18 Ordinary Time
Eighteenth Sunday: The Gift of the Eucharist
The Gospel reading this week is the second of five Sundays on the Sixth Chapter of John, the chapter on the Bread of Life. The Church presents every three years. Why? All so we can have a deeper insight and appreciation for the Eucharist. The Gospel of John was completed the last decade of the first century. By then, the Church had a clear way of putting into words the miracle of the Eucharist.
Last Sunday's Gospel from the beginning of chapter 6 presented the miracle of the loaves and fish with a special slant added by John's community. The multiplication took place as the Passover approached. This pointed to another Passover when Jesus would also provide bread, His very Body and Blood, the Bread of Heaven. It also noted that different from the unused manna which would be destroyed, the fragments of unused bread were to be gathered up. This is the biblical basis for the care of the Eucharist so that it might be brought to the sick and worshiped in our tabernacles.
In today's reading Jesus spoke to people who came looking for Him. This took place the day after the multiplication. Jesus had sent his disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee by boat. Later that night He joined them on that boat, walking on the water. When the people who had eaten the loaves and fish went looking for Jesus, they heard that his disciples had gotten into a boat, but that Jesus wasn’t with them. That’s why they were shocked when they searched everywhere for him and then learned that he was on the other side of the water. They asked, “Rabbi, how did you get here.” He didn’t answer their question. Instead he addressed the reason why they were looking for him: they were looking for another free meal. He tells them to seek Bread that will last forever, the Bread He will give.
We, you and I, spend a lot of energy seeking various things that we want. But do we spend enough energy seeking that which we need?
We need Jesus Christ. He is the joy of our lives. He is the One who gives meaning to life. He is the Truth. We need Him
John 6 points to our need for the Lord in the Eucharist. Recently, I've heard about some people who had been active in Life Teen or in other high school youth programs who in college or after college have left the Catholic faith to join a nondenominational church. They say the music is great, they feel the presence of the Lord, and there is less talk about morality. Perhaps they had not been as active in the faith as they should have been when they went to college. Maybe they met someone who encouraged them to join them in a non-Catholic worship. Or, maybe, they did not want to be challenged to live a Catholic life-style.
It is wonderful that people worship the Lord in so many different churches. It is wonderful that you can look through the Tarpon Springs and Palm Harbor area and see so many churches of so many denominations. God bless them all and may they continue to praise God and do his work. But for a Catholic to leave the Catholic Church, would be leaving the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. Some people will say that this or that Church have communion services; so they have not left the Eucharist. Actually, they have. The various denominations with communion services do not view the bread and wine as the real presence of the Lord. If they did, they would not destroy whatever is left over after their service. Or, as a priest friend of mine puts it, “They begin the service with bread and wine and leave the service with bread and wine.” That is why they do not have tabernacles. For a Catholic to leave the Church and be satisfied with non-Catholic communion rites would be turning from a truth that they have been given.
Similarly, the worship and lives of devoted Jews is wonderful, but for a Christian to leave Christianity to become Jewish would be to leave the truth of Jesus Christ he or she has been given.
One lady told me that she was no longer Catholic, but she had not left Jesus. Actually, she has left the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist. As a Catholic she was given the special presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. She was allowed into the mystery of having Jesus Christ's Body and Blood within her. She has left the Eucharist, the Food that the Heavenly Father has given. Every sincere non Catholic Christian would agree that if a person truly believes in the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist, that Catholic cannot leave the Church.
Some non-Catholics have a communion service, but these Churches do not believe that the bread and wine has been transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. That is why left over bread is discarded after the service. Yes, their communion service symbolizes the union of the Christian community with Christ, but for them the bread itself is not Christ. Some Catholics attend these services and think that they are receiving communion just as they do in the Catholic Church. They are not. What they are doing as Catholics is rejecting the special gift we celebrate every time we receive communion.
We celebrate the Eucharist and have a deep encounter with Christ at Mass and at the reception of communion. We also have a deep encounter with the Eucharistic Presence of the Lord in our Services of Eucharistic Adoration, be they the ones that we in Life Teen refer to as XLT, or benediction services, or other times that the Eucharist is adored. All Catholic Parishes celebrate Eucharistic Adoration in some form or other. All Catholic Churches have times that the Blessed Sacrament is exposed all day for adoration, just as we do here on First Fridays, on Thursday after the 9:00 am Mass, and during Forty Hours at the beginning of Lent.
And we value the gift of the Eucharist. For centuries, Catholics have embraced death rather than give up their devotion to the Eucharist. Priests and lay people were routinely tortured to death in England for the crime of celebrating Mass or receiving communion.
Towards the end of his life, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was asked who was the greatest influence on his life. To everyone’s surprise he said two young women, St. Theresa of the Child Jesus and Little Li, the Eucharistic martyr of China. Li lived at the time the Communists overtook China, the early 1950's. One day the Communist police made a sweep of Li’s village, and crammed all the inhabitants into the tiny Church. The Inspector ridiculed their beliefs. He told them they were tricked into believing that God is present in the tabernacle. The people watched with disbelief, as with a thundering voice, he ordered the soldiers to fire at the tabernacle. He grabbed the ciborium and threw all the Sacred Hosts onto the tile floor. “Now get out!” the inspector yelled. “And woe to anyone who returns to this den of superstition! He’ll answer to me!” Before they left, the Communists locked the priest in the large coal bunker in the church, where a small opening helped him to see through to the sanctuary where the Hosts lay strewn on the floor. He was shocked to see that the next day, Little Li snuck by a sleeping guard and came into the Church. She found one of the hosts on the floor and knelt in adoration before it for an hour. Then she bowed over it and took it into her mouth. She did the same the next day, and the day after that. The priest knew that there had been 32 hosts in the tabernacle, and sure enough every day for 32 days, Little Li snuck into the Church, knelt before the presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament for an hour and bent down to receive Communion. But on the 32nd day, the guard changed his routine and inspected the Church while Li was there. Seeing her he beat her and then shot her, making her China’s little martyr for the Eucharist.
Like Li we treasure the Eucharistic Presence of the Lord. We pray today that we might have a greater understanding of the marvelous gift of the Eucharist. We pray today that we might grow so strong in our love for the Eucharist that the thought of leaving the Blessed Sacrament for any reason would be unfathomable.
We Catholics have been given a great gift. But with that gift comes the responsibility to reverence the Eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ. May we all remain faithful to the Bread of Life.