June 18, 2017 – Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
I delivered the following homily at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, IN this weekend:
Let me begin with a heartfelt Father’s Day story:
A few years back, I was scheduled to give a talk at a parish and was sitting at our dining room table working on it. My son, Robby, came up behind me, put his hand on my shoulder and asked what I was working on.
When I told him a had a presentation I was preparing for, he asked, “What’s the topic?”
I told him, “It’s a talk on effective parenting.”
Any one of my other three children would have said something kind and encouraging such as, “That’s great!” or “You’d be good at that!”
Not Robby. He laughed and said, “And they want you to talk about that?”
Happy Father’s Day.
On a more positive note, I had a conversation with one of my daughters recently. She told me that she appreciated how Carol and I had raised her. In particular, she liked that we did not just “give her the answer.”
We encouraged the kids to handle as much as they could on their own. If they had a problem with a teacher, they needed to talk to that teacher themselves. If they didn’t understand something or didn’t know the solution to a particular problem, we encouraged them to dig deeper, and seek to understand. We would be there to brainstorm and discuss, but we would not do the work for them or give them the answer.
They did not always like it at the time, but as adults they now appreciate what it did for them.
Daughters are awesome.
Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ.
The thematic readings focus on life-giving bread. From Deuteronomy we heard: God fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live.
The gospel came from John: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink…This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Just as I taught my own kids, when I seek to understand a particular scripture passage, I dig deeper. I dig into the countless Theology books I used in deacon formation; I research online; I read the scripture that surrounds the passage I am studying.
This allows me to put the scripture in proper context – both sequential and historical. In other words, I gain a deeper understanding of a passage if I know what happened immediately before or after that passage. Studying the historical context allows me to better understand the prevailing culture at the time, and answer questions such as, Why did the people respond as they did?
When I dug deeper into today’s readings, I was struck by the strong parallels between the first reading and the gospel:
Each reading referenced a “bread from heaven” – for the Israelites in Deuteronomy, it was manna. It literally came from heaven, falling from the sky. For the Jews in the gospel, it was the flesh and blood of Christ. Jesus referred to it as the bread that came down from heaven.
In both readings, the bread was new – unlike any bread they had ever seen or experienced before. When the manna fell from the sky, the Israelites initially had no idea what it was or what to do with it.
Obviously, the bread Jesus described to His disciples in the gospel was also new – For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
This was not only new, but very challenging to hear. The Jews would have found this idea extremely repugnant. There were many prohibitions against eating an animal’s flesh with its blood; it was strictly forbidden. To say they didn’t understand what Jesus was saying is the ultimate understatement.
The parallels between the first reading and the gospel continue in how the Israelites and the Jews responded to this new bread being offered to them.
From the Book of Numbers, we know how the Israelites responded: The people complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert? We are disgusted with this wretched food!”
So much for the gift of life-changing, and life-saving food. There was no digging deeper. There was no seeking to understand. There was only rejection.
The Jews’ response to Jesus was much the same. If we continue reading John’s gospel, this is what we would learn: Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
Jesus taught His disciples about the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and as a result we are told – many of his disciples returned to their former way of life. They abandoned Him.
Just days earlier, Jesus miraculously fed the 5,000. However, when He tried to get their attention off of physical bread and onto the true bread of life, they did not understand. Their response was to turn away.
No digging deeper. No seeking to understand. Only rejection.
Where do these readings lead us? What is the practical application?
The fact is, we are not much different than the Israelites fleeing slavery or the Jews following Jesus.
I once heard Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John summarized in this way: “This gospel illustrates the separation of the pretenders from the true disciples.”
When challenged by the teachings of Jesus, the pretenders who were along for the ride dispersed. They had been standing on the periphery, taking advantage of what they enjoyed – free food and listening to the new message of love from an exciting new preacher. However, they couldn’t commit.
That’s modern society. There are many pretenders. They are “all in” until challenged. When they read or hear Church teachings they cannot fully understand, such as the teachings on the Real Presence in the Eucharist, they respond by saying, “I doubt, or I don’t understand, or I don’t agree…therefore, I reject.”
No digging deeper. No seeking to understand. Only rejection.
Some of these pretenders will leave and add to the growing number of former Catholics or non-churched. Others may not physically leave, but they will “return to their former way of life.” They will stand on the periphery and take in what they like and reject what they don’t like. They will simply go through the motions, picking and choosing.
The bottom line is it’s OK to doubt…or not understand…or not agree. However, our response to these doubts is crucial. We cannot simply reject. We