YEAR B: HOMILY/REFLECTION FOR THE 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
TOPIC: RECEIVING THE BREAD OF LIFE MEANINGFULLY
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Gospel: Jn 6:24-35
Message # 408: “Bear Within Yourselves the Witness of Jesus”
1.The Marian Message
a. This message of the Blessed Mother intends to encourage her priests and faithful to remain steadfast in their witnessing of Jesus. These are the times of purification, apostasy and tribulations. She calls on her children never to waver, but to have trust and confidence in her maternal presence and protection: “Remain serene. Have confidence in me. These are the times of the battle and you must fight for my victory” (letter d).
b. During these times of purification, there is a need to bear witness to Jesus through fidelity to the Church and to the Lord and through holiness (letter e). Our fidelity and holiness will inspire people to become holy themselves, bringing about the purification of the world.
c. During these times of apostasy, when many people are leaving the true faith, there is a need to give courageous and strong witness of faith (letter f). One reason for the disenchantment that leads to loss of faith among many Catholics is the bad examples of priests and lay leaders, as well as the errors they propagate. The Church needs strong witnesses of the faith, and we are challenged by the Blessed Mother to be one of them.
d. During these times of great tribulation, when the forces of evil and the anti-Christ will work together to seduce a great part of humanity, we must maintain the witness of Jesus. We should never waver in our loyalty and commitment to Jesus, no matter what happens, for “in the end you will be able to contemplate with joy my great victory in the glorious triumph of Christ” (letter g).
e. We have received the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel. We have also received the holy sacraments instituted by Christ. We have received the true faith. In these times of troubles, sufferings and confusions, we are called upon to be steadfast in standing for Jesus and his principles and teachings. St. Peter said: “Better for us to obey God rather than men.” In the end, all these will be over, and the glorious victory of Jesus is ours to savor forever.
2. The Sunday Gospel
a. Only the Gospel of St. John has no account about the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. He only has the story about the washing of the feet. This is because he has spent the whole chapter 6 on the Bread of Life Discourse or sermon by Jesus. This discourse is filled with Eucharistic overtones and Old Testament imagery. This is the third part of the 6th chapter of St. John’s Gospel. The first part was about the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. It was material bread that the people received from Jesus. In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus began to take the people’s attention away from the material bread, and lead them towards the spiritual bread, the Bread of Life. And he categorically stated: “I am the Bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” It is an invitation to believe in Jesus and to accept him into our lives. But the people still were not able to grasp the spiritual reality that Jesus was trying to reveal to them.
So, this Sunday, in the third part of his discourse, he told them directly: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51). He was unimpressed with the manna from heaven, simply because it is only physical and material bread; it had no power to give the people life: “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died” (Jn 6:48). He now claimed that he is the new manna, the bread that came down from heaven that can give eternal life.
b. As expected, this statement by Jesus was shocking to his listeners. So they murmured and complained. This is similar with the grumblings and murmurs of protest by the Israelites against Moses in the desert. They just could not comprehend how Jesus, the son of a carpenter, could claim that he came down from heaven. And to top it all, how can he say that his own flesh is the bread of life? They were horrified at the thought of eating the flesh of another human being. They simply could not grasp the meaning of what Jesus was saying. This is because they have become so materialistic that their hearts and minds cannot go beyond the material and the physical. In short, this statement by Jesus, no matter how shocking it is to most of his listeners, was an invitation to examine one’s faith in him. For those who have faith in Jesus, he is the Bread of Life come down from heaven. But for those who do not believe in him, Jesus was just the “son of the carpenter.”
3. Points for Reflection
a. In relation to the Message of the Blessed Mother, we are reminded about giving strong witness to Jesus, especially in the Eucharist. In these times of apostasy and errors, the central object of the attacks by the enemy is the Eucharist. The words of Jesus are very definite and categorical: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” In the Eucharistic celebration, the bread becomes truly the body of Christ, and the wine becomes the blood of Christ. It is not only a symbolic presence of Jesus as being erroneously taught by some, but it is the real presence of Jesus. Consider this statement by St. Francis de Sales: “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.”
b. There is a classic theological principle in Latin: “Lex orandi, lex credendi”. Literally, it is translated, “The law of prayer is the law of belief.” It means that way we pray depends on how we believe. If we really believe in the real presence of Jesus (lex credendi), why do we insist on coming to Mass dressed immodestly? Why do we just stand and refuse to kneel down when receiving Holy Communion? Why do we find it so difficult to go to the Adoration Chapel and spend an hour in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament? Why do we neglect to genuflect when we see in Church the tabernacle containing the consecrated hosts, the Body of Christ? Why can many of us afford to talk loudly in Church and even use our cell phones during the Mass? These are just a few examples of the counter- witness we are giving. Our “lex orandi” (the law or the manner of praying) or the actuations we have in relation to prayer and the sacraments, are not in conformity with the faith we profess (lex credendi).
