Sunday, August 17, 2003

Homily for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel: John 6:51-58

Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life...

In the New York Times a few days ago, an editorial appeared in which the writer dismissed several beliefs that Catholics and other Christians hold as "pious legends". Among the beliefs that he ridiculed were things like the Virgin Birth of Our Lord, and the Assumption of Our Lady into heaven, which we celebrated just this Friday. He said that the Church needs to jettison these pious legends because they're not reasonable; that no modern, up to date person can believe in such things...

No doubt, if the author of that New York Times editorial had been around at the time, he would have been among the crowd who said "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" I'm sure he would dismiss our belief that Our Lord is present really, substantially, under the appearance of bread and wine, as "insufficiently intellectual." I imagine he might analyze our belief in what Jesus did at the last supper as a "myth", something we enlightened moderns no longer "need" to believe in.

But the problem is that it is Our Lord Himself who utters these words: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. If you reject these words of Jesus, on what basis can you accept others? Why would you take Jesus at His word when He says "Love one another, as I have loved you", and not believe Him when He says "the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world"? Because what Jesus says fits in with your own opinions in one instance, and doesn't fit with your opinions in the other? That's hardly very "reasonable", or "intellectual". It's really not even honest.

No, Our Lord meant what He said. He meant it when He said "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." He meant it when He said, "Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit." And He meant it when He said "take and eat, this is My body," and "take this and drink from it, this is the cup of My blood." He meant it because the same life that He gave for us on Calvary is the life He wants to give to us in the Eucharist.

Jesus said "I came that you might have life, and have it in abundance." Well, the only true source of life, the only One who has life in and of Himself is God. For us to have abundant life, eternal life, we must have God's own life. And Jesus, God-become-man, has that divine life. The flesh that He subjected to the cross carried God's own life. The blood that he shed on Calvary coursed through His veins with God's own life. It is God's life, living in the flesh of Christ, that He gave for the life of the world.

So when Jesus says, "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life", He is not talking in a metaphor; He is not using a figure of speech. He means what he says, and what He is saying is that by partaking of His body and blood we partake of the Divine life, the life of God Himself. We no longer live our natural lives, we live a supernatural, eternal life, because we have partaken of the life of God Himself.

Jesus said, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in Me and I in him." Again, this is not a figure of speech. God desires to reunite ourselves to Him, to restore communion between Himself and us. So Our Lord gives himself to us as food and drink: food and drink that contains Himself in all completeness: His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Just as He gave Himself for us completely on Calvary, He gives himself to us completely, every time we receive from this altar. And in giving himself to us completely, He intimately unites Himself to us: Body to body, Blood to blood, Soul to soul, Divinity to humanity. He becomes closer to us than we are to ourselves.

Jesus meant what He said. He meant it when He said "I am the living bread that came down from Heaven." He meant it when He said "the one who feeds on Me will have life because of Me." He offers us life, His life, the superabundant life of God. By eating the Bread He gives us, we will live no longer our own lives, but His life, and so we will live forever.