HOMILY FOR THE 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR B
SUNDAY HOMILY THEME: HEAVENLY BREAD
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Two elderly gentlemen from a retirement center were sitting on a bench when one turns to the other and says: “Jim, I’m 83 years old now, and I’m just full of aches and pains. I know you are about my age. How do you feel?” Jim says, “I feel just like a newborn baby.” “Really? Like a newborn baby?” asked his surprised friend. “Yeah! No hair, no teeth, and I think I just wet my pants.”
Nowadays, we are very conscious of what we eat. We try our best to eat only the food that are healthy and nutritious. This is because we want to avoid illness, and prolong our life. We all want to remain young. We even wish for a food that will make us live forever. But is this possible? This Sunday, the third in the series of five Sundays, Jesus is telling us that he is not just giving us material food, like the manna in the desert and the bread that he multiplied. Rather, he says that he is the bread himself: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (Jn 6:51). Is it possible to live forever? In the sacrament of the Eucharist, yes, it is possible: “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” And this bread is the body of Jesus himself: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
In our time, there are people who insist on the idea of the Eucharist only as a community meal. Pope Benedict XVI objects to this kind of understanding. In his book “The Feast of Faith” he said: “It is not enough to describe the Eucharist as the community meal. It cost the Lord his life, and only at this price can we enjoy the gift of the Resurrection” (p. 150). The Eucharist is more than just a meal. It is the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary being made present to us in the here and now. It is his body and blood that we partake.
Consider what St. Francis de Sales said: “Exercise your ordinary imagination, picturing the Savior to yourself in his sacred humanity as if he were beside you just as we are wont to think of our friends, and imagine that we see or hear them at our side. But when the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is there, then this Presence is no longer imaginary, but most real; and the sacred species are but a veil from behind which the present Savior beholds and considers us, although we cannot see him as he is.”
In view of this, let me point out this all-important truth: the Eucharist is a very sacred celebration, more than we ever imagine. Perhaps, owing to the simplicity and ordinariness of the entire celebration, many have fallen into the temptation of not giving enough reverence and honor to this infinitely august sacrament. We see this all the time: people coming very late into the celebration; cell phones ringing even during the solemn consecration; ladies dressed indecently and provocatively; and many others just cannot stop talking to one another during the Mass. These do not just express our lack of reverence for the sacredness of the celebration, but they also distract other people and hinder them from giving God a meaningful worship.
And perhaps also due to the mistaken belief that the Eucharist is only a meal, many of us take it in the literal sense: it’s just a meal! So, we approach Communion too casually: we fall in line and take Communion in the hand. But the danger here is that, without serious effort to really understand what we are doing, we may easily fall into some unfortunate associations. Getting into a line could evoke the image of people in a fast food restaurant as they line up to get their burgers and fries. And eating with the hands may also connote that the food we are eating is of less value. We use our hands when eat quick snacks such as hotdogs and burgers while walking on the streets, but not when we are seated in a fancy restaurant eating first-class steak!
Against this sad backdrop, St. Paul insisted that we need to seriously “discern” the Body of Christ: “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and the blood of the Lord… For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Cor 11:27, 29). So, when we come forward to receive Communion, we should prepare our minds and our hearts. It is not any ordinary food in front of us. We form a line as in procession to meet the Lord. We keep our hands joined together and out of the pockets. As the person in front of us receives Communion, we genuflect or at least, make a profound bow that includes not only our head but our upper body as well. Better still, as a sign of our faith in the Real Presence of Christ, we ought to remember that kneeling down is the most appropriate position in receiving Holy Communion. Pope Benedict XVI wrote thus: “To bend the knee is to bend our strength before the living God…The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core.” (“Spirit of the Liturgy”, p. 191, 194).
Furthermore, the universal practice in the Church is to receive Communion on the tongue, and Pope Benedict XVI even prefers it. (cf. “Pope Prefers Communion on the Tongue”-6/26/2008; “Communion in the Hand Should be Revised, Vatican Official Says” – 02/01/2008 at www.catholicnewsagency.com ). As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Out of reverence towards this sacrament, nothing touches it but what is consecrated.” (S.T.,VIII,Q.82, Art.13).
Communion in the hand, however, has been allowed in the Philippines by way of indult. The Dictionary of Canon Law defines indults as “quasi-privileges, which the legislator benevolently grants for a time, either outside the law or contrary to the law.” This means, therefore, that this manner of receiving Communion, though allowed, is not the rule, but the exception, and only “for a time”. In fact, the Bishops’ Conference has to garner a two-thirds vote from among its members in order to petition the Holy See to grant the country this special permission (indult) of receiving Communion in the hand. The Bishops have to ask permission.
Clearly, then, it is not the rule. The Philippine Bishops tried to get the needed two-thirds vote, “and four times did it fail. It was only in January 1989, that the Conference managed to obtain the two-thirds majority vote required by law. The conformation of the Conference decision was granted on February 27, 1989 by the Congregatio Pro Cultu Divino (Prot. N. 358/89)” (Canon Law Digest of the Philippine Catholic Church, 1995, UST Press, Manila, p. 51).
With this permission finally granted, our country is now allowed to distribute Holy Communion in the hand, but with the strong caution and reminder to the clergy and laity alike that supreme pastoral guidance and care have to be exercised in order to preserve and deepen true devotion and faith in the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist.
Let us be eternally grateful for this Gift of the Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. And let us do our utmost to protect, defend and promote our devotion to this most august Sacrament, the key to our eternal salvation and happiness: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. You will have eternal life with me.” Amen!
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Palmera Springs, Susano Road Camarin, Caloocan City