven? Is this new teaching from the Father? Do I believe what I am hearing?’
The Jews and all those on the hillside were right about two things in the Bread of Life discourse (John 6). They were right 1) to take Jesus literally and 2) that this is a hard teaching. This is a hard teaching. I don’t understand how bread and wine becomes Christ’s Body and Blood…no clue! But, I believe that it happens because Jesus says so. The Church has taken this teaching literally for 2000 years….“this is my body” means “this is my body”.
Some in our family or among our friends have left the Catholic Church and gone to other Christian churches, thinking it's the same Eucharist wherever. It's not! Only in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches do we have the Eucharist. "To whom shall we go, Lord?" Also, many of our family members have stopped coming to Church altogether. When I run into them on occasion, I ask them, "how can you live without the Eucharist?" Just like our bodies need bread in order to live, so our souls need the bread of Life in order to have life.
I think the reason that most Catholics don't believe this teaching is because they really don't know it. We don’t hear much about this teaching in homilies; maybe a couple of times a year. It’s like a great secret or something in our Church. Some priests don’t show great faith in the Real Presence, at least by their outward gestures during Mass. Some priests show great faith in the Eucharist and that helps us to believe.
One priest who lived in Italy around 700 A.D. really struggled with this teaching. He prayed that the Lord would help him in his lack of belief. So, Jesus worked a miracle in the Eucharist for him, his parishioners, and the Church. One day at Mass, during the Consecration, as the priest elevated the Host, the Host began to bleed. Drops of red liquid began to fall from the Host. The priest preserved the Host and gave it to the Church. The Church preserved it and tested it scientifically. When the results of these tests came back, the red liquid was determined to be human blood. Jesus has worked several miracles of the Eucharist in the past 1300 years to help us to believe in the Eucharist. To help us believe that it is really Him under the signs of bread and wine.
So, we come to this Mass to say, “thank you, Jesus” for this awesome gift! He gave his life for us on the Cross, and continues to give us his life in the Eucharist. We thank him for his life and his love, the great love he has for each and every one of us. Thank you, Jesus!!