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YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’” (John 6:51)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
In today’s gospel passage, Jesus proclaims, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51) While we partake of this Living Bread when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, Jesus remains bread for the asking, life for the giving, whenever we call out to him. Jesus is ready to nourish us at every moment, not only when we come together before his altar to partake of Holy Communion. Indeed, Jesus the Living Bread most often comes to us in manner as unassuming as his birth in Bethlehem’s simple stable, the Divine Presence touching our lives in ways so simple as to be imperceptible to those lacking eyes to see or ears to hear.
In the mid-1980s, when I was living at St. Joseph’s Parish in South Bend, Indiana and studying theology at Notre Dame University, heaven's living bread was embodied in the gentle kindness of Irma, the rectory cook. Trudging in from classes, I’d plop down at the kitchen table to bemoan the day’s little agitations, surely more molehills than mountains, but none of them ever beyond Irma’s caring. As I’d whine about boring classes, massive reading assignments and endless papers to write, she’d smile and commiserate with me, sharing her own stresses and struggles.
One spring day, though, she knocked me completely off balance with a simple question. Dropping a pile of books on the kitchen table, I remember lamenting the agony of sitting through a particularly painful scripture class. Whirling about from the sink, she hit me squarely between the eyes—“Tell me now, were Adam and Eve Catholic?” The question, so simple, so sincere and from someone so gentle, momentarily stripped the gears of my ability for explanation, and painfully now do I remember beginning to chuckle derisively and she to blush deeply, the simple question emphasizing the chasm between us. In the days and weeks that followed, though we pretended to forget that painful moment, there was no way I could undo my response or take back the pain I’d caused. Still today, Irma stands out as one of the most influential teachers from my student days in South Bend. Her simple question was not at all far from the many others now put to me by people as warmly caring as was she. And when now I respond, the memory of her pained, blushing face firmly reminds me that gentle kindness need always be my response to every question, to every human encounter. Irma, in whose kitchen I encountered living bread, continues to nourish me that I, in turn, might be bread for others.