19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Homeland and Holy Family, Middletown
Aug. 7-8, 2021
Bishops’ Explanations Met with Disbelief
Earlier this summer, the bishops of the United States authorized the writing of a pastoral document on the Most Holy Eucharist. Normally, such a thing would not be controversial. Unfortunately, many media outlets mischaracterized the project as an attempt by the bishops to develop a national policy to deny Holy Communion to those in public life who reject the Church’s teachings on the life issues.
While a few bishops did indeed advocate this, the vast majority of us did not. The true purpose of this letter is to shore up the faith of Catholics in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
We want to encourage Catholics to return in person to Holy Mass, and, above all, to rekindle love for the Eucharistic Lord. That is why we are celebrating “The Year of the Eucharist” here in the Archdiocese. That is why the bishops are promoting a multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project in dioceses throughout the United States.
Although the bishops tried to explain the real intent of their letter on the Eucharist, some people did not believe or accept their explanation. They preferred instead to believe what they saw in the media. I hope that, when we bishops do issue this document, skeptics will read it and take to heart its message.
Some People Didn’t Believe Jesus
Strange to say, this difficult situation sheds light on what is going on in the Gospel passage that was just proclaimed. As you may remember, we are in the midst of reading on successive Sundays the Bread of Life discourse taken from St. John’s Gospel, Chapter 6.
Last week Jesus proclaimed himself “the Bread of Life”and this week, as our Gospel passage opens, his audience is murmuring about that. They are complaining, grumbling and whispering among themselves. Why? Because they did not believe what Jesus was trying to teach them. They did not believe that Jesus had come down from heaven, or that he was the Father’s only begotten Son, the Messiah and Lord.
“What is all this talk about coming down from heaven?” they seem to say to Jesus. “After all, we know where you come from. We even know your father and mother.”
And this is not the only time in the Gospels when people said things like that to Jesus. When confronted with Jesus’ extraordinary wisdom and miraculous powers, people often took offense at Jesus because they felt they knew where he came from.
“Where did he get all this?” they asked. In other words, “Where are his credentials? After all, he did not study as other rabbis did. Isn’t he the son of a carpenter?”
How, then, can Jesus claim, in any sense, to have come down from heaven? – a statement that implies that he existed prior to his earthly life, indeed, before the foundation of the world.
In the face of such skepticism, Jesus does not back down; in fact, he “ups the ante.” Jesus makes clear to his unconvinced audience, not only that he came from heaven, but also that he has seen the face of God, the Heavenly Father. In saying this, Jesus is, in effect, asserting his divinity, asserting that he is God’s equal. And so, even before he spoke about eating his Flesh and drinking his Blood, Jesus had raised hackles among his hearers.
Renewed Belief in the Eucharist Hinges on Renewed Belief in Jesus
And this leads us to a very important consideration about ourselves, and it is this: Renewed belief in the Eucharist, especially the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, hinges on a renewed belief in Jesus Christ himself – in his full divinity and humanity – a renewed belief in Jesus as the unique and only Messiah and Lord, in Jesus as the revelation of God the Father’s love, the Incarnation of God’s Mercy, the only One to whom we can fully entrust our lives without reservation.
This is not a proposition we can convince ourselves of – alone and unaided. Jesus says as much in today’s Gospel, and I quote: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
It is God the Father, who, in the power of the Holy Spirit, draws us to Jesus. Despite our skepticism, God grace enables us to be captivated by the look of love and the healing touch which Jesus offers us, even today, through the community of disciples he established, namely, his Church.
Just as Jesus gazed with love upon his Apostles, upon the woman at the well, upon Zacchaeus and the rich young man – so too Jesus proposes to gaze upon us, to gaze into the depths of our being, to “x-ray” us, as it were, with his loving glance, loving us, not as we imagine ourselves to be, but as we really are.
Yet, like the audience Jesus faced so long ago may remain skeptical, either because we do not believe that we need to be redeemed, or because we find it hard to believe that someone, anyone could love us like that, or because we are too busy, distracted, or distraught to notice his gazing at us.
Yet, this is first step in recovering faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, a first and necessary step in deciding to return to Mass on a weekly basis.
If we are unable to “think ourselves” into this decision, what can we do? We can and should study our faith. We can and should talk to those whose faith is strong.
But at the end of the day, our part of the bargain is to cry out to the Lord in our need, and to ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to our Savior and Lord.
We have to want the Lord to overcome the hardness of our hearts. We have to want the Lord to love us through and through as only he can. We have to want the Lord to love us intimately and want to be a part of his people, flawed and faltering as Jesus’ disciples have been from the beginning until now.
The Lord’s gaze will reach us only if we ask for his help in lowering our barriers and only if we do not persist in unbelief, thus saddening the Holy Spirit.
Falling in Love All Over Again with Our Eucharistic Lord
Years ago, Father Pedro Arrupe, former Superior General of the Society of Jesus, wrote:
“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in a quite absolute and final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
This is the invitation which Jesus, the Bread of Life is offering us today. If truly we believe in the Lord and love him in quite an absolute way, we will have little or no trouble believing in the Real Presence, so much so that we will find it difficult to stay away from the Eucharist. We will say, as did the martyrs of the 4th century, “Sine dominico, non possumus” – as if to say, “Without Sunday Eucharist, life is really quite impossible.”
Let us fall in love with our Eucharistic Lord all over again, and may God bless us and keep us always in his love!