Sunday, August 09, 2015

Three Very Important Lessons that We Learn from the Eucharist

(Nineteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 09, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 6: 41-51.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Nineteenth Sunday 2015]

The title of my homily today is, “Three very important lessons that we learn from the Eucharist.”  These, of course, are not the only lessons we learn from this great Sacrament that Jesus instituted at the Last Supper 2,000 years ago, but I would say they are three of the more significant ones—especially in light of what’s going on in the world right now.

In today’s gospel we have, once again, an excerpt from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of St. John.  Here Jesus is giving the people he had fed with the loaves and fishes—and who had followed him the next day across the Sea of Galilee—a very challenging teaching on the “living bread from heaven” that he soon would give to the world.

And they’re understandably confused.

But notice that Jesus doesn’t back off; he doesn’t water down his teaching or soften it in any way because they don’t understand it and won’t say Amen to it.  Quite oppositely, as the people in the crowd object more and more to his words, our Lord becomes more and more forceful about the message.  In the passage we heard today, for example, the people say, in effect, “Who does this guy Jesus think he is?  He tells us that he’s ‘the bread that’s come down from heaven’.  Well, what’s that all about?  What does that mean?  We know this man’s parents; they’re not rich or famous or powerful.  They’re poor, ordinary people from Nazareth—not heaven!” 

Jesus then answers by ordering them to be quiet, and by making even more assertions about his uniqueness.  He tells them, among other things, “Look, I’ve seen the Father and you haven’t; I have a unique relationship with him.  And I have the power from him to give people eternal life—which is why you need me, and why you need to be united to me by consuming the living bread from heaven which is my very flesh.”

Obviously to Jesus, the Eucharist was serious business.  But it’s something we can easily take for granted, is it not? 

At least from time to time.

Jesus gives himself to us body, blood, soul and divinity, and we say, “Oh, it’s just Mass”; or worse, “It’s so boring.  What’s the big deal?”

Our difficulty in appreciating the Eucharist is rooted, I would say, in our difficulty in appreciating the Incarnation.  The fact is that it’s hard--very hard—for us to understand with our human minds just what it meant for God to become man in Jesus Christ.  The most meaningful analogy I ever heard is the one given by Bishop Fulton Sheen many years ago.

He said:

Imagine that you were very much concerned about the awful state of dogs in your town: they had become wild and unruly, they barked at postmen, they bit joggers, they refused to be housebroken—in short, they were leading incredibly rotten lives.  But you loved dogs very much.  And you were given the power to empty yourself of your humanity so that you could put your mind and soul into the body of a dog.  And you chose to do so.  This would mean, among other things, that even though you had a mind which far transcended your organism, you would no longer be able to use your reason—you would have to follow instinct.  You could no longer speak and sing—you could only bark.  And worst of all you would have to spend the rest of your life with dogs—endlessly looking for fire hydrants and trees.  And then, after you spend your entire life and all your energy trying to make these dogs better, in the end they turn on you and tear you to pieces.
Sheen added, “If it would be hard [and it would be hard] for us to imagine becoming a dog in order to teach dogs to be good, how much more must it have been for God to become a man?—making himself a zero, and being willing to suffer and die at our hands.”

And I would add, “If it would be hard for us to imagine becoming a dog to help and save dogs, how much more difficult would it be to become a dog biscuit?!”

How much MORE love would you need to have for Fido and his friends to become their food?!!!

To become a dog would be almost unimaginable (I don’t care how much you say you love dogs!); but to become dog food would be (at least from my perspective) doubly unimaginable!

And what’s interesting about Sheen’s analogy and what makes it even more powerful is that there really is a much smaller gap between us and dogs than there is between God and us.

So how much does God love us?

The answer is right there in the Eucharist—if we have the spiritual vision to see it.

When the priest holds up the consecrated host just before Communion and says, “Behold the Lamb of God …” Jesus is saying to us, “Behold, this is how much I love you.  I love you enough to die for you and to become your spiritual food.”

So that’s the first lesson we learn from the Eucharist: we learn about the depth of God’s love for us.

The second lesson concerns our value as human persons.  Provided that we are baptized, and in the state of grace, and properly prepared and disposed, Jesus invites us to the sacrificial banquet of the Eucharist because we are human beings: human beings who are created in the image and likeness of God, who have immortal souls—and who hence have a dignity far beyond anything else in the material universe.

Of course you’d never know this truth about the dignity of the human person from watching the nightly news on ABC, NBC or CBS in recent weeks, would you?  You’d never know that we human beings were special and unique and the high point of God’s creation here on this earth.

If you relied exclusively on the major news networks for your information on these matters, you would think that spot was occupied by a lion named Cecil!

This is sick.  Here’s how one writer, Katie Yoder, described it:

Even after three weeks, the broadcast news shows are choosing to cover the death of one animal before the story of countless babies torn apart by a taxpayer-funded organization.  In the three weeks since the release of the first video exposing Planned Parenthood July 14, ABC, NBC and CBS spent 20 minutes, 21 seconds on the videos during their morning and evening news shows.  In contrast, since July 28, the nets devoted 1 hour, 32 minutes, 56 seconds to Cecil, the famed African lion shot by an American dentist.  In other words, the three broadcast networks covered Cecil four times more than the trafficking of baby parts by Planned Parenthood.
That’s a very sad commentary on a very sick culture!  Yes, we should be good stewards of God’s creation and not abuse it (as Pope Francis reminds us in his latest encyclical); but to almost completely ignore the murder of innocent children and the selling of their body parts in order to focus four times as much on the death of a dumb animal—an animal who would have torn any one of us to pieces if he had had the chance—is disgraceful.

Well, let’s be clear about it today: no lion, no tiger, no elephant, no dog, no cat, no aardvark—or any other animal for that matter—will ever be invited to the table of the Lord here at Mass.


That privilege is for HUMANS only!  And if the people at ABC, NBC and CBS don’t like that they can start their own church and then invite all their lion friends to the first service.

That, of course, will also be the last service that church will ever have!

“Yum, yum,” said the lion!

Which brings us, finally, to the third lesson we learn today from the Eucharist (which I will only mention in passing, because of time.  I’ll focus on it more, I’m sure, in a future homily.)  The lesson is this: To love is to make a gift of oneself to another.

Now that might sound strange to some of us because we’re all given the exact opposite message in our pop culture all the time.  We’re given the message that real love is about getting and using: it’s about getting what we want and using other people to get what we want, be it sex, money, power, pleasure—whatever. 

How different Jesus was—and is!  During the meal in which our Lord instituted the Eucharist, he said, “Greater love nobody has, than to lay down his life for his friends.”

There Jesus makes it clear that real love is selfless, self-sacrificial—and Eucharistic!  Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist body, blood, soul and divinity.  In other words, he gives himself to us totally and completely—out of perfect love …

“This is my body which will be given up FOR YOU.”

“This is my blood …which will be poured out FOR YOU for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, the crowd in John 6 was confused when you told them that you were the bread that had come down from heaven.  Help us, today, not to be confused.  Help us to understand these 3 lessons you teach us in and through the sacrament of your body and blood: that you love us with a perfect love; that we are incredibly valuable in your sight; and that real love is about giving, not taking or using.  And then Lord help us not to leave these lessons in church today, but to take them with us when we leave, and then to apply them to our lives. Amen.