Sunday, July 23, 2006

"Let them eat . . . the Body of Christ."

(16th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B;This homily was given 23 July, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Mark 6:30-34)

You might remember from your old history lessons that there were many different reasons for the French Revolution. In addition to the economic problems that plagued France in the 18th century, there was also a tremendous scarcity of food and great unrest among the people.

All of these difficulties were brought before the queen at the time, Marie Antoinette. And history buff or not, all of us are familiar with her famous response to the dire circumstances of her people. To the report that the people had no bread, she replied, “Then let them eat cake.”

That very same callousness, that same lack of care for those in need is what we find in the first reading this morning. The people of Israel were plagued with bad leadership, bad shepherds. God responds to that sorry situation through the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture . . . You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish you for your evil deeds.
—Jeremiah 23:1-2

God comes out very strongly against those shepherds who care not for the flock, but only for themselves. But more than that, He promises that He will give them shepherds who will lead and care for the people; in fact, He himself will be their shepherd. Jeremiah prophesies about the Messiah, the king who is to come:

I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he will reign and govern wisely. He shall do what is right and just in the land.
—Jeremiah 23:5

The Messiah, of course, is Christ Himself, who is the very essence of what a Good Shepherd and King should be. He rules over His people with the care and concern of God Himself; He is the one who will bring them to green pastures and lead them beside the still waters; He is the one who restores their souls (Psalm 23).

And it is Jesus Christ who says to the people not “Let them eat cake,” but “Let them eat my body, and let them drink my blood.” God responds to our hunger and thirst for a better life than this, He responds to the deepest needs of our souls, with the gift of Himself—body and blood, soul and divinity—in the Eucharist.

We can become so familiar with the Eucharist, so used to hearing of the Last Supper and the words we listen to at Mass each week—the bread Christ breaks and gives to the disciples, the cup that will be poured out—that we can sometimes forget what it all really means to begin with.

Christ is referring—at the Last Supper—to the cross. It is His very body that will be broken on the cross in order to make us whole. It is the blood of Christ poured out on Calvary that brings for us the forgiveness of sins.

But the cross and the Last Supper are not the only time these things happened. The entire life of Christ is one that is broken and poured out for others; He is Eucharistic in every aspect of His life and mission. The Messiah is the one who pours Himself out completely for the people.

We see that in the Gospel this morning; Jesus invites the disciples to come away and be at rest. They are exhausted and He leads them to a quiet place away from the crowds . . . only to find that the crowds have arrived there already! Far from sending them away, He embraces them and teaches them about the kingdom of God. As St. Mark says:

His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.
—Mark 6:34

And so Christ—our Eucharistic Lord—pours Himself out once again to feed the people and meet their every need.

As Christians and those who will one day reign with Christ, we are called—here on this earth—to serve with Him and follow in His steps. As we gather here for this Eucharist, we are given the strength to do that.

On this altar the body of Christ is broken and His blood is poured out as we celebrate anew the sacrifice that set us free and made us whole again; the sacrifice of the Mass is the sacrifice of the cross itself. But our worship and communion cannot end here. We are called to share in the very life of Christ—in His sacrifice and in His life of service.

Might we go forth from this Church this morning and spend ourselves for others as Christ spent Himself for us. May we truly become, this week, bread broken to feed those who hunger for God, and the blood of Christ poured out for the life of the world.