Sunday, August 09, 2009

Bread of Life Discourse III: Drawn into the Eucharist

Jesus, Our Eucharistic Lord:
Rose Window from the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart,
Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

(19th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B; This homily was given on 8 & 9 August, 2009 at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I. and St. Mary's Church, Pawtucket, R.I.; See John Chapter 6)

We continue this weekend to listen to the beautiful words of St. John’s Gospel in what has come to be known as the “Bread of Life Discourse.” As I mentioned previously, the Church gives us five consecutive Sunday’s to follow this development in the teaching of Christ who reveals Himself as “the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41).

Our series began two weeks ago with the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Using only five loaves of bread and two small fish Christ provided for the multitude, with baskets left to spare.

Then just last week we saw how Christ had crossed over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee as the crowd began searching for Him once again. They were seeking Him out for more bread, but Christ engaged them in dialogue and encouraged them instead to work “for the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27).

This week, as Christ makes it explicit that He is the “bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:38, 44), our story takes a turn for the worse. The people are not willing to accept that He is the one sent from heaven by God. After all, they reason, we know his father and mother. Instead of believing in Him, says St. John, the people began to murmur; they started talking negatively about Him. Maybe it starts with just a comment or a small quip; we do not know. But before long the whole crowd is in on it.

How many times have we experienced something similar in our own lives? When we are in a group of people, sometimes a disparaging word is spoken about someone that we know…and maybe someone we do not really like all that much. Suddenly another person chimes in and we are all too eager to hear more of the same. Before we even realize it, we ourselves become drawn into the conversation; perhaps we begin to say things that we would not have even considered moments ago.

And we always leave those conversations the same way: more negative and discouraged than before. We ourselves become lessened and diminished. That is how sin often works in our lives. We resist for a while but once we allow ourselves to be drawn into it we are always adversely affected.

Sin separates us from God and from each other, and so it comes as no surprise that Christ so adamantly attacks it in the Gospel this weekend. “Stop murmuring among yourselves” (John 6:43), He says to them.

Christ is the enemy of sin and has come to engage it with the very power of heaven and to destroy it. But He is also the Savior of sinners, and so He offers more than just a rebuke. Instead He offers another alternative, another direction in which we should be moving.

Immediately after rebuking them He explains the reason why they have not believed: because they have not allowed the Father to move them in that direction.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him.
—John 6:44

So it becomes clear that we can either be drawn into sin and into that negative spiral that always leaves us diminished, or we can be drawn ever more deeply into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

That is what the Father is trying to do in the Gospel all throughout this “Bread of Life Discourse”: to draw the people to Christ.

That is why Christ was sent from heaven: to draw us into a deeper relationship with His heavenly Father.

That is why the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church: to draw us into an intimate and abiding relationship with the living God.

The word that St. John uses—to draw—in the original Greek implies an action which involves some kind of resistance. He uses it again towards the end of his Gospel to describe the way a fisherman pulls in a net from the sea: he draws it in, but not without effort, because it is laden with fish and meets the resistance of the water (see John 21). God the Father is constantly trying to draw us into a deeper relationship with Christ, but so very often in our lives there is resistance.

There is a powerful story about the conversion of the English writer and philosopher C.S. Lewis. You may be familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia or so many of the other books he has written which express so eloquently and with tremendous passion the Christian message and faith. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest Christian writers of this past century.

Yet for years C.S. Lewis was a vowed atheist! While in the middle of his career as a brilliant Oxford professor he had come to the conclusion that there simply was no God. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he describes how that fa├žade which he had created slowly began to crumble as the God in whom he did not believe began to draw him in! Towards the end of the book he writes:

"You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I desired so earnestly not to meet. That which I had greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."

Despite all that C.S. Lewis had done to keep God out, He had broken through and the transformation had begun. God is that powerful and that effective, even in the midst of our resistance and in spite of the many obstacles that we encounter along the way.

That same God is here with us now, and He is seeking to draw us ever closer to Jesus Christ His Son. God the Father is drawing us ever more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist, the Bread of Life. As we draw close to this altar today, let us offer no resistance, but instead allow Christ to nourish and strengthen us on our journey home to Him. May our communion bring us all closer together and, together, closer to Christ.