Aug 27, 2009

Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Given at the Church of Our Saviour, New York City on August 23rd, 2009.

Readings: JOSH 24: 1-2, 15-17, 18; EPH 5: 21-32; JN 6: 60-69


“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” Ps 33:9

These words of the psalmist today, should echo in our lives on a daily basis. “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”

Over the last 5 Sundays, the Church has been slowly reading through the great teaching of Christ on the bread of life - the Eucharist. Today we conclude the reading of John Chapter 6, and each of us are given an important choice:

will we truly believe that bread and wine is changed into the body and blood of Christ during every Mass,

and do we believe that we are nourished by Christ,

and do we believe that we will receive eternal life by eating of Christ’s body and drinking of his blood?


At first holy communion, all of us should have made this act of faith. But as we mature and develop, so must our faith, and every time we come to Mass, it shouldn’t be a routine, but an encounter with our God. Seek to encounter God every time at Mass, even if it feels routine. If you come seeking to be bored, then you will be bored. If you come seeking God, then you may experience a slice of Heaven.


In today’s first reading, Joshua wants the people to make a choice for their God and commitment to Him. They may do only one of the following:

a) Serve the gods of their ancestors

b) Serve the gods of the pagan Amorites whose country they are occupying,  

c) Serve the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and might.


In today’s gospel the choice that Joshua offered his people is echoed when we find Jesus offering his own followers the choice to stay with him or to join the ranks of unbelievers. After hearing Jesus’ teaching on the bread of life, many followers express their confusion and doubts. They find Jesus’ language too tough.


The teaching on the Eucharist has caused division among Christians since the time of Christ. The opening words of today’s Gospel said ““This saying is hard; who can accept it?” and later on we heard in John 6:66, that “many of Christ’s disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

It is not a coincidence that John 6:66, the number 666, is the verse where disciples are unable to accept Christ, the bread of life and the ways of faith.


The teaching of Christ is one of unity, love and eternal life, but my friends, Christ’s teaching needs to be accepted by each of us on a daily basis. We can’t be complacent. If we begin to treat the Eucharist like a piece of bread, then other things in life will also start be treated with a lack of reverence and respect, and quickly our faith will diminish, it will be harder to love and hope will disappear.


If we listen to the statistics of surveys about what Catholics believe, here in the US and in Australia, my own country, we find that supposedly only about 20% of Catholics believe that Christ is present in the Eucharist. The teaching on the Eucharist is primarily what divides Catholics from Protestants, and if only 20% Catholics believe in the Eucharist, then most of us are not really being nourished and most of us are not really Catholics. The teaching on the Eucharist is what makes all the difference.


An Islamic theologian I know said that if Catholics truly believe that their God is present in the Eucharist, then Catholics should come to the altar on their knees, trembling at the incredible mystery of receiving their God.


Last Sunday we heard: “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you.”

The week before we heard: “I am the living bread which has come down from Heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.”

And the week before that, we heard: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry.”


The Eucharistic teaching of Christ divided the followers of Christ from those who were not so committed. Will we believe? Will we allow Christ to nourish us and to offer us eternal life?


Perhaps some of us of are thinking, even in this church today: “This saying is hard; how could anyone accept the Eucharist ?

 You know, it was Jesus' disciples who first made this complaint.  They were offended by Jesus' language.  We are reminded of the writings of St Paul, who spoke of "the offense (scandal) of the cross" (Gal. 5:11), and who said that "the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing" (1 Cor. 1:18).


Faithful discipleship is never easy. To receive Christ implies that we deny ourselves, take up our cross and following Christ to eternal life, but following first to calvary, then the resurrection, and then the Eternal Banquet of Heaven.


When I teach children and teenagers about the Eucharist, I like to give them 2 identical-looking dvds, and ask them to tell me what the difference is.

Often, my students study the dvds. They put them up to the light and inspect the reflection. After a few minutes a wise student asks, can we put them into the computer and see what is on them. Then they discover that a movie is contained on one of the dvds, while the other is blank.

To the naked eye, two dvds look the same unless you have a device to receive and decipher the information on them: a computer or a dvd player

The same is true of the Eucharist. The bread used at Mass looks the same before and after the consecration, but through the eyes of faith, we can receive and decipher that this bread is not ordinary bread, but is the spiritual food which nourishes and gives us Christ’s life – the eternal life.


I would hope that all of us truly believe and show the due reverence for the Eucharist every time we come to Mass, but I would be naïve to think that this was the case all the time. I know that we are not in Heaven, although every time we come to Mass, heaven is coming to us.


For most of July and August, I worked in a camp in Lebanon with severely mentally and physically disabled young people. For a variety of reasons, many of the young people were unable to keep quiet for more than 20 seconds at time, and celebrating Mass for them was a very difficult experience, because there were screams, shouts and noise throughout the Mass. But during the consecration, when the bread and wine becomes Christ’s body and blood, for about 1 minute, everyone was quiet and amazingly everyone seemed to be worshipping our Lord and God. When the host was elevated, the disabilities seemed to stop and our young friends worshipped and adored the Body of Christ.


Heaven is coming to us today. Christ is offering himself to us today. This is an amazing mystery. If only we would truly believe.

We can walk away, like some of Christ’s disciples, and not believe.

Or we can do as some of the Corinthians did, who received Christ in communion, but receive unworthily, and as St Paul says: they did not eat and drink eternal life, but they ate and drank their own condemnation.


Being able to attend Mass and to receive Christ should be the most life-changing thing that each of us does today.

In a few short moments, I will offer the bread and wine to become Christ’s body and blood. As I make the offering, I invite you to imagine that you are being placed on the altar, because each of us needs to be make the offering ourselves to God, so that each of us can become Christ’s body and blood, his eyes, ears, hands, and mouth in the world. Make the offering and sacrifice of yourself to God, believe and be nourished by Christ.

As you receive communion, pray for the nourishment of Christ in your life, especially for those things that need the healing goodness of God. Make the Amen before receive communion a true and heartfelt Amen, which means “yes I believe this is the body of Christ.”

When I say “the Body of Christ”, look up, see and believe, and say Amen.


My friends, come to Christ, come prepared and come willing to offer your life with Christ for the salvation of the world and then we will taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

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