Today’s Gospel begins with, “After hearing Jesus doctrine many of the followers said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ Jesus was aware that His followers were complaining about it and said, ‘Does this upset you? What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before?”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are reminded in today’s Gospel that if we are not careful in the nurturing of our faith, then like the many followers of Jesus, divine Truth can also become “intolerable language” to us, and it is not impossible that you and I can even lose our faith one day; a priest is no exception; we can even lose our vocation if we take it for granted. Faith is a gift from God that is not given once and for all; faith is a divine gift that needs to be nurtured. As in today’s Second Reading that values the sacredness of the Married vocation, we have all heard of how marital relationships as a gift of love can become lukewarm and even be lost if the relationship is not nurtured daily.
What doctrine did Jesus proclaim that drove His followers away? Today’s Gospel is from John 6:60-69. If we look at the preceding verses of 51-58 we will find that the doctrine that Jesus proclaimed was about the Eucharist. He said, “I tell you solemnly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you will not have life in you. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day. For My Flesh is real food and My Blood is real drink. He who east My Flesh and drinks My Blood lives in me and I live in him.”
The fact that we are here today to worship God in this Eucharistic celebration is a clear sign that all of us believe in the doctrine of Jesus’ Body and Blood as food and drink that give us eternal life, and that this is not an “intolerable” doctrine, but an acceptable doctrine of Jesus. We are indeed blessed to be given the gift of this divine Truth.
However, this Truth in the Eucharist has to be constantly nurtured and treasured. For some of us we treasure this divine gift more than others; some of us come for daily Mass, others on weekends, still others only during Christmas and Easter; even still, there are people who only come to Church twice during their lifetime: their Baptism and their Funeral Mass.
A further observation would be in order. Some of us come to Mass early so that we can prepare our hearts and soul for the Eucharist; others consistently come 5 to10 minutes late, or even later. Some of us participate whole heatedly and listen attentively and with an open heart the Words of the Readings especially the Gospel and unite ourselves to Jesus during the Sacrifice of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, while others . . . drift in and out of the Mass as a matter of routine.
If we priests were to preside at the Mass routinely and merely mumble our prayers and preach homilies that are not properly prepared would you not be upset? If you are not upset, then it could be a bad sign because probably you are in the same boat as the routine Mass priest. But if you are upset, that may be a good sign that you value the Mass as a sacred celebration that must be taken seriously and solemnly. In Singapore, we are very blessed to be able to practice our faith freely and celebrate the Mass as frequently as we wish. But, we must value such blessings and gifts and never take the freedom and more importantly, the divine gift of Jesus Himself in the Eucharist for granted.
To highlight this, I would like to share the personal experiences of Scott Hahn, a former Presbyterian Christian; an internationally renowned Biblical scholar, an outstanding and very gifted speaker who discovered the reality of the Eucharist in the course of his long pilgrimage to the Catholic Church. He writes in his book, Rome Sweet Home, “My conversion process was becoming, supernaturally, a romance tale. The Holy Spirit was revealing that the Catholic Church, which used to horrify me so much, was really my home and my family. There was an exhilarating sense of homecoming as I discovered my father, mother, my older brothers and sisters.
One day I decided to go to Mass on my own. I took a seat as an observer in the back pew. All of a sudden a lot of ordinary people began coming in off the streets – rank-and-file type folks. They came in, genuflected, knelt and prayed. Their simple, but sincere devotion were impressive.
Then a bell rang and a priest walked out toward the altar. I remained seated; I still wasn’t sure if it was safe to kneel. As an evangelical Calvanist, I had been taught that the Catholic Mass was the greatest sacrilege that a man could commit – to resacrifice Christ – so I wasn’t sure what to do.
I watched and listened to the readings, prayers and responses – so steeped in Scripture – made the Bible come alive. All of a sudden I realised, this is where the Bible belongs. This was the setting in which this precious family heirloom is meant to be read, proclaimed and expounded. Then we moved into the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where all my covenant conclusions converged.
I wanted to stop everything and shout, “Hey, can I explain what’s happening from the Scripture? This is great! Instead, I just sat there, famished with a supernatural hunger for the Bread of Life.
After pronouncing the words of consecration, the priest held up the Host. I felt as if the last drop of doubt had drained from me. With all my heart, I whispered, “My Lord and my God. That’s really you! And if that’s you, then I want full communion with you. I don’t want to hold anything back.”
. . . And with that, I left that chapel, not telling a soul where I had been or what I had done. But, the next day, I was back, and the next, and the next. Within a week or two, I was hooked. I don’t know how to say it, but I had fallen head over heels in love with our Lord in the Eucharist! His presence to me in the Blessed Sacrament was powerful and personal. As I sat in the back I began to kneel and pray with the others whom I knew to be my brothers and sisters. I wasn’t an orphan! I had found my family – it was God’s family.”
My sisters and brothers, today we are very happy to have our RCIY and RCIA sisters and brothers, more than 100 of them this year, to join us in our Eucharistic celebration. As we welcome them with great joy, let us pray that we too like Scott Hahn will be fired with a renewed faith in the divine gift of Christ in the Eucharist for us, so that we can each be a welcoming brother and sister to them; and that we become credible and convincing witnesses of this great divine gift of the Eucharist that Scott Hahn has so beautifully shared.
Concerning today’s Gospel, Stephen Ray, a former Baptist, who converted to the Catholic faith, in his book, “Crossing the Tiber,” dedicated no fewer than 89 pages on the topic of the Eucharist as expounded in Scripture and in the ancient Church. He discovered that during the first eight centuries, not a single voice within the Church questioned the belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Concerning today’s Gospel reading, Stephen Ray says, “This is the only recorded case of disciples turning away from Christ over doctrinal issues. Why didn’t Jesus stop the departing disciples as they were scattered in revulsion over the hillsides? He would have easily shouted out to them, “Wait, don’t you understand that I was speaking symbolically? Come back, I was only speaking figuratively. He didn’t do this, and many of His disciples left Him.” (p.199)
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a Real physical Presence. Christ is physically present in the form of Bread and Wine. The words of a couple’s commitment in a solemn marriage, are not merely figurative, but real. And upon saying those words, in the context of committed love in a Church, they are each transformed from being single persons, into husband and wife to each other, for life; even though externally they appear to be the same.
Likewise, as Jesus empowered His apostles and the ordained priest, to proclaim His Words, in His Name and Person, the words of consecration, during Mass “This is My Body, this is My Blood”, when pronounced, the bread and wine no longer exist as simply bread, but are transformed forever into the real Body and Blood of Christ as Jesus Himself proclaimed at the Last Supper. To deny this Truth is to betray Christ. To accept this Truth is to open our hearts to the greatest of all gift; the divine gift of Christ that offers eternal life.
Finally, as in today’s Gospel, Jesus who asked His Apostles, will also ask you and me, “What about you . . . will you also go away too, like the others?” Will we respond with our whole heart, soul and mind in faith like Peter who said, “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe! We know that you are the Holy One of God?” God knows what is in our heart . . . what will our response be to Him?
Ref: Hearts Burning, Homilies for Sundays of the Year, cycle A, B and C; Nil Guillemette,S.J.; St Pauls Pub. Philippines. 2006; pp.267-268.)
Kindlings, Homily-Meditations on the Gospel Reading of the Weekday Mass, Nil Guillemette, S.J.; St Pauls Pub. Philippines; 2008; p.108.
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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