The fact is, the actuations and behavior in the Mass and in church of many Catholics reveal that they do not have belief in the sacredness of the Eucharist and in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We, therefore, should not be surprised that many of them do not anymore appreciate the beauty and profundity of the Catholic faith because we are not giving clear witness to it, especially in the most central core of our faith, which is the Eucharist.
b. People touched Jesus, and they were healed. During our time, we do not only touch Jesus; we receive him and take him into our lives in Holy Communion. St. Thomas Aquinas said that if we had but faith as then, the miracles of the Gospel could again become daily occurrences. Oftentimes we wished that we were born during the time of Jesus so that we could have experienced firsthand his miracles. But actually, there is no need for us to wish for that. Jesus is also in our midst, though in an invisible, but not less efficacious manner. He is truly present in the Eucharist, but hidden in the forms of bread and wine. As crowds of people jostled to come near Jesus and touch the hem of his garment, so upon contact with Jesus in the sacred host, the same great power of redemption would again go forth from him, and he would again come to us to cure our sorrows and infirmities. The greatest treasure is being handed to us every time we come to Communion. May our faith be strong enough to see this ineffable grace right in front of us.
c. We are no better than the Jews who were just interested in the material bread. When we pray the Our Father: “Give us this day our daily bread”, we usually think only of the material bread. And that is what we pray for so fervently. But the Scriptures said: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deut 8:3). This many of us seldom realize. This word of God became man, Jesus Christ. He now offers to us his own self to be the bread of life so that we will not perish. How interested are we in the Eucharist? Judging from the way we behave, the obvious conclusion is that we really are not interested.
Here are some examples: We come to Mass not prepared – physically (not in proper attire, no Eucharistic fast), psychologically (not in proper disposition) and spiritually (not in the state of grace). Many of us do not bother to go to Confession for a more meaningful and worthy reception of the Eucharist. We usually come to Mass late. We sit as far as possible from the altar, usually near the doors. We often find the entire celebration agonizingly long and protracted. After receiving Holy Communion, we cannot keep ourselves in silence for a few moments; we talk to our neighbor even while the sacred host is still in our mouth. We leave the Church as soon as possible, and even before the final blessing and for some, even during Communion.
Compare these to the way we behave when we are invited to a formal party and grand banquets such as in weddings: We look forward to the date of the party or banquet with eagerness and excitement. We prepare thoroughly, by taking long bath, and by going to the parlor for haircut and make-up. We come on time and even ahead of time. We dress ourselves in our best attire (“dressed-to-kill”). We even take time to go shopping for the appropriate dress. We also make sure we have a valuable present or gift to the host. We sit closest to the buffet table, if possible. We are never bored, and the party always seems so short that we want to stay behind long after it is over. These are all indications of being very interested. How our Lord wished that we would show the same interest towards the sacrament of his Body and Blood!
d. 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 even wish that there is food that will make us live forever. But this is not possible because everything in this world is limited and ephemeral. Even the Jews in the desert who ate food from heaven (manna) still died. But what many of us do not seriously consider are the words of Jesus in the Gospel this Sunday: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” If we take Jesus as our bread, indeed the bread from heaven, we will live forever. Death may still come, for our bodies are imperfect and limited; but death is just a transition and the door for our entry into eternal life.
How do we explain this? There is a saying: “We are what we eat.” When we eat material food, we imbibe and absorb material qualities – limitations and imperfections. So when we always eat fats, we become fat; when we eat too much sugar, our blood becomes sweet and we have diabetes; when we eat too much salt, our body and blood become salty and this adversely affects our kidneys; when we always drink alcohol, we become alcoholic. So we become what we eat. In Holy Communion, we “eat” the Body of Jesus. (This “eating” in not like the eating of material food, rather it is the fullness of our worship of Jesus where we become intimately one with him in communion.) Taking Jesus as our food will surely transform us. Applying the same principle in relation to material food, we can also say that we become what we eat; we become like Jesus. If Jesus is eternal, we become eternal also – we will live forever: “whoever eats this bread will live forever.” And this goes the same with the other qualities of Jesus – if he is meek, humble, loving, merciful, etc., we also are expected to have these qualities in our life. We ought to become the living images of Jesus in the world. And that is the reminder and challenge for us. Since we receive the Eucharist, we should become like Jesus. Something better must have already happened to our Christian life.
Unfortunately, many of us have “spiritual diarrhea” – what we eat just goes down the drain, and nothing is retained. So we remain as before, without any improvement in our lives as Christians. We go to Mass, and listen to the word of God. It goes into one ear, and comes out in the other ear. We receive Communion, and then that’s all. Parang wala lang! That is why, every after the Mass, the priest says: “The Mass is ended. Go in peace!” We are being sent on a mission. Why? It is because we are expected to have something to share with others since what we received during the Mass must have already been absorbed by our whole being. But the mere fact that the Philippine society remains buried in moral and spiritual decay simply indicates that many Catholics in our country have “spiritual diarrhea”. That is truly sad!
Song: “Tanging Yaman”
(Ikaw ang aking tanging yaman, na di lubusang masumpungan…”
QUESTIONS FOR SHARING IN THE B.E.C.
1. Ano ang mga nakikita mong mga kakulangan o depekto ng buhay-kristiyano nating mga Pilipino?
2. Ano ang tinanggap mong mga turo na maituturing na mali (erroneous teachings) lalo na kaugnay sa Sakramento ng Eukaristiya?
3. Ano ang maaari nating gawin upang maging maayos at mapalakas ang ating debosyon sa sakramento ng Eukaristiya?