18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Fr. Rick Sherman
Ex 16:2-4, 12-15; Ps 78:3-4, 23-25, 54; Eph 4:17, 20-24; Jn 6:24-35
August 1, 2021
As you noticed last week we switched over from the Gospel of Mark to the Gospel of John in the Sunday readings. Today’s gospel begins what is commonly referred to as the ‘Bread of Life Discourse’ and we will follow it for the next 3 weeks. So central is the Eucharist to our Tradition that the designers of the liturgy thought it important to interrupt our journey through Mark to consider the more extensive treatment of the Eucharist in the Gospel of John.
A couple days ago I was watching a recorded talk given by Los Angeles Bishop Robert Barron at a religious education conference in 2020. About three weeks before the conference began a survey by the Pew foundation had just revealed that 70% of Catholics do NOT believe that Jesus is really present in the Holy Eucharist. The majority belief is that the Eucharist is a mere symbol. Because of the recent publication of the survey Bishop Barron called up the conference organizers and notified them that he had changed the topic of his hour-long talk to the ‘The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.’
He started by reminding the folks of one of the most memorable lines of the whole Second Vatican Council back in the sixties, that the Eucharist is the ‘Source and Summit’ of our belief. The source and summit. It’s where we came from and where we are going. This could be considered a ‘founding narrative’ or ‘story of origin’ as Jesus is changing profoundly the whole trajectory of human history. Jesus is not abandoning His Jewish roots or minimizing the importance of Jewish history. He is, however, making a radical distinction between the manna that fell each day during the 40 years that Moses and the Israelites spent in the desert and the soon-to-be-instituted Eucharist which is the Bread of Life. This new Bread, the Body of Christ, now nourishes not only the body, but indeed the soul on its journey to eternal life in heaven. We often refer to heaven as the heavenly wedding banquet. This banquet is the summit. It’s where we are going. The Mass we celebrate every day in the Catholic Church prefigures the heavenly banquet to which we are called. For believers the Eucharist already has us with a foot in Heaven because Jesus is so personally with us…in fact, IN us.
Not surprisingly the 30% of true believers roughly mirrors the percent of Catholics who actually attend Mass on a regular basis. In fact, those regularly participating might be closer to 20%. We can see Bishop Barron’s cause for alarm because the Eucharist, the Body of Christ, is not just a consecrated Host that we receive and then go on with our regular business throughout the week. The Body of Christ is who we are and who we are becoming. The Eucharistic Prayers at Mass boldly proclaim that we are becoming ONE BODY; ONE SPIRIT IN CHRIST. It’s our very identity. Only the Body of Christ captures the deepest sense of our truest identity, ‘deeper than our psychic drives and beyond the grasp of human reason’ as stated in the Catechism. (CCC 2563)
As mentioned earlier, Jesus did not abandon His Jewish identity or history. Nor do we. Sunday Mass always includes an Old Testament reading which reminds us of our Jewish roots and a fuller sense of our identity going back four thousand years to Abraham and Sarah. This is critical to Jesus’ identity and critical to our identity. When we abandon the Eucharist and our belief in the Real Presence we abandon our history and our truest identity. Critical to an authentic understanding and experience of the Eucharist is a deep awareness of this foundational story … that actually takes us all the way back to Creation… our very human beginnings and everything around us. Again, this is our founding narrative, or story of origin. It matters.
There’s much conflict and concern once again over our country’s founding narrative and hence, our very identity. Who gets to write it and how do we verify it? What do we compare it with? Is it the 1619 Project, the Proud Boys, the Republicans or the Anarchists? Which statues do we rip down and which ones do we construct in their places?
In our parish we are currently reading a book entitled Columbus and the Crisis of the West. It’s reminding us of our need to be humbled by the sheer complexity of human nature, our communities and our relationships with other groups and tribes. On Thursday we will be watching together a docu-drama on the Pilgrim story with some of the best recent scholarship…. I think. Who were the real founders and how religious were they? And WHAT religion were they? Any genuine understanding of human nature soon reveals that there are very few saints from any culture and lots of confused and frightened people. What it means to be an American and a Christian are currently subjects causing deep distress in our country and hence, throughout the world.
Drug abuse of all kinds, despair and even suicide are usually the consequence of people without a true identity or place in the world; people without a community or clear meaning in life.
Many people are apparently struggling with sexual identity. There seems to be an ever-growing list of gender choices that confuse our understanding of attraction and love. If we had a deeper experience of Christ among us and Christ within us, we wouldn’t have so many people so confused about their sexual identity. The soul is much deeper than the physical body or our emotions and all the attractions that go with them. Nothing but the Catholic Church even speaks of anything so deep and rich.
We are losing more than income when Catholics abandon the Eucharist. We are losing our Christian identity and further confuse our national identity and all the peace and order that comes from it. A pandemic we can’t control, yet another war or two that we cannot decisively win, deeper racial divides and larger gaps in levels of wealth have us once again grappling with what it means to be a peaceful and just people with a clear vision of our future.
We’re struggling with the ‘origin story’; our ‘national narrative’. Who can we trust to write the history which defines us and our values? How can we make any long-term plans and have long-term goals? This is a very active discussion and debate in churches, universities, think tanks, foundations and any number of groups we don’t even know about who want to assert their version of ‘THE STORY’.
The bread of life discourse in the 6th Chapter of the Gospel of John reveals to us the ultimate Truth about who we really are and what we are doing here. It transcends ethnicity, gender, economics, and even politics when applied honestly and accurately. It addresses the reality that God has implanted in all of us and in all of history; BUT, we have to be familiar with the story handed down to us and pass it along. We need to actually get to know the other members of the Body of Christ if we are to BE the Body of Christ.
The Books of Genesis and Exodus, as well as the Gospels of Mark and John provide a particularly apropos reading for our summer enlightenment. Maybe even bring a straying Catholic to Mass with you…..