Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, Manhattan
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
August 16, 2015
Prov 9:1-6, Ps 34, Eph 5:15-20, Jn 6:51-58
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided the homily:
In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells the Ephesians and us, “Be careful, then, how you live, not as unwise people, but as wise!” He encourages us to “make the most of the opportunity” of life, not to “continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.” He stresses that we have a choice about how we are to live. There are many who live unwisely and in ignorance. There are many who waste the opportunity of life God has given them. St. Paul says reminds us of God’s call to live differently, to seize the chance and live according to his will.
What does it mean to live wisely, to make the most of our opportunity, to live according to the will of God? We get a clue from the first reading. In this passage from the Book of Proverbs we see wisdom, building her house, preparing a banquet, and inviting others to come in. Wisdom is a term, a title, for God: God says, “You who are simple, turn in here! To the one who lacks understanding, Wisdom says, ‘Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.’” Notice what Wisdom, what God, doesn’t do to pass on his wisdom: He doesn’t build a classroom and prepare a lecture. Significantly he builds a house and prepares a banquet. He doesn’t bring in the ignorant principally to teach them, but to feed them on the “bread” and “wine” he’s prepared, which wisdom calls “my food.” They will grow in the path of wisdom through consuming wisdom, through becoming what they eat. The foolish think that we can learn it all intellectually, that faith is fundamentally an intellectual exercise, on in which we can comprehend everything we need to. It’s not that instruction is unimportant — sacred study, learning from Jesus the Master, is essential in our faith — but it’s also true that our finite minds can only learn and retain so much. The wise path, the one in which we advance in the way of understanding, is one in which we come to enter into communion with that nourishment that we cannot make or achieve of our own, the nourishment God provides at the banquet he’s throwing.
Consuming Wisdom Incarnate
This sets the tone, obviously, for today’s Gospel, in which we encounter the fourth part of the five-week Catechesis on the Holy Eucharist that Jesus gives us every three years. Today Wisdom incarnate, Jesus Christ, gives us the fulfillment of the prophecy about the banquet of Wisdom announced in Proverbs. Jesus tells us that to live wisely, to advance in the way of understanding, we literally need to eat his flesh and drink his blood. We know that the Scribes and the Pharisees and many of the disciples were much more comfortable with an intellectual or conceptual religion. They were comfortable memorizing and repeating the Scriptures and rabbinical commentaries. That was within their power. But when Jesus in today’s Gospel told them something that surpassed their human abilities to understand, when he told them that the path to true wisdom was to become simple and eat of the food and imbibe the drink he has prepared, they responded with doubts and derision. In them we see foolishness masquerading as intelligence, worldly prudence substituting for true Wisdom. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?,” they murmured. Such a reaction, on the surface, was reasonable. If one of the apostles, if some ordinary rabbi had said that others needed to consume his flesh, we could understand why there would be opposition. If our mother were to tell us that for dinner we were going to consume dad’s flesh and drink grandma’s blood we would be disturbed and wonder if she had been taking hallucinogens. But the crowds present were saying that about the same man who the previous day had fed 25,000 people on five loaves and two fish. They were saying it about a person who had been astonishing and amazing them with his teaching over the past two years. They were saying it about a person they had witnesses heal people by the hundreds, making paralyzed men walk, people with withered hands whole, curing lepers and liberating those possessed by demons. None of that mattered to them. Their worldly wisdom, their trying to frame everything according to their human categories rather than reframing their human categories according to God’s, led them to rejecting the enfleshment of God’s wisdom when at last he came. Next week we will hear that it wasn’t just the pagans who rejected Jesus. It wasn’t just the hard-hearted Scribes and Pharisees and the feeble-hearted, worldly Sadducees who rejected him. It was many of his disciples who would say, “This is a hard teaching. Who can endure it?,” and walk away from the Lord Jesus, as if Jesus would never challenge them beyond their theological and gastronomic comfort zones. This discourse on the Bread of Life was one of the most significant moments in the life of Jesus, in the revelation of his plans for them, for us and for the whole world, and many were not simple enough, were not humble enough, were not faithful enough, to eat Wisdom and become truly wise.
