18th Sunday - homily
“Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life”. This teaching from our Lord reminds me of a friend of mine. When I met her a few years ago, she basically admitted that her life was all about food that perishes, it was all about this world. She was living a secular lifestyle and pursuing a secular career. It wasn’t all bad, but she wasn’t happy. At the same time, she wanted to go deeper in her Catholic faith. It was so cool to see her go deeper during those weeks and months and begin to work for food that endures for eternal life. It didn’t surprise me, then, when she called me sometime later to let me know that she was entering religious life as a sister. Very cool stuff! It is so amazing to see young people go deeper in their faith, be open to God’s Call, and then follow it. Now, we don’t need to enter religious life to live out this teaching of Christ’s, but my friend is a great example to us. We should all look at our lives and see if they are just about this world only or if they point to something else: eternal life.
“Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life”. The reaction of the crowd to this teaching might have been our reaction: “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” We would probably have been focused on we need to do, how to get involved. It is important for us to get involved – in the Church, in our family, in our community, in our country. It is important for us to get involved, for example, in the current health care debate. We should contact our representatives in congress and the senate and ask them what the Bishops’ Conference has asked: keep health care “abortion neutral”, please. Right now, it’s not. This is part of what it means to work for food that endures for eternal life.
But, Jesus tells the crowd and us, first things first: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” It all starts with faith. It’s all about faith in Christ. This is what it means to do the work of God: to believe in Jesus. Now, I would guess that many of us here would say, ‘Lord, we already believe in you. What do we do next?’ But, there is one thing that we Catholics have a hard time believing in: the Eucharist. A study from years ago found that 70% of Catholics do not believe in the Eucharist. 70% believe that it is only a symbol of the Body and Blood of Christ. Personally, I believe that most if not all of them haven’t really heard the teaching from John 6 which we are hearing these Sundays and from the Church. That might be a fault of the Church not preaching it clearly and consistently.
It is a hard teaching. It takes a lot of faith to believe that a change happens in the bread and wine at Mass even though our senses don’t pick up a change. It still looks like bread and wine. It still tastes like bread and wine. Why do we believe in the Eucharist? Because of four words: “This is my body”. Jesus didn’t say, “This represents my body” or “This symbolizes my blood”. He said, “This is my body”. The Apostles believed Him, the early Church believed Him, and we believe Him. It really is Him! It’s an amazing thing that will happen here in a few minutes – Jesus will become present on the altar through the words I will say and we will receive Him in Holy Communion. What a gift!
Again, it takes a lot of faith in Christ to believe in the Eucharist. This is what our Lord is asking of us. It is no coincidence that his line about believing in Him is in the middle of his teaching of the Eucharist. We are hearing these weeks from John 6, the Bread of Life discourse. He is laying out the teaching and the crowds are having a hard time believing Him. He is saying to them and to us: believe in me and what I am teaching you here. In a couple of weeks, we will hear Him get much more specific and emphatic: “my flesh is real food…my blood is real drink”. It is certainly not a discourse that can be taken symbolically.
Back to my friend: at the heart of her story is the Eucharist. Her faith took off because she went to the Eucharist more. She focused on the Eucharist at Mass, began attending daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. It really is like the parable of the mustard seed for her or any of us whose faith grows because of the Eucharist: at first, it’s small but then grows and grows and grows into something very big. The Eucharist is the center of it all for us Catholics. It is the center of our faith in Christ. It is the center of our lives. If any of us is struggling in our faith, we should go to the Eucharist. It really is the best way for us to live out this challenge from our Lord. It is the best way for us to work for food that endures for eternal life. It is the best way for us to believe in the one God sent.