Sunday, August 09, 2009

19th Sunday - homily

Is there any difference between Communion that is offered at a Catholic Mass and Communion that is offered at a Protestant service? I’ve heard many people, including Catholics, say no, there is no difference. A good friend of mine, Ken, would answer differently. Ken was a Protestant who came to RCIA when I was leading it in my last parish. On the first night when everyone introduced themselves to the group, Ken made it very clear that he had no intention of becoming Catholic. Married to a Catholic with two kids in a Catholic school, he said that he simply wanted to go deeper in his study of the Bible; he had studied the Bible extensively before RCIA.

So, RCIA began and was rolling along for Ken until we got to the teaching on Communion…the Holy Eucharist. I presented the teaching of the Church that is based on the Gospel we hear from today and these weeks: John 6. We especially focused on the words of our Lord, “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”, and how we take them literally. In other words, Jesus says that the Eucharist really is his flesh and blood and we believe him. Now, this was a problem for Ken. After reading John 6 with us, he realized that the Eucharist is not just something the Church came up with. This is straight from the lips of our Lord himself. We talked for a while after the next few RCIA meetings, particularly about the difference between the Eucharist in the Catholic Church and in Protestant denominations.

My basic point to him paralleled the one Christ makes to the Jews: the difference between the Protestant Eucharist and Catholic is the same difference between manna and the Bread of Life. The Protestant Eucharist is just bread in the same way that manna was just bread. It is natural food only. The Catholic Eucharist is the Bread of Life to which Jesus is referring in John 6. It is supernatural food. Ken and I focused very much on the stark difference that Christ presents: “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven…whoever eats this bread will live forever”. There is a huge difference between manna and the Bread of Life. There is a HUGE difference between the Protestant Eucharist (which is just bread) and the Catholic Eucharist (which is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ).

This was the turning point for Ken. In these talks, I could literally see the scales drop from his eyes. As I said, he was very much a student of the Bible. But, this was all news to him. And, it was good news! He realized that he had to receive the Catholic Eucharist, so he realized that he had to become Catholic. He struggled with some of the other teachings of the Church, but over the next several months…well, I straightened those out for him! It was an exceptionally beautiful and powerful process to witness for me and the others in RCIA. The climax was about two weeks before Easter which is when those in RCIA become Catholic. Ken was still struggling. He told the group in a very personal way how difficult it would be for him to become Catholic – mainly because he could never received Communion in his Protestant denomination again. It was very anguishing for him, something that made a huge impact on me and the others. He decided to come into the Church and is now one happy Catholic who received the Bread of Life weekly. He is very active in the parish and will be a solid teacher of the Catholic faith to so many.

Finally, the last line of today’s Gospel, verse 51, is so incredibly powerful. “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”. Our Lord is saying that the flesh and blood that we receive in Holy Communion is the same flesh and blood that was on the Cross. We can make this line an equation to show this. “The bread that I will give” means the Eucharist… “Is” can mean equals…”my flesh for the life of the world” means the flesh and blood that he shed on the Cross because it is on the Cross that Christ gives his flesh for the life of the world. So, the Eucharist = Christ’s flesh and blood on the Cross. Christ doesn’t die at every Mass; death has no more power over him. It is His risen Body and Blood that is re-presented to us at Mass through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Eucharist truly is the Bread of Life to which Christ is referring. ”Whoever eats this bread will live forever”.


At 8:45 PM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

Today’s first reading brought to my mind Mendelssohn’s Elijah, really a fantastic choral work: (Elijah begs the Lord to end his life, for he is no better than his fathers.) (Elijah is directed by the angels to lift his eyes to the mountain)

Not included in today’s reading, but a lead-up today’s reading about Elijah and a really cool baritone solo:

And less connected to today’s reading, but my favorite tenor aria is from Elijah:

If, with all your hearts ye truly seek me
Ye shall ever surely find me
Thus saith our God.