A Matter of Life and Death
And so it comes to us. Throughout this triennial five-week course on the Eucharist Jesus, Jesus has been getting us ready to make a choice, the choice to live by his teaching or the choice, like most of his first disciples, not to trust in him enough to trust his words and therefore to abandon him partially or fully. Jesus tells us today, over and over again in different ways, a shocking truth: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” “Whoever eats me will live because of me.” “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” He who is the Truth incarnate is telling us that unless we eat him, we will have no life. We will just be walking spiritual corpses. We may still have bios, that biological life we share with plants and animals, but we won’t really have zoe, the type of divine life flowing within us that he came into the world to give us so that we might have life more abundantly (Jn 10:10). Jesus gives us the greatest wisdom of all, that to live is to live off of him, and that not to live off of him is to be spiritually dead. There are many today who reject this wisdom, including many Catholics who tragically forsake Jesus each Sunday as he eagerly desires to feed them with himself at Mass or blow him off on Holy Days like Our Lady’s Assumption. But many who would never miss on Sundays or Holy Days still do not live this teaching, because they do not find in the Eucharist their life principle. Coming to Mass, they say to themselves, is a good thing, a holy thing, an important religious duty they faithfully accomplish each Lord’s day. But they don’t really look at it as a thing of life and death. And that’s what Jesus is saying it is today: a thing of life and death. Very few Catholics look at the Eucharist this way: for example, that if they weren’t able to receive Jesus on a given week — because of a massive snow storm or a serious illness that prevented them from coming to Mass, or an unconfessed mortal sin that would prevent them from receiving Holy Communion at Mass — they would feel forlorn of the most essential reality in life. Many miss Mass today with a certain nonchalance. They don’t feel spiritually dead missing out on the greatest gift in the history of the world perhaps because they’re never really yet allowed Jesus in the Eucharist to bring them fully alive, so they don’t even know what they’re missing. To eat Jesus’ body and blood is more than merely a mechanical act of digesting Him the same way we consume a donut or drink coffee. To eat his body and drink his blood means to draw our life from him, to treat him as God and recognize that without him in our life, we’re devoid of the one thing necessary.
The Source and Summit of Christian Life
Jesus means what he says today and we shouldn’t succumb to the temptation of the evil one to try to water his words down. Unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood — unless we enter into communion with him and keep that holy communion with him — we have no life in us. To the extent that we’re spiritually alive, it’s because we’re living because of him. The Second Vatican Council phrased this teaching in a very powerful way. They said that Jesus in the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” He is the source, the point from which everything flows. And he is the summit, the goal toward which everything goes. If we’re living a life that’s truly Christian, we will be uniting everything we do to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. And if we’re not actively and consciously uniting all that we’re doing to our Eucharistic Lord, we’re not yet living the truly Christian life. Let’s phrase this a different way: The Christian life doesn’t involve merely knowing, for example, the Catechism; it doesn’t terminate in living by the ten commandments; its culmination is not ever merely in a sacramental life, understood as merely attending Mass each week and going to Confession at least once a year; it involves making Jesus in the Eucharist the Source and Summit, the alpha and omega, the beginning and end of our life, drawing our strength from the Jesus in the Eucharist and seeking to do everything in Communion with Him. Someone for whom Jesus in the Eucharist is not yet his or her Source and Summit isn’t really and fully living the Christian life. That’s what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel. The choice facing each of us today is true growth in wisdom, or remaining where we are. Today Jesus says to us, “You who are simple, turn in here!” Divine wisdom calls to us again today: “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity and walk in the way of insight!” It’s to draw our life from holy Communion with Jesus and live off the Mass, or to seek our life principle somewhere else, serving some other god of our own making, structuring our life in some other way other than what Jesus is indicating. This is the most important choice we’ll ever make in life, and if we choose Jesus, it will change not only the way we look at Sunday Mass, but also daily Mass, at Eucharistic adoration, and at the unity of the Christian moral life, which is meant to be a commentary on the words of consecration, as we, having received Jesus’ body and blood, go out to others to say, “This is my body, this is my blood, this is my sweat, my heart, my calloused hands, all my efforts, given and poured out for you.”
St. John Bosco’s Eucharistic Life and Catechesis
Today the Church celebrates a great anniversary of someone who has helped so many people live by what Jesus is teaching us in this five-week Eucharistic catechesis. 200 years ago today, on August 16, 1815, in a small village of Becchi close to Turin in northern Italy, St. John Bosco, the patron saint of school children, young people, street kids and juvenile delinquents was born. I won’t review his amazing biography from abject poverty after the death of his father when he was two to the obstacles he overcame to become a priest, to how he with magic tricks and juggling sought to lead young ruffians to Christ, to his founding the Salesian Order and revolutionizing the way the Church evangelized young people. But I do want to ponder what he taught the children about the importance of making Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, and devotion to the Mother who gave him to the world and shows us how to relate to him, the real center and focus of one’s life. From the time John Bosco was nine, God guided him through dreams, and on May 30, 1862, when he was 46 years old, he told all the orphans he was housing —he would house over 800 of them at one time — a dream he had had a few nights before in which he saw a huge naval battle in which a big ship guided by the Pope with a flotilla of other boats led by bishops, was being attached by so many opposing forces, who were trying to ram and sink the barque of Peter. The winds and the ferocious waves were against the papal fleet. But then he saw two huge pillars coming out of the sea. At the top of one stood Mary, Help of Christians, and at the top of the other was a huge Host underneath which was the inscription “Salvation of the Faithful.” Don Bosco saw in his dream that the Pope and the boats in his flotilla labored to anchor themselves to these two pillars and once they did, the opposing ships were scattered and broken to pieces. St. John Bosco interpreted the dream as an indication of the types of attacks, the opposing winds and seas, the salvos of enemies that would try to sink the Church, but he also saw the remedy: anchoring oneself to Jesus in the Eucharist and to the Mother who gave us that blessed Fruit of her womb and shows us how to relate to him in faith. And he would preach about the Eucharist and Mary often.
