Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
May 9, 2014
Acts 9:1-20, Ps 117, Jn 6:52-59
This homily was not recorded, but the following points were attempted:
- Today and tomorrow Jesus gets to the climax of his Bread of Life discourse in the Capernaum Synagogue that the Church has us ponder every Easter season so that we may experience the “newness of life” that Jesus died and rose to give us. Today we get to the doctrinal climax; tomorrow to the moral climax. After speaking to us about how he is the True Manna given to us every day as our supersubstantial nourishment, how the Father draws us to this gift, and how we’re supposed to respond to this gift by faith — listening to, learning and doing what Jesus says — today Jesus summarizes everything in words that would have sounded almost brutally raw and somewhat sickening to his original listeners.
- After Jesus said at the end of yesterday’s Gospel that the bread he would give for the life of the world “is my flesh,” the Jews quarreled among themselves asking a totally understandable question, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” At first glance it would seem almost as if he were calling them to cannibalism. None of what Jesus was asking would make sense until a year later when Jesus would take bread and wine during the Last Supper, totally change it into his Body and Blood and give it to them to eat and drink. But Jesus was here stressing the aspect of faith, that trusting in him means to trust in what he was saying. They might have legitimate questions about how they would eat his flesh and drink his blood, but they shouldn’t doubt the reality of what he was saying. And Jesus would say that whether or not they ate and drank his body and blood worthily was something of tremendous consequences.
- Swearing an oath, he said, “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.” The Greek word for “eat” is actually gnaw, the way an animal rips every last ounce of meat off of a bone. Jesus assures us that we’re lifeless unless we enter into communion with him through his Body and Blood. We’re lifeless unless we’re living off of him. But if we live off of him we will live forever: “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” Then he gives two analogies as to how this works, the first of food and the second of filiation. “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.” We simply become what we eat and if we eat Jesus’ living flesh and blood we will remain in him and his irrepressible life will remain in us. The second analogy is filiation: “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.” Jesus in the Eucharist will become the source of our regeneration, our rebirth, our remaking through our entering into his own eternal sonship. That’s the essence of the Christian life. In baptism, we die in Christ and are raised from the dead in him, but we grow in that new life day-by-day through Eucharistic communion with Jesus.
- We see one of the most powerful illustrations of how we become one with Jesus in Holy Communion in today’s memorable first reading that details the conversion of St. Paul. When Saul was “breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord” and had gone 117 miles to Damascus to try to arrest Christians and drag them back to Jerusalem in chains — just as he had been terrorizing the Christians in and around Jerusalem and ripping them from their homes — he was met outside the gates of the Syrian city by Jesus himself. Jesus came like a bolt of lightning that flashed all around and blinded Saul. He heard a voice saying to him, not, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting my Church?” Not “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting those who believe in me.” Instead he said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me.” When Saul asked, “Who are you, Sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” So great is Jesus’ identification with the members of his Body through Holy Communion that what Saul was doing to Christians Jesus was receiving personally. The rest of the reading shows how Jesus wanted to lead Saul to his Risen life. His blindness was a sign of how he had been acting blindly. His fasting was a sign of his need for repentance. And his baptism was the means by which he began to experience Jesus’ own Risen Life, a life-changing encounter for which he would spend his entire life trying to bring to others. He would sum up his apostolic life in a Eucharistic key in his earliest letter, writing to the Corinthians, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'” And from that Eucharistic reality and his experience on the road to Damascus, he would develop his theology of the Mystical Body of Christ, that we are all members of Christ’s body and that therefore anyone who persecutes a member persecutes Christ and anyone who loves and honors a member, loves and honors Christ. So great was Paul’s personal identification with his Eucharistic Lord that he would be able to write to the Galatians, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” That’s the type of new, risen life that is meant to characterize any believer. Today let us ask St. Paul to intercede for us that we might live off of Christ just like he lives because of the Father so that we might experience even in this world a foretaste of the eternal life to which our Eucharistic communion with Jesus and with each other through Jesus is meant to lead.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
went to the high priest and asked him
for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that,
if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way,
he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.
On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus,
a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
He said, “Who are you, sir?”
The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless,
for they heard the voice but could see no one.
Saul got up from the ground,
but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;
so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.
For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias,
and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.”
He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight
and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul.
He is there praying,
and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias
come in and lay his hands on him,
that he may regain his sight.”
But Ananias replied,
“Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man,
what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem.
And here he has authority from the chief priests
to imprison all who call upon your name.”
But the Lord said to him,
“Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine
to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel,
and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”
So Ananias went and entered the house;
laying his hands on him, he said,
“Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me,
Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came,
that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes
and he regained his sight.
He got up and was baptized,
and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.He stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus,
and he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues,
that he is the Son of God.
PS 117:1BC, 2
Praise the LORD, all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples!
R. Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
and the fidelity of the LORD endures forever.
R. Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
“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.”
These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.