Working for the Eucharist, Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), August 2, 2009 (Audio included)

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
August 2, 2009
Ex 16:2-4, 12-15; Eph 4:17,20-24; Jn 6:24-35

What brings us here?

In the Gospel, we see that those who received Jesus’ free meal in the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish were looking for another free meal. Jesus called them out on it: “Amen, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs” — in other words, because you saw me perform a miracle and it’s led you to put faith in me and in my words — “but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” They came because of their material hunger and saw Jesus as a means to address their material needs.

This is not evil in itself. Jesus would teach us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” Many of us come to the Lord not just with wants but real material needs, not knowing how we’re going to pay the rent, or put food on the table, purchase the medications we need, or find a job to help support those we love.  Sometimes people come here to Church because it’s the only home they have and they ask the Lord’s assistance to be able to move off the streets. God wants to hear these prayers. As a loving Father, he wants us to bring our needs to him. It wasn’t this that Jesus was criticizing.

Jesus was criticizing the fact that they had stopped there, that all they were concerned about were their material needs. Just as with all the healing miracles, however, Jesus, in the multiplication of the loaves and the fish, was doing a sign to help them to come to ask him for something far more than loaves and fish.

Jesus tells them and tells us, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

This “food that endures for eternal life” has been taken to mean a few different things:

  • Knowing God’s word — In the battles to which Jesus was exposed in the desert, Jesus was asked by the devil to turn stone into bread to feed his incredible hunger after having fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus responded by saying, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” To work for this food means to strive to  know, understand, treasure and put into practice all the words that come from God’s mouth to feed us. This leads directly to the second common interpretation.
  • Doing  God’s will — Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to accomplish his work.” To work for the food that endures for eternal life is to strive to do God’s will. That’s why it’s not surprising that later in this Bread of Life Discourse at the Capernaum synagogue, Jesus will say, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day.”
  • The Eucharist — This is the food prophesied by the OT daily miracle of the manna. Just as God rained down manna each day to feed the people of God as they wandered in the desert before coming to the promised land, so God the Father rains down Jesus, the Living Bread come down from heaven, each day as our spiritual food in the Eucharist.

All three of these interpretations, of course, go together in the celebration of the Mass. We begin with God’s word, we unite ourselves with God’s will and “do this in memory of [him]” and then have the awesome privilege of receiving the Word made Flesh, God’s daily spiritual manna, in the Eucharist. Becoming one body with Christ in the Eucharist is meant to help us become one with his will and accomplish it in the world, as we, united with Christ our head, become his hands, his feet, his heart in the world.

With regard to his presence in the Eucharist, Jesus says we’re called therefore to “work” for this food. What does this mean?

  • It first means we’re called to desire him in the Eucharist. We need always to ask God for the gift to hunger for Jesus more, to desire him more, to love him more.
  • It means we’re called to prepare. We see in the preparation of the Jews to celebrate the Passover, in Jesus’ own preparation for the Last Supper, just how much preparation God puts into the Mass. We, too, are called to prepare, to look forward to the Mass, to look over the readings so that we’ll be able to have them impact us more, to strive to apply the fruits of the Mass in our lives and more.
  • It means we’re also called to unite all our work to the Mass. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans says that our entire life is meant to be liturgical, a Mass, an acceptable act of spiritual worship to God. When we do honest work in union with the Lord, out of love for the Lord and for others, all of this is meant to be “the work of human hands” that we unite with God’s gifts at the offertory.

This weekend is a great opportunity for us to ask ourselves how much we work and strive for this great gift of gifts. Do I hunger for Christ in the Eucharist? Do I take advantage of the opportunities provided at this parish, in others or at the downtown chapel, to come and spend time with him in loving adoration? Do I “work” to overcome obstacles so that I can receive him worthily not just on Sundays and holy days of obligation, but during daily Mass?

