The Courage Needed to Live a Truly Eucharistic Life, 2nd Saturday of Easter, April 9, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the Second Week of Easter
April 9, 2016
Acts 6:1-7, Ps 33, Jn 6:16-21

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • We are two days into a special, second Easter Season Octave, focus mystagogically on the 6th chapter of St. John’s Gospel. We began yesterday with the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, we’ll begin on Monday, Jesus’ discourse in the Capernaum Synagogue about his our need to eat his body and drink his blood, and today we ponder the miraculous scene of his walking on the water that is the historical and theological bridge between the two. The whole point of this chapter, given to us in the Easter Season, is to appreciate and to enter into the mystery of how Jesus gives us his risen life and wants us to live it. It’s in the Eucharist, as he’ll tell us later during this Octave: unless we eat his body and consume his blood, we have no life in us, but if we gnaw on his flesh and drink his blood we will have eternal life and he’ll raise us on the last day. The Christian risen life is, therefore, a Eucharistic life in the fullest sense. We enter into communion with Jesus’ Resurrection through consuming his risen body and blood and entering thereby into communion with him. Everything we do is meant to be directed here and everything in our life is supposed to flow from this encounter. That’s why the Church says that Jesus in the Eucharist is the source and the summit, the root and the center, of the Christian life. Any life that is truly Christian will flow from, and be directed toward, this living, loving encounter with the Risen Lord.
  • Where does Jesus’ walking on water fit into this whole Eucharistic discourse? Nothing of course happens by pure chance and especially when it comes to Jesus’ life, it was the unveiling of a plan formed from the beginning of time. How does the miracle on the Galilean Sea unite the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish on the eastern side of the sea to Jesus’ discourse about what that miracle pointed to — the miraculous multiplication of himself as the Bread of Life and of us, as his fish, caught by the fishers of men — on the western side? This scene was meant to help the apostles and the entire Church make the leap from the natural to the supernatural and explicitly to open them up to Jesus’ power over death.
  • Man’s greatest fear is death and, more specifically, the horror of a painful and terrifying death. Today our greatest nightmare of death might be running out of jet fuel at 38,000 feet and falling at top speed. In the ancient world it was drowning. Still today we have a terror of drowning, which is why water boarding is so effective as a torture, in which a wet face cloth is put over someone’s face and water poured on top of it to simulate the process of drowning — a form of torture that, even if one won’t die from it, will crack so many people who could deal with other forms of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The psalms are full of this fear of death by drowning. “Save me, God, for the waters have reached my neck. I have sunk into the mire of the deep, where there is no foothold. I have gone down to the watery depths; the flood overwhelms me. I am weary with crying out” (Ps 69:2-4). “All day long they surge round like a flood, from every side they close in on me” (Ps 88:18). When Jesus came walking on the water, he was showing that he could transcend even the powers of death. This was something the apostles — and all of us — needed to see as Jesus was prepared to do for us in the Eucharist what he would do for St. Peter on another occasion when Jesus walked on the waters when the apostles were fearing for their lives: he would respond to our prayers for salvation by embracing us and taking us anew into the boat of the Church. That’s what Jesus does for us when he grasps us in the Eucharist from the inside out. He lifts us above the waters. He lifts up our hearts. He helps us to seek and seize the things that are above.
  • Our embrace of and by the Risen Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is meant to be the chief characteristic of the Christian life. It’s supposed to change our life and make our life Eucharistic. We see how it was initially in the early Church. Flowing from their Eucharistic communion, they lived in loving communion. They prayed together. They went on pilgrimage to the Temple together. They ate together. They were of “one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” This wasn’t just a moral consequence of the celebration of Mass but a sacramental consequence. St. Thomas Aquinas said that the ultimate effect of the Sacrament of Communion was not the transubstantiation of bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood, soul and divinity; that, he said, was both an effect and a sacrament pointing to another effect that it would efficaciously bring about (res et sacramentum). The ultimate effect is to form those who receive Holy Communion worthily into “one body, one spirit in Christ,” as we pray in the Eucharistic Prayer. Jesus had prayed that we might be one as the Father and he are one, and in the Holy Eucharist, God seeks to bring this type of union about. This communion is just one way our lives are supposed to be Eucharistic. We could also analyze how they’re supposed to be loving, “doing this in memory of” Jesus by offering our own body, blood, sweat, tears, money, time and lives for God and for others.
  • But it’s clear that the serpent slithered among the early Church in order to damage the type of risen Eucharistic life that is supposed to characterize the Christian life. He sought to sow division and selfishness. We see that in today’s first reading when “the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” Ethnicity had begun to trump over the unselfish, sacrificial, familial communion that is meant to reign in the Church. The same thing happened later in Corinth. St. Paul needed to write, “Your meetings are doing more harm than good.  … When you meet as a church there are divisions among you. When you meet in one place, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk” (1 Cor 11:17-34).
