Sunday, August 19, 2012
Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In June of this year, at the 50Th Int’l Eucharistic Congress Mass in Dublin Ireland, Bishop Edward M. Rice of the Archdiocese of St. Louis told a story he had heard from a Catholic Chaplain. It involved a group of American Prisoners of War during WWII, who were held captive for 3 years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, on an island in the South Pacific. For three years, the prisoners received appalling treatment. Labor seven days a week, poor food, malaria, all with no medical attention.
When the Japanese realized that the war was lost, they began to withdraw from the island they held. One morning, the American POW’s woke up to find their captors had abandoned the camp. They were free. The closest allied base was British, on the other side of the island. The only way to get there would be to walk. And so they did. Sick, starving, exhausted – bare feet….they walked. most made it, some did not.
Drawing near to the British camp, they were recognized as Americans. The base commander saw them from a distance, he ran out to meet them. Horrified at what he saw, he was practically speechless. He said later that they looked like the "walking dead." In his pity he cried out to them, “What can I do for you now? He knew they would need food, medical attention, a hot shower, and clean clothes.
From their midst a young soldier spoke up, "Sir, we would like to go to Mass." The British Commander, not Catholic, did not at first understand the request, so the soldier repeated himself, "Sir, we would like to go to Mass."
Many of the prisoners were Catholic. Along with poor food and scant medical attention, they had been deprived of the Sacraments for over three years. And so, before a morsel of food passed their lips, before any medical care was administered, before they even changed clothes, a Catholic chaplain, a priest, was sent for and all participated in Holy Mass – receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. Those men, starving and sick, almost dead, became “Alive Again” in the Body of Christ.” Are we not blessed? Here in these United States, we can receive Jesus, not only on Sunday’s – but every day. How many souls around the world cannot? We need to recognize this most beautiful GIFT from Our Lord.
Our Gospel reading today is the climax of St. John’s lengthy “Bread of Life” discourse. The beginning of the discourse spoke of the “spiritual” nourishment brought into our famished world. Now Jesus declares that He IS the” Bread of Life” – the NOURISHMENT that offers Eternal Life to those who BELIEVE in Him.
Jesus begins by speaking to the crowds “the bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The Jews, who stood there listening, were astonished and bewildered by his words; they quarreled and murmured amongst themselves. “This talk is crazy.” “What does he mean”? “Give us His flesh to eat”? Many knew Jesus since childhood, making his words all the more troublesome.
Jesus hears their discussion. He makes no attempt to soften what he said, no attempt to correct any “misunderstandings.” No, he goes on to emphasize the “objective truth” of His words by saying “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life within you” (Jn 6:53). Jesus words are unmistakable. The Jews understand that Jesus means what he says - in no uncertain terms, that to have Eternal Life, we MUST eat His Flesh and drink His Blood.
For the Jews, the fire had been stoked; this talk of drinking blood was abhorrent. Dietary laws forbade the Jews to consume blood. The words were just too hard to take.
Like the Jews, we also struggle with Jesus’ words. There is confusion today among Catholics concerning the belief in the real presence. Some solutions may be more Eucharistic Adoration, more catechesis, better example of reverent reception of Holy Communion, proper, reverent and beautiful celebrations of the sacred liturgy. St. Paul told the Ephesians “not to continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.” It is time for all of us to review the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist.
The Eucharist IS the Mystery of Faith – it cannot be reduced to human logic. Pope John Paul II said “Truly the Eucharist is a mystery which surpasses our understanding and can only be received in faith.” So we are called to “believe.”
Jesus reveals to us the importance of “believing” when he says “Whoever believes has Eternal Life.” Today, on this altar, Bread and Wine will be changed into the “Body and Blood” PRESENCE of Christ. Do we really believe it? Our “Amen” says “Yes Lord, I believe it is YOU.”
Our BELIEF in the Eucharist must be reflected in our lives. The Eucharist is Body-Broken and Blood poured-out for others. Our belief compels us to imitate Jesus in His the generosity, in his unselfishness, in his compassion and forgiveness - and in his commitment to love and serve others. Pope Benedict Says “When we receive Christ, the love of God expands in our innermost self, modifies our heart radically and makes us capable of gestures that, by the expansive force of good, can transform the life of those that are next to us.”
The soldiers in our story, released from captivity so long ago, waited, persevering in their trials – always longing for the real presence of Jesus. Let us pray for that same longing.
Mary, Mother of the Holy Eucharist,
Obtain for us the light we need to realize that your Divine Son is present on earth in the Holy Eucharist. Help us to see with the eyes of faith what you saw during your years on earth with Jesus. You saw a child and a man but you believed that He was your God. Like you, we wish to see more deeply and more clearly that this same Jesus Christ is with us in the Blessed Sacrament, and is waiting for us in that everlasting Holy Eucharist for which we were made. Amen.
Deacon Brian J. Murphy