The Curé of Ars and the Eucharist

To help us get the motivation we need to work for this eternal food, I’d like to turn to the great saint whose 150th anniversary the Church will celebrate on Tuesday, St. John Vianney, famously known as the Curé or pastor of Ars, France. He’s the patron saint of priests and it’s because of his 150th anniversary that the Church is celebrating the Year of the Priesthood.

On Tuesday night, in the air-conditioned Church of St. Francis Xavier in Acushnet, we’re going to have a Night of Recollection on the Wisdom of the Curé of Ars for All Catholics. Among the four presentations, Msgr. O’Connor will speak on St. John Vianney and the Eucharist. Without stealing any of his thunder, I’d just like to mention a few things that all of us can learn about the Eucharist from this saint.

From the time he was a young boy, he risked his life to attend Mass.

  • He lived in the time of the French Revolution when the Civil Constitution on the Clergy forced priests into hiding. He’d leave with his family in the middle of the night to attend a celebration in some isolated barn with barely a candle. If they were caught, the priest and some of the communicants could be brought to the guillotine. They also housed these secret priests, which likewise could have gotten their family executed if caught. So important was the Mass, they made the effort to go. No price was too much to pay. He made his first communion with a whole bunch of decoys outside to pretend like nothing was going on.
  • So great was his love for the Eucharist that he responded to a priestly vocation. It required a tremendous amount of work, beginning schooling at the age of 19, learning Latin with kids half his age, getting tossed from seminary multiple times for being judged incapable of the work. But in an age in which there was such a great need for priests in order to give the sacraments, he never gave up.
  • The Mass was the great love of his life, what he looked forward to most each day. He celebrated with great devotion, such that his parishioners thought he was an angel at the altar. He often cried during the celebration of the Mass, reflecting on the great love of God who gave his body and blood for us on the Cross, who gives his body and blood for us in the Mass.
  • When he was named pastor of Ars in 1818, he began to work hard to make it possible for people to come to Mass. He spent years battling to shut down the taverns on Sunday that would draw men away. He reminded people of the Sunday obligation, that working on their farms did not excuse them from placing God first.
  • At a time in which most Catholics only made their “Easter duty,” which meant that they only received Holy Communion once a year during the Easter Season, he worked hard to encourage and help them to receive Jesus far more often. In fact, he promoted daily Mass in his parish with great zeal and, over the 41 years of his work there, rejoiced to see so many of his parishioners become holy through attending  the holy sacrifice of the Mass daily.
  • He led by example in terms of Eucharistic adoration, often spending all night in vigil on his knees before the Lord in the tabernacle.

He also preached about it. I’d like to finish today with just a few of his words on the Holy Eucharist, to help us. He spoke more about the Eucharist than about any other aspect of our faith.

  • One will understand the greatness of the Mass only in heaven!
  • All good works taken together would not equal the sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the works of men and the holy Mass is the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison, that’s the sacrifice of a man’s life made to God; the Mass is the sacrifice that God made of his body and blood for man.
  • Even if you gave two thousands, three thousand, 100,000 francs, you would not be able to pay for one Mass, because we can never pay for the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • If we have faith, we will see Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament like the angels see him in heaven. He is there. He awaits us!
  • Holy Communion! What honor God gives to his creature! O man, how great you are, nourished and fed by the body and blood of God! If you were to understand it, you would not be able to live! You would die of love! This God gives himself to you. You can carry him, if you want, where you want. He makes himself one with you!

In the Gospel today, those in Capernaum, without knowing the full import of what they were saying, exclaimed, “Lord, give us this Bread always.” They didn’t yet know the full reality of the Eucharist. We do! And so, we turn to the Lord, this great gift come down from heaven, and say, “Lord, give us this bread always!” “Give us yourself always!” And we ask him for the grace that if he will give us himself everyday, to come to receive him worthily every day, or at least as often as we possibly can.

We finish with one more thought from St. John Vianney: “Attending Mass is the greatest action we can ever do.”