  • How was the Church going to respond to this tangible material need of the care of widows and to this obvious spiritual need for true union flowing from Eucharistic communion? They responded as a Mystical Body formed by sacramental union. St. Paul would write to the Corinthians, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. … Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,’ it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. … If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  … The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’  … If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Cor 12:4-26). In the Church Christ founded the Holy Spirit sought to bring about an organic division of labor in order to meet the growing needs. The apostles grasped that they needed to prioritize prayer and preaching of the word. But that didn’t mean that charity was less important. Because it was equally important and the apostles couldn’t do everything, they, led by the Holy Spirit, determined to ordain the first deacons, to carry out this work of charity. But just like the apostles were being charitable in their prayer, preaching and the celebration of the Sacraments, so the deacons, while prioritizing prayer, would also have that clarity flow from and lead to the ministry of the world, the celebration of the sacraments and prayer — something we’ll see next week in the life of St. Stephen who will die preaching about salvation history’s culminating in Jesus.
  • This points to something really important in the Christian life and, during this Year of Consecrated Life, in the life of religious. The celebration of the Eucharist, our contact with the Risen Jesus, is supposed to impact our conversations with God, the words we say to others, the way we treat each other and strangers. The Eucharist is meant to lead to prayer, preaching and diakonia (service). I’d like to share a couple of points by Pope Benedict on this reality mentioned by today’s readings that have always moved me.
    • The first is from his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), in which he wrote about the initial growth of the Church: “As the years went by and the Church spread further afield, the exercise of charity became established as one of her essential activities, along with the administration of the sacraments and the proclamation of the word: love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word” (DCE 22).
    • The second is an extended commentary on the importance of charity as a fruit of Christ’s love for us in the Eucharist that he gave in a catechesis on April 25, 2012. Bringing up the serious problem concerning pastoral charity that we encounter in today’s Gospel, he wrote, “Difficulties arose in the two activities that must coexist in the Church — the proclamation of the word, the primacy of God and concrete charity, justice — and it was necessary to find a solution so that there would be room for both, for their necessary relationship. The Apostles’ reflection is very clear, they say, as we heard: ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables’ (Acts 6:2-4). Two points stand out: first, since that moment a ministry of charity has existed in the Church. The Church must not only proclaim the word but must also put the word — which is charity and truth — into practice. And, the second point: these men must not only enjoy a good reputation but also they must be filled with the Holy Spirit and with wisdom; in other words they cannot merely be organizers who know what “to do”, but must “act” in a spirit of faith with God’s enlightenment, with wisdom of heart. Hence their role — although it is above all a practical one — has nonetheless also a spiritual function. Charity and justice are not only social but also spiritual actions, accomplished in the light of the Holy Spirit.”
  • The same Holy Spirit who distributes his gifts makes it possible for us to preach with tongues of fire, to pray because we don’t know how to pray as we ought, to celebrate the Sacraments efficaciously and to “act” in a spirit of faith with God’s enlightenment. He doesn’t ask us all to do the same proportion of cooperation in the Spirit flowing from the love we receive in the Eucharist and bringing those deeds of love back to the Offertory, but our Christian life, like the life of the Church, will involve this docility to the Holy Spirit who seeks to help us to continue Christ’s work.
  • Today at this Mass, the source and summit of the Church’s life, our life and the life of a Christian, Jesus coming to us today not on water but on the altar. It’s hear that he seeks to take away our anxieties as he says, “Do not be afraid. It is I.” It’s hear that he seeks to raise us up to share joyfully in his risen life. It’s here that by the power of the Holy Spirit he seeks to unite us to Him and to each other and to send us out with the Holy Spirit to pray through, with and in him, to preach his words, and to love as he has loved us and wants to love in and through us. We prayed in the Psalm, “Lord, let your mercy be on us as we place our trust in you,” and it’s hear that he answers that prayer!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 Acts 6:1-7

As the number of disciples continued to grow,
the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews
because their widows
were being neglected in the daily distribution.
So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said,
“It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.
Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men,
filled with the Spirit and wisdom,
whom we shall appoint to this task,
whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer
and to the ministry of the word.”
The proposal was acceptable to the whole community,
so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit,
also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas,
and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
They presented these men to the Apostles
who prayed and laid hands on them.
The word of God continued to spread,
and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly;
even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19

R. (22) Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Exult, you just, in the LORD;
praise from the upright is fitting.
Give thanks to the LORD on the harp;
with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises.
R. Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
R. Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
or:
R. Alleluia.
See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
R. Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Christ is risen, who made all things;
he has shown mercy on all people.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Jn 6:16-21

When it was evening, the disciples of Jesus went down to the sea,
embarked in a boat, and went across the sea to Capernaum.
It had already grown dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.
The sea was stirred up because a strong wind was blowing.
When they had rowed about three or four miles,
they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat,
and they began to be afraid.
But he said to them, “It is I. Do not be afraid.”
They wanted to take him into the boat,
but the boat immediately arrived at the shore
to which they were heading.
Jesus-walking-on-water