Sunday, August 01, 2021

Recognizing the Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist


(Eighteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 1, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Exodus 16:2-16; Psalm 78: 3-4, 23-25, 54; Ephesians 4:17-24; John 6:24-35.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Eighteenth Sunday 2021]

When I was first ordained back in 1985, I remember a man coming up to me one day after a Sunday Mass, carrying his two children.  He had one in each arm.  The oldest was four years-old; the other was two.  The man said to me, “You know, Fr. Ray, when I came up to you to receive Communion today my four year-old son wanted to know if he could say ‘Hi’ to Jesus.  I told him, ‘No!’”  “Wow,” I said to him, “You mean that your son already understands that what I give out at Communion time is really the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ?”  I was impressed.  But the father replied, “Oh no, Fr. Ray, you don’t understand.  My son said that because he thinks that YOU look like Jesus!”

So much for my brilliant deductions.

Naturally it is extremely difficult for any child of four to recognize the Lord’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament.  But of course it’s also just as difficult for the rest of us.  Sadly, age does not necessarily increase the quality of our spiritual awareness and vision.  And spiritual vision is what we need in order to be aware of the fact that the Eucharist is not a symbol, but is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Savior of the world.

In a sense you could say that we need to put on “spiritual glasses” if we want to be able to see Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  But those glasses are not easily acquired. 

Maybe part of the difficulty we have in recognizing the Lord’s presence in this sacrament is that we don’t expect the Almighty, omniscient, eternal God to be present in such a small “package.”  As Mother Teresa once put it: “How much smaller could he have made himself than a little piece of bread—the Bread of Life?  How much more weak and helpless?”

The idea that God would give himself to human beings in this way can be difficult to grasp and understand.  But we’re not the only ones in history who have had this problem.  The crowd that Jesus faced in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel (where today’s gospel reading is taken from) also faced this difficulty.

I find it interesting that the crowd back then had no trouble whatsoever accepting the miracle of the loaves.  That didn’t challenge their faith at all.  As we heard in last weekend’s gospel reading, after they ate the meal Jesus gave them they were so happy that were ready to carry our Lord off and make him their king!

It was only when Jesus began to instruct them on heavenly food (i.e., the Holy Eucharist) that the trouble began.  We see the conflict between our Lord and the crowd beginning to develop in this week’s reading.  But it gets even worse in the later verses of John 6.

Our Lord first of all said to the crowd, “I know why you want to see me again.  It’s because I fed you with earthly food.  It’s because I gave you all a good meal of bread and fish.  But now I want to tell you about another kind of food—another kind of bread—a ‘heavenly’ kind of bread.”

Of course, as happened so often in our Lord’s ministry, the crowd misunderstood him completely.  They thought he was going to give them a new kind of manna, akin to what the Hebrews got in the desert at the time of Moses (we heard about that in our first reading today)—except that this manna (this new manna) would never spoil.  Well, they thought that sounded like a great idea, so they said to our Lord, “Sir, give us this bread always!”

Jesus responded by setting them straight.  He said, in effect, “I’m not talking about manna like the kind Moses gave you; I’m talking about myself.  I am the Bread of Life!”

That’s when the trouble began.  This was a truth that this particular crowd could not accept.  That’s clear from what we’re told in the rest of John 6.  Finally it came to the point where some of them said, “This sort of talk is hard to endure!  How can anyone take it seriously?”  And many walked away from Jesus at that point—even some who had previously been his loyal followers.

There’s an old hymn that has the line in it: “Look beyond the bread you eat; see your Savior and your Lord.”  That’s the challenge of faith that faces each and every one of us.  It’s the challenge to recognize the presence of Jesus Christ—Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity—in the Holy Eucharist.

And it is possible to do.  Whenever I brought my grandmother Communion in the latter years of her life, she would always say to me before I left, “Thank you, Raymond, for bringing God to me.”  Not “Thank you, Raymond, for bringing ‘the bread’ to me”; not “Thank you, Raymond, for bringing ‘the host’ to me”; rather “Thank you, Raymond, for bringing GOD to me.” 

My grandmother was a woman who had a simple—but a very deep—faith. My grandmother was a woman whose spiritual vision was 20/20, especially when it came to the Holy Eucharist.

Let us pray today at this Mass, that our spiritual vision will be the same.