Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 20B
You can’t really blame the crowds in today’s Gospel for asking themselves the obvious question. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Eating human flesh was unthinkable in the Jewish mindset, and in most cultures throughout history, cannibalism has been considered pretty disgusting if not really wrong and sinful. But it’s very striking that in today’s Gospel, Jesus offers us no explanation as to how we will be able to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. Instead, He simply becomes more insistent that we desperately need to feed upon Him. “Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you do not have life within you.” In other words, you’re already dead, unless you live off the life of Christ.
Last week, I talked about how eternal life and the life of heaven can begin even now, when we live from the life and love of Jesus Christ in our own lives. But the sad reality is that the opposite can also happen. When we refuse to remain in Christ and live from his divine life, when we get so caught up in ourselves and in the things of this passing world that we lose sight of what’s really important, we can begin to live hell on earth, eternal death even before we die. We become a lot like zombies, the walking dead, souls lost and wandering in this world, driven by our unquenchable desires and devouring one another as a result. That’s why we desperately need to feed on Christ and remain in Him and allow Christ to remain in us, because Jesus Christ is the true and only fulfillment of all desire. When we don’t feed on him, we end up devouring ourselves and one another.
But the question remains unanswered in today’s Gospel of how it’s possible to eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of Jesus. And Jesus won’t really answer this question of how, until the night before His crucifixion. At the Last Supper, Jesus shows His Apostles how they will be able to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. Through the power of His word—which can only be true and never false because He is God—through the power of his word Jesus changes bread and wine into the Sacrament of his Real Presence when he says, “This is My Body,” and, “This is the chalice of My Blood,” but the appearances or species of bread and wine remain, even when there is really no longer bread and wine, but instead the very substance and person of Jesus Christ under these appearances. And as Jesus commands His Apostles, “Do this in memory of Me,” He gives them the authority and power to do what He does with His own words, to make Him present again under the appearances of bread and wine. And down to our own day, through Apostolic succession, Catholic priests have been given the authority and power from Jesus to do what Jesus did with His words and make Him present to us once again on this altar.
So the Eucharist is not a thing, and we don’t just receive some thing when we receive Holy Communion. And we don’t receive bread or wine, but we receive someone, we receive a Person, the Divine Person of Jesus Christ Himself, with His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, to be our life and our salvation. But how do we prepare to receive such a Guest?
Just imagine for a moment, you’re sitting at home and there’s a knock at the door. And you go to the door and open it to find one of your best friends standing outside. Now imagine that you let this person inside your house, but you don’t say anything to them and you don’t listen to what they have to say. They’re free to do what they want in your house, but because you’re busy and have other things on your mind, you just go about your own business and leave your friend to attend to himself. Now if this is how you regularly host people when they come to your home, there probably won’t be too many who are eager to visit you.
But how often is this exactly how we receive Jesus in Holy Communion? Instead of taking some time to speak to Jesus and be attentive to Him and listen to Him at the time of our most intimate union with Him, we instead attend to other things, like how we’re going to get out of the parking lot, where we’re going to eat after Mass, what the people around us are wearing, what the people around us sound like while singing the Communion hymn, or any other number of things that might come to our minds. I know this because I do the same thing, thinking of what’s coming next or what announcements I need to make or whatever else. We all need to be more attentive to Jesus if we want to remain in Him and truly live. Let’s take this Mass as an opportunity to really focus on Christ, and when we notice our minds wandering to other things, not to get upset, but to gently turn back to Jesus, look upon His face, and find rest in Him and in Him alone.