Oh! That I knew where I might find Him,
That I might even come before His presence!

If, with all your hearts ye truly seek me
Ye shall ever surely find me
Thus saith our God.

I hope that one of these days I’ll have another opportunity to sing this work. The music inspired by Scripture is awesome.

At 4:52 PM, Blogger fran said...

Attending mass out of town this past weekend, the priest gave a very interesting homily. I really liked it and thought it was a great way to present John's gospel passage.

He referenced a book published in the 60's - "The Medium is the Message." The author suggests that a medium affects society not only by the content delivered but by the characteristics of the medium itself.

He said that the Jews only saw Jesus as the medium - the one who could give them another meal. They could not see beyond this. The could not understand nor could they make the connection that not only was Jesus the medium, but he was also the message. That the medium and the message were/ are one in the same.

Regarding a post a few days back on healthcare...

After listening to the news, earlier today, on the healthcare proposal, I was struck by what one commentator had to say. He said that although there are many who do not like what they are hearing, and are now realizing what the proposal means in tems of their own healthcare, the President is able to present the topic in a compelling way.

Something that is presented in a compelling fashion does not necessarily make it right or good or what is best. Under that same healthcare post, a blogger asked, rhetorically, "How can abortion be considered health care for women?" I think this quote from C.S. Lewis's book, "The Screwtape Letters" says it best:

"The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue."

At 10:56 PM, Anonymous Ryan said...

I have a friend who is Episcopalian. He says that many Protestants, including himself, believe that the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Jesus. He is offended that he cannot receive the Eucharist at Mass when he visits with a friend or for a wedding, even though he says that he believes what we do (at least as to the Eucharist). He argues that Jesus, Himself, would not want the Catholic Church denying communion to others. I understand the Catholic teaching for the most part regarding being in "full" communion with the Catholic Church to receive the Eucharist at Mass, but I still struggle with a convincing answer for my friend. Any thoughts?

Ryan (from St. A's)

At 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never really understood why a Catholic should not receive communion in a church who does not claim it is the Real Presence, rather a symbol. It wouldn't vhange my belief (and respect) for what happens in the Catholic Mass. I understand why the opposite situation would not be permitted, a non-Catholic receiving the Real Presence without belief, but the previouis scenario doesn;t wuite make sense to me.

At 10:46 AM, Anonymous mindy said...

I won’t reference all the that has gone into the protection of abortion as a “fundamental constitutional right,” but I think we’d all agree there’s more than enough that has happened in our courts to bowl us over with that lie. Some private organizations that administer birth-control programs and provide abortions (i.e. Planned Parenthood) are tied to the government. Planned Parenthood receives ONE THIRD of its income from the Fed Gov. Abortion today has become thought of as American as free speech, freedom of religion, or any other practice protected by our courts.
Here’s a major difference- unlike other American rights, abortion cannot be discussed in plain English. Even its warmest supporters do not like to call it by its name. So they call abortion a "reproductive health procedure" or a "termination of pregnancy." Abortion clinics are "reproductive health clinics" or "women's clinics", and the right to obtain an abortion is "reproductive freedom."

Sometimes the word abortion is unavoidable, but then it is almost always followed by a line of nicer-sounding words: "the right of women to choose."

You know, in an op-ed piece in the NY Times, right after that gunman killed and wounded people at Mass. abortion clinics, a counselor at one of the clinics complained that the media called her workplace as an abortion clinic. She said she hated the term "abortion clinic” and preferred that her abortion clinic be called "a place of healing and care."

So why, in a decade when efforts have been so strong to keep abortion legal, is the word abortion so hard to say? No one hesitates to use the term in other contexts- “aborting a plane’s take off”, but they don’t like to say “aborting a fetus.” Instead they substitute softer and spongier expressions of the word. And why do abortion clinics get called "reproductive health clinics" when their main purpose is to STOP reproduction? Why the need for the obscure language?


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