Monthly Archives: August 2015

Homily for August 16, 2015


“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.”

Homily for August 2, 2015


“What kind of sign are you going to show us, so we can believe in you?”  This was the question put to Jesus by the very people, over 5,000 of them, whom he had just fed with a few barley loaves and some dried fish, until they could eat no more and had 12 baskets of leftovers.  What kind of sign, indeed?

“Why did you bring us out of Egypt just to die in this desert?”  This is the question put to Moses by the very people whom God had freed from four hundred years of slavery and walked them through the Red Sea, which then closed in on those who were pursuing them.  “And,” for good measure, they clamored, “we’re disgusted with this wretched food!”  So much for the manna which God had miraculously sent to sustain them in the desert, in answer to their cries.

Anyone who has ever worked with the public — and God certainly has plenty of experience with THAT — knows that at times, it seems impossible to please ANYBODY.  The prices are too high, the quality is poor, I can get better service elsewhere, why don’t they make things like they used to, your clerks are rude, the food is bad, the doctors / grocers / funeral directors / lawyers are all in it for the money (as if YOU don’t expect a paycheck!), and everybody knows priests only work one day a week.

So we get a lesson today, not only on the Eucharist. but on the more miserable aspects of our fallen human nature.  You know how it is.  You love God until you get sick, or lose your job, or have some other kind of setback.  Then it’s, “Why did God do this to me?  What did I do to deserve THIS?”  The answer, of course, is perhaps, “Nothing.”  That’s the same question Jesus could have asked on the cross, only he FOR SURE had done nothing to deserve it.  So if you’re suffering and it’s not your own fault, you have an opportunity to be united to Christ in his redemptive work, in his love offering to the Father.  In a time-worn phrase, “Offer it up!”

The sign Jesus leaves us is, as usual, something that we surely didn’t expect.  “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven, which gives life to the world.”  As the verses of St. John’s Chapter 6 continue over the next few Sundays, we’ll be hearing Jesus elaborate on this, the bread from heaven, the gift of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  But for now, this is enough to ponder.  In answer to their grumbling, God gave the Israelites in the desert their “bread from heaven,” which sustained them during their pilgrim journey to the Promised Land.  They didn’t know what it was, and their word for it was a question:  “Mah-NAH?” which can literally mean “Whatzis?”  That’s right, God gave them “whatzis” in the desert for 40 years to feed them.  (And, no doubt, to keep them quiet!)

But that wasn’t the end of the signs.  Twelve hundred years and a lot of Bible history later, when God’s Anointed One, Jesus the Christ, miraculously feeds thousands of hungry people with a few little loaves and some dried fish, the people are ready to make him king.  As any politician knows, give ‘em bread and circuses and you’ll win their vote.  But Jesus is not interested in their vote, nor does he want them to stop at thinking only of full bellies and earthly bread.  He promises them the “TRUE bread from heaven,” bread that will sustain them not just for an earthly journey, but that will CONNECT them with heaven while they’re on earth and SUSTAIN them on their pilgrimage to their TRUE home in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The bread that comes down from heaven is the third and final sign of bread that God gives his people.  Jesus declares that HE is the true bread from heaven, the bread of life, and that THIS bread will give life to the world.  We know that there are billions of people in the world who do not yet believe in the Eucharist as Christ’s Body and Blood.  Pollsters tell us that a disturbingly high percentage of poorly-instructed CATHOLIC people do not yet believe in the Eucharist as Christ’s Body and Blood, making us wonder how they can be considered Catholic if they don’t believe in the central mystery of our faith and worship.  At any rate, those of us who DO believe — and we are many! — should clearly hear a mission statement in Jesus’ words this morning.

Remember what dietitians tell us?  “You are what you eat”?  Well, those of us who know and recognize the Eucharist as the true Bread from heaven, the Body and Blood of Christ, must then understand that we BECOME what we eat!  In consuming the Body and Blood of Christ, we commune with him and he with us so powerfully that we become his presence in the midst of the world.  He sends US out, like the branches from the vine, to bring LIFE to the world — to those who believe AND to those who don’t.  Those who don’t believe, even those who have declared themselves ENEMIES of God, of Christ, of the Christian faith, they all have a RIGHT from God to find life THROUGH US, to find their way home to the Kingdom of Heaven THROUGH US!  That’s a tall order, partner!  Jesus knows that, and he wouldn’t expect us to do it on our own.  That’s WHY he continues to feed his Church with the gift of the Eucharist, the gift of his Body and Blood.  And thus continues the lasting sign of God’s love in the midst of the world:  God’s people, fed by the Bread from Heaven, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ himself, going out into the midst of the world to be ground up as the best, and really ONLY food, for the world’s eternal life and nourishment.  Don’t be surprised, dear Church, when the world looks at you with ridicule and scorn and says, “Mah-NAH?  What’s THIS?”

It’s an old, old question.