Every three years, when we are consistently reading the short Gospel of St. Mark, during these hot days of late summer, we read the entire 6th Chapter of St. John’s Gospel – Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse – over 5 consecutive weeks.
Without this interlude, we would simply run out of readings from Mark’s Gospel before we got to the end of the liturgical year.
So this is the third week of Jesus’ five-week course on the mystery of his Body and Blood we receive in the Eucharist.
It all started with a young boy who offered his gifts of two fish and five loaves which Jesus took, blessed, and distributed – feeding five thousand people.
The crowds could not feed themselves. The disciples could not feed the crowd. Only the power of God was sufficient to meet the needs of the people.
That was true then – and it is true now – as we heard Jesus last week proclaim himself as the bread of life. He said whoever comes to Him will never hunger, whoever believes in Him will never thirst. Only the power of God is sufficient to meet the needs of the people.
At our deepest core is a spiritual hunger for God – a yearning that cannot be satisfied by perishable food, by entertainment, by things that we buy – or anything else that might enslave us. As St. Augustine once said: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.”
We will always be unsatisfied, we will always lack peace – when we continue to seek our fulfillment in earthly things and worldly pursuits. We must go to God to be fed, and out of God’s goodness we are fed by the Body and Blood of Christ: only the power of God is sufficient to meet the needs of the people.
Let’s focus on three things that came to me as I read today’s Gospel. . .
First, Jesus teaches us that no one can come to him “unless the Father who sent me draw them.” WE Catholics, week after week, year after year – come to the altar to be fed by Jesus --- not just because we think it is a great idea – but because we have been drawn here by God.
We are right here, right now – because God is working in our lives to make us holy.
God has drawn us here. We love God because God has first loved us – we have been drawn to God because God has drawn near to us.
We have come to be fed because God has placed in us the desire for heaven.
Second, Jesus teaches that the Eucharist leads us to eternal life. “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”
Eternal life – that’s what this is all about. The Church is not a social club, we don’t come to impress our neighbors or improve our social network or to make business connections. We aren’t here because of the promise of financial success.
No we are right here, right now – week after week – year after year – because we believe it is here that our fallen, sinful selves are redeemed and sanctified and made worthy of heaven.
It is here, in this place that we are drawn into a deep and abiding relationship with God, in communion with God ---- that will last for all eternity.
Eternal life cannot be purchased at Ikea, obtained at the ballpark, or discovered on a hike. It can only be obtained by eating the Body of Christ – as Jesus clearly tells us.
The third thing which came to me as I read this Gospel – is that Jesus teaches that he, himself, is the bread of eternal life. He is its source and its sustenance.
Eleven times in this one chapter of John’s Gospel Jesus calls himself the bread of life – repetition is the mother of education – so he repeats this teaching to drill this message into us.
When we receive Communion – it is really Christ. This is why we bow or genuflect toward the tabernacle when we enter this place. Because our God is really here – dwelling among us. For Christ IS the bread of life.
That’s what makes a Catholic Church different from any other building on the face of the earth – Christ’s real presence cannot be found in a library, we do not genuflect when we enter a theater, we don’t bow at the food in the grocery store.
But Christ is really here – if you don’t recognize him, then pray that your eyes may be opened in faith – for he is really here.
St. Theresa of Avila once said that “if we really recognized the presence of Jesus as we came forward for Holy Communion – we would fall flat on our faces, and prostrate on the ground in awe of the presence of God before us. God whose face we long to see in heaven is here – though the face is veiled behind what looks like bread and wine.”
The Eucharist is not ordinary food, not a cookie or a cracker, or merely a symbol --- it is the living body and blood of Jesus Christ – his real presence.
And so we should be reverent as we come forward to receive Communion – giving a profound bow of our heads before extending our hands or opening our mouths to receive the bread of life.
Today may our faith in the Eucharist be renewed.
May our reverence be deepened.
May our wonder and awe that God is here present among us be magnified and fill our hearts with joy.
And may the Eucharist strengthen us for the ministry that God calls us to do when we leave this place as God’s daughters and sons.
Moments in time...