- “Go to Communion frequently,” he would say. “If you only knew what a great truth this is! Frequent Communion is the main column sustaining the moral and physical world, preventing it from collapse….Believe me, my dear children, I do not think that I am exaggerating when I say that frequent Communion is a solid column upon which one pole of the world rests, [and] devotion to Our Lady is the column which supports the other pole.”
- He said elsewhere, “I want you to make use of two spiritual wings – devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to the Blessed Virgin. These two wings, these two devotions, you may be sure, will soon help you raise yourselves toward heaven.”
- “I beg you to recommend to everyone,” he would instruct the first Salesian priests, “first, adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and then reverence for most holy Mary.”
- He would encourage the orphans he had brought from the streets, taught trades and sought to inspire toward holiness, that “there is no greater happiness in this world than that which comes from a communion well received.” He would add, “There is nothing that the devil fears more than these two things: a communion well received and frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament. Do you want the Lord to give you many graces? Visit him often. Do you want the Lord to give you few graces? Visit him few times.”
- With regard to how to live in this world with our hearts lifted up toward eternity, he would tell them, “Devout and frequent reception of communion is the most efficient means to assure a good death and save one’s soul.”
- But it wasn’t just about the next world. He would also link the Eucharist to our happiness here nad now. “Jesus Christ instituted this Sacrament to give us a sign of the great love He has for us and to give us adequate nourishment for our souls,” he said to them. “My dear boys, love Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and you shall be truly happy.”
- And he would try to form them in a proper appreciation for the gift Jesus gives of himself in the Holy Eucharist. He gave the analogy: “If a well-known and trustworthy person were to go to a public square and tell all the idlers loitering there that on a certain hill they would find a gold mine and could take all they wanted, do you think anyone would shrug his shoulders and say he did not care? They’d be dashing there as fast as they could! Well, now, doesn’t the tabernacle hold the most precious treasure ever to be found on earth or in heaven? Unfortunately, there are many who cannot see it because they are [spiritually] blind. Yet our faith unerringly tells us that endless riches are to be found there. People sweat and toil to make money, and yet, in the tabernacle dwells the Lord of the universe. He will grant you what you ask, if you really need it!” His words are an echo of what Jesus said two weeks ago in the second part of this Eucharistic catechesis, that we shouldn’t strive for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life that the Son of Man will give us.
- And to help them receive Holy Communion with proper reverence and devotion, he would help them to look at the Eucharist from a Marian perspective: “Imagine,” he said, “that it is no longer the priest but the most holy Madonna herself who comes to give you the Holy Host.” Once we are able to see the Blessed Virgin we would grasp far more easily that what we’re receiving is the same Son she gestated for nine months and gave to the world. She would help us to understand that at Mass we are receiving Jesus! And once we really take seriously that in the Eucharist we encounter Jesus Christ, then everything else becomes so much simpler, because we all readily grasp that there is nothing more important in the whole world than coming to be with Jesus, through whom all things were made, who made us, who died for us, who rose for us, who is here for us, who accompanies us through life, and who wants us to experience in this world forever all that God the Father sent him into the world to accomplish in us. We won’t change our priorities for “bread” and “wine,” however holy. But if the Eucharist really is Jesus, and if we believe in Jesus and love him, then it makes total sense for us to draw our entire life from Jesus here, to make our relationship with him the source and the summit of our Life. That’s what this five week Eucharistic catechesis is meant to help us to grasp and to seize.
God’s present on St. John Bosco’s 200th birthday
St. John Bosco is doubtless praying for heaven that rather than seek to give him a gift on his 200th birthday, we will receive from him his teaching on the greatest Gift of all and receive that Gift with the same devotion he did and the same love and gratitude with which he tried to train his Salesian sons and all those who came to him as a spiritual father. Jesus wants us to live off of him and help others to learn to live off of him. This was the secret of St. John Bosco’s life and greatness here on earth. It’s a secret he passed on to his Salesians and through them to so many young boys and girls over the course of the last 200 years. It’s a lesson about true wisdom that St. John Bosco wants us to grasp today. And if we do, and live a life in total conformity to what he calls the “most precious treasure even to be found on earth or in heaven,” then maybe people will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of our birth in centuries to come. Let us, with St. John Bosco and all the saints, come to Wisdom’s banquet, to eat wisdom’s food and drink, and to order our entire life to this holy, life-changing, heaven-making feast. Blessed indeed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 PRV 9:1-6
she has set up her seven columns;
she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine,
yes, she has spread her table.
She has sent out her maidens; she calls
from the heights out over the city:
“Let whoever is simple turn in here;
To the one who lacks understanding, she says,
Come, eat of my food,
and drink of the wine I have mixed!
Forsake foolishness that you may live;
advance in the way of understanding.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Glorify the LORD with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Reading 2 EPH 5:15-20
Watch carefully how you live,
not as foolish persons but as wise,
making the most of the opportunity,
because the days are evil.
Therefore, do not continue in ignorance,
but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.
And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery,
but be filled with the Spirit,
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts,
giving thanks always and for everything
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.
Alleluia JN 6:56
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 6:51-58
Jesus said to the crowds:
“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.”
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever.”