Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
Memorial of St. Fidelis Sigmaringen
April 24, 2015
Acts 9:1-20, Ps 117, Jn 6:52-69*
To listen to a recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in this homily:
- Today, in which we take up the Gospel for Friday and Saturday of the Third Week of Easter — since tomorrow we will celebrate the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist — we get to the climax of Jesus 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. In the first part we get to the doctrinal climax; in the second part 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.
- But in order for this to occur, we need to respond to Jesus’ self-gift with faith. We need to pass on to others what we ourselves have received. We need to die to ourselves and allow Christ in his Risen existence to grow within us. And the second half of today’s Gospel reading helps us to do just that. We see that there are three possible responses to Jesus’ self-revelation in the Eucharist.
- The first response is rejection.
- Throughout the Discourse, Jesus has been dialoguing fundamentally either with the “crowds” or the leaders of the “Jews.” They struggled with Jesus’ words with gnawing on his flesh and drinking his blood, which — without the Eucharistic context we are now aware of after the Last Supper — sounded cannibalistic and gross. But today Jesus’ dialogue is with the disciples and then the twelve disciples whom he had chosen as apostles. These were the people who had been with Jesus for up to two years, observing him heal lepers, the lame, the blind, watching him cast out demons and raise the dead, hearing his great sermons, and parables, and making the decision to follow him. But many of the disciples slammed on the breaks when it came to what Jesus was saying about the need to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have any life within them. “This saying is hard,” they say in today’s Gospel, “who can accept it?” They were right that the teaching is hard, but let’s face it, many of Jesus’ teachings are hard: to forgive 70 times 7 times, to love our enemies, to pray for our persecutors, to pick up our Cross each day to follow him, to save our life by losing it, to cut off our hands and feet and pluck out our eyes if they lead us to sin, and — most of all — to love the Lord with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. These are all hard. Some are even excruciatingly hard. But who can accept it? Someone with faith can accept it. These disciples seemed to behave as if they didn’t anticipate Jesus would challenge them to leave their comfort zones, not to mention to die to themselves so as to live by Him. But that’s what he was doing. That’s what he was always doing. And that’s what we have to confront. Jesus calls them out on this. He says, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? … But there are some of you who do not believe.” They simply didn’t have the faith to accept something shocking that Jesus would say. Ultimately they didn’t believe in Jesus enough. And St. John tells us later, “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him.” They abandoned Jesus because of his teaching about the Eucharist. Note that Jesus didn’t run after them saying that they had misunderstood him. He also didn’t water down the truth. He knew that they had understood him clearly but they just didn’t have the faith to believe in Him enough to believe in what he taught.
- Still today there are many who don’t believe in Jesus’ teaching in the Eucharist, finding it too hard to endure. They have some faith in Jesus, they do follow him to some degree, but they find the teaching on the Eucharist revolting. So many of our Protestant brothers and sisters are in this camp just don’t accept the literal meaning of Jesus’ words throughout the Bread of Life Discourse and separate themselves from this great sacrament. But there are many Catholics, too, who don’t believe in Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist and their need to enter into Communion with him in order to live. The surveys show this lack of faith, that many Catholics just think that the Eucharist is simply bread and wine. But we see it most in the percentage of Catholics who don’t even make the effort to come to receive Jesus worthily on Sundays. They think that keeping Holy the Lord’s day is “hard” and wonder who can accept putting God first on the Lord’s day. We need to pray in a special way for all those, especially, among the disciples, who find Jesus’ teachings hard.
- The second response we see today is hypocrisy.
- This we see in Judas. St. John tells us that in response to his teaching, “Jesus knew the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.” But Judas didn’t have the courage to admit it at the time. He continued to follow the Lord on the outside. He continued to pretend as if he believed. But his doubts about Jesus really crystallized right here. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen used to preach about this Eucharistic beginning of Judas’ betrayal in his powerful retreats to brothers priests. “Scripture gives considerable evidence to prove that a priest begins to fail his priesthood when he fails in his love of the Eucharist,” Sheen wrote in his spiritual autobiography, A Treasure in Clay. “The beginning of the fall of Judas and the end of Judas both revolved around the Eucharist. The first mention that Our Lord knew who it was who would betray him is at the end of the sixth chapter of John, which is the announcement of the Eucharist. The fall of Judas came the night Our Lord gave the Eucharist, the night of the Last Supper. The Eucharist is so essential to our oneness with Christ that as soon as Our Lord announced It in the Gospel, It began to be the test of the fidelity of His followers. First, He lost the masses, for it was too hard a saying and they no longer followed Him. Secondly, He lost some of His disciples: ‘They walked with Him no more.’ Third, it split His apostolic band, for Judas is here announced as the betrayer.” Likewise the fall of many of Jesus’ beloved friends happens in this similar way. They continue to follow Jesus on the outside, but not on the inside. They pretend as if they believe, but they really don’t. Often they’ll come to receive Jesus like Judas did during the Last Supper and go out into the night and betray him. They’ll receive him unworthily, believing that they can remain in communion with Christ here and remain obstinately in sin in other parts of their life. This, in a sense, is even worse than outright rejection, because it lacks sincerity. And when we don’t really believe in Jesus here, when we don’t really seek to unite our entire life to him, when we think we should just go with the routine and receive Jesus even though we know that we’ve sinned against him, then it just leads to greater moral schizophrenia and greater betrayals. We need to learn from where Judas’ great betrayal began.
- The third response is the one that the Lord wants from us, that of faith:
- After the multitude of his disciples had abandoned him, after he had seen the response of those who didn’t believe and the one who would betray him, Jesus turned to the other members of the twelve and asked, “Do you also want to leave?” It was a question coming from the depth of Jesus’ disappointment, which itself was coming out of the depth of his love for those who were abandoning him in droves, because they thought that his total gift of himself to us in the Eucharist was, rather than the greatest example of divine love, an example of human insanity. But St. Peter shows us what real faith is. Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy one of God.” Jesus’ teaching wasn’t any easier for Peter than for the many disciples who had just abandoned Jesus. He wouldn’t understand what Jesus was saying until a year later when he during the Last Supper would totally change bread and wine into his body and blood. But he knew that Jesus had the words of eternal life and so, because of his faith in Jesus, he put his faith in Jesus’ words. Likewise, our Eucharistic faith is based on our faith in Jesus’ words. In the great Eucharistic Hymn, Adoro Te Devote, written by St. Thomas Aquinas, we sing, “I belief whatever the Son of God has said. Nothing is truer than the Word of truth!” Eucharistic miracles can help buttress our faith in the Eucharist, but they can’t substitute for it. We believe that what we’re about to receive is Jesus’ body and blood because Jesus told us that it was and sent out the apostles from the Upper Room with the command to do this in his memory.
- Today let us ask St. Peter to help us to believe in Jesus to such a degree that we will grasp he has the words of eternal life and make our whole existence a commentary on those words. Let us beg St. Paul to intercede for us for the grace of true and total conversion so 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 — as we’ve been pondering during this “little Eucharistic octave of Easter” — 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.
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them, “Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
It is the Spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.”
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe
and the one who would betray him.
And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me
unless it is granted him by my Father.”As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer walked with him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”