HOMILY – AUGUST 16
“How can this MAN give us his FLESH to eat?” The very question, no doubt uttered in a mocking tone, implies that Jesus must be some kind of a lunatic to make such a promise. American economist, social theorist, and writer Stuart Chase said, “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.” These words could just as well be applied to our approach to creation itself as well as to our approach to the Eucharist. Atheists stifle any urge they might have to be grateful for creation, seeing it only as a series of chance mutations. For them, there is no generosity expressed in creation. Beauty is only perceived because it is appealing to the eye, not because some ONE designed it to provide delight. We people of faith hear the arguments and think, “What a sad, narrow, sterile view of life! No ultimate purpose, just random events!”
All one has to do is surf the net for a while to discover how vehemently many people declare themselves in fervent opposition to the Catholic Church and everything we stand for. A favorite target is the Eucharist. Our friendly naysayers love to insult and mock by referring to “the wafer” and other such demeaning terms for the Sacrament which is given to us only so that we might have life, and have it to the full. The magnificent words of the Book of Proverbs, our first reading this morning, leave them unmoved. In this passage, wisdom is personified. Like a provident hostess, she has set her table and invites all to come and be nourished by abundant food and fellowship. There is no thought of charging for this sumptuous banquet. It is a selfless act of love and undeserved generosity.
The parallel, of course, is the Eucharist. Christ has already fed the multitude through a physical miracle in order to prepare their minds and hearts for the lavish generosity by which he plans to nourish, sustain, and remain with his people as the living sign of God’s covenant in their midst. And they mock and ridicule him. Petty human minds and spirits on their own cannot comprehend divine generosity and grace. How does God get through to us?
One thing that separates mediocre athletes from superstars is the ability to play the game with total ABANDON. That means forgetting to worry about what will happen to me if I dive for that line drive. I might break my ribs. What will happen to me if I leap and catch that pass at the goal line and get tackled while I’m in the air? I could be seriously injured and my career would be over. What will happen to me if I attempt to hit the hoop from downtown? I could miss, and be embarrassed in front of everybody. We won’t know unless we try, and we won’t try if we’re more concerned about being wrong than we are about letting go and getting it right. If we understand the challenge of faith this way, we can begin to see what often separates people of faith from non-believers. Have you ever heard anyone exclaim with doubtful emotion, “I just can’t believe that anyone would be that good to me without expecting something in return”? Or see someone fold their arms in front of them and state firmly, “You’ll never convince me that such-and-so!!” And they’re right. If they have DECIDED that they’re not going to believe, well, they have a free will. All the grace of God and the promptings of his Holy Spirit knocking at the door of their hearts and minds will be met with the enthusiasm of answering the phone for a telemarketer. Many will never even pick up the receiver.
So the first hurdle to jump is simply accepting the words of Christ. To do that, we have to know and love him as someone worthy of our belief and trust. We live in a world in which a flood of social communication is anxious to STRIP us of all belief and trust, to tell us that Christ never even really existed, that it’s all a fable like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. In spite of all proof to the contrary. Yes, PROOF. If you go to court and have numerous witnesses take the stand and say they saw something, the preponderance of that evidence will convince judge and jury to follow through accordingly. There are all kinds of people outside the courtroom who will say they saw NOTHING — primarily because they weren’t there, and they weren’t looking! Even the many people who no longer go to church but who will admit those oft-repeated words, “I was raised Catholic,” are unwittingly witnessing to the fact that SOMEONE thought that SOMETHING — the treasure of the Catholic faith — was important enough to pass it on. So the fact that we have a billion or so of us around the world who firmly believe Jesus’ life-giving message about this Eucharistic Mystery we celebrate is indeed something to reckon with.
In those moments when occasional doubts flash through our minds — and they will, it’s only human — we should recall that Peter and Paul, Augustine, Dominic and Francis, Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila, Francis Xavier, Elizabeth Seton, Dorothy Day, John Paul II, all of these and millions more have lived and died believing in what we believe and profess and receive here this morning.
“HOW can he give us his flesh to eat?” We can discuss that later, as we have for centuries in prose, poetry, and song. But the fact that he DOES? We are the living proof, after two thousand years, that Jesus Christ meant what he said: “My flesh is REAL food, my blood REAL drink. DO THIS in memory of me.”