17th Sunday of Ordinary Time B
This is an exciting day. This will be the first of a four part homily series on the Eucharist. It will not be so much a test of my theology, but of your endurance. The truth is though that I cannot imagine devoting so much time to any subject other than the Eucharist. It is at the center of our life and the center of the life of the church. As a matter of fact, it is primary to the Church. The Church does make the Eucharist as much as the Eucharist makes the Church. It has always been central to my life. When I was discerning priesthood, my wise friend Alissa gave me a book from the German poet Rainer Marie Rilke and he wrote, “Think of what you would die for and then live for it.” Eucharist was my immediate answer. For the next month we will be hearing from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, the memorable bread of life discourse. But the true culmination of this time will be September 22nd at the Auriesville Shrine, when for the first time in over fifty years, we will have a Eucharistic Congress. Gathered around the Bishop, we will celebrate and rejoice that our God comes to us again, that Jesus Christ is truly alive in his body and blood. The Word of God, who took on flesh and lived among humanity now becomes flesh and lives within us. What a marvel. What a blessing.
The Gospel this week follows rather seamlessly from last week’s Gospel from Mark. You may recall that the crowd had approached Jesus despite the late hour and their hunger and Jesus took pity on them “for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Similarly, in John 6 Jesus sees a large crowd coming at the time they should be eating. They have understood what Jesus has said earlier, “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. (Mt 4:4).” Their hunger for the truth now outweighs their physical pangs. In a world of confusion, they seek clarity. In a world of hurt, they seek soothing. In a world of violence, they seek peace. Their world is not that much different than ours and their needs mirror ours. Perhaps is it always such in the human condition. Of course this is Jesus, so he does not have to choose one kind of nourishment over another. He will teach them and feed them through a remarkable multiplication of the loaves and fish.
What are you hungering for? How will you be fed in such a way that you will be satisfied as the crowd on the hillside was? I have a theory about sin. There are only a few sins. There are many variations of these sins (believe me, I have heard them) but there are only a few things that truly move us to sin – lust for power, selfishness and greed for example. I think the same thing can be said of our hungers. We can imagine a thousand things we want, but only a few ideas that drive us. Ideas such as beauty and belonging; such as justice and joy. Ultimately, we are all simply hungering for God. The interesting thing about these hungers is that they have a light and a dark side. So great is the need to be fed of these basic needs that we will fill ourselves with whatever is available. So our desire for beauty can lead to exploitation or a true sense of awe of all that God has given. Justice can mean equality for all people, but our desire for revenge is also connected to justice. Our search of joy can lead to trying the next thing endlessly or it can fine true satisfaction in God. As Jesus the bread of life proved, he had answers for those desperate people whom he fed. Through the Eucharist, he is still responding to all our needs and feeding our hunger, but the bread of life always points to the light and the better angels of our nature.
How does Jesus feed us? I had a theology professor whose sister was very ill. Once he asked her, as only a liturgist could do, what do you think about at mass? She said, I take everything I have – my pain and my fear, my blessings and my love, and I plop it on the altar, trusting that the one who took simple gifts of bread and wine and made them into something holy and precious can take my life and transform all my stuff into something holy. What are you hungering for? How can the Eucharist feed it?