Sunday, August 19, 2012
Find yourself in Christ
HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 19, 2012:
We come today to the final Gospel passage in our four-week reflection on the Eucharist in John’s Gospel, often called the Bread of Life Monologue. But as Jesus comes to the end of this beautiful teaching on the Eucharist, we hear, “The Jews quarreled among themselves saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” For many, the beauty and the mystery of the Eucharist is something too hard to believe.
I came across an article a while back that tried to describe the practice of perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We’re lucky enough to have St. Clement’s here in the city offering the opportunity any time of day or night to pray in adoration before the very Body and Blood of Jesus. But, much like those in today’s Gospel passage who couldn’t understand what Jesus was talking about; this newspaper article also didn’t quite understand when it comes to the Eucharist. The article began, “The adorers sit in silence before the wafer.” It went on to call Eucharistic Adoration an “unusual Catholic ritual” and to say that adoration “reflects an embrace of the teaching of Catholicism that many find hardest to understand: the belief that, during Mass, bread and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of Jesus.”
As you and I know, the Eucharist – the Body and Blood of Jesus – isn’t a wafer; it isn’t unusual, and it isn’t the hardest teaching to understand. Rather, the Eucharist is the very core of who we are and what we are called to be as followers of Jesus.
This time of year is one that naturally seems to lead me to reflect on that question of what we are called to be; the question of identity. Just this past week, Fr. Rick, Fr. Mike and myself travelled to watch our former postulants Robert and Walter as they were received into the novitiate – a special year of prayer at the end of which they will profess the religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as Franciscans. As they were received it reminded me that 19 years ago this week marks the day when I and Fr. Mike first professed our vows as a religious; and for Fr. Rick is was 20 years. As I reflect on those 19 years, which have gone by far too quickly, I realize that what happened on that day of my religious profession was really something simple: it was an embrace of my identity before God. Before entering the Franciscans, my life was a bit of a ping-pong ball jumping from one thing to another to discover what I was supposed to do. I worked as a mall security guard, I owned a florist shop, was a prep chef in a restaurant, worked on an apple and peach orchard, did painting and wallpapering, worked in retail, was a family crisis counselor, and for the longest period of time was an investigative news reporter for six years. In the midst of all of those things, I was most definitely someone in search of their identity. Who was I supposed to be? Who did God want me to be?
And, what eventually lead me to religious life and to discovering my truest identity in the sight of God – as a Franciscan and as a priest – was the Eucharist. After struggling with faith in my teens and early 20s, I eventually met Jesus – the real, living, truly present Jesus – in the Eucharist. Once that had happened, all of the fogginess of a youth spent searching for something cleared and my identity – who and what God wanted me to be; my vocation – was staring me in the face. There was no decision to be made at that point except the decision to follow. You see, the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist acts as a mirror to our souls, each Eucharist helping us to see who we have been created to be.
We see this in today’s Gospel. Jesus speaks of His own identity in the Eucharist. He speaks of the Eucharist, not only in the ordinary terms of bread and wine, but even more powerfully, He speaks of this bread and wine as being His flesh and His blood. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”
Flesh and blood. We use that phrase all the time – usually to refer to the whole person. And so does Jesus. He reminds us even that this Eucharist is Him – flesh and blood, the whole person. If there were any doubt remaining, He states boldly and plainly, “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven.” Jesus equates the bread from Heaven with Himself totality. This is not a part of Jesus. This truly is Jesus – flesh and blood, so to speak.
Knowing that Jesus equates the Eucharist with His total person, we can see that it is an understatement to say merely that the Eucharistic bread is the Body of Christ. It is certainly more than a “wafer.” And it is even more than the Body of Christ. It is the whole of Christ. Using the traditional expression, it is “the body and blood, soul and divinity” of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is not only present in the Blessed Sacrament, rather in the Blessed Sacrament the fullness of Jesus is completely revealed.
And as we receive that full presence of Jesus in the Eucharist we are meant to discover the full presence of ourselves there too; our whole and best self. Just as Jesus is truly present in this Sacrament; we must be truly and fully present to Him here too. Jesus reveals His full and complete identity to us in the Eucharist in the hopes that we will look into that mirror and see our identity. Who we are is never complete unless it is who we are in the sight of Jesus.
And so, we don’t just hear these readings about the Eucharist this summer and say, “Got it! Bread and wine to Body and Blood.” Rather, take a moment and see the Eucharist anew. As the Body and Blood of Jesus are elevated during the Holy Mass today, look into the mirror that is the full and complete presence and identity of Jesus in the Eucharist. What is Jesus reflecting back to you? Who are you – what are you – in the sight of your Lord? What Jesus reflects to you there is the most complete, best, happiest and holiest person you can ever be. Seek to become the person that you see reflected back to you when you gaze into the Eucharistic face of Jesus. Let us all pray to have the courage to cast off everything else and embrace our identity in the sight of Jesus.
As we receive Holy Communion today, let us be conscious that we are receiving Jesus Christ Himself – totally, fully, completely – and let us open our hearts to receive the new life that He brings to us. As we learn more about the very identity of Jesus through this Communion, let us remember that Jesus also wants to tell us something about our own identity, who He wants us to be. Let us become what we receive.
May the Lord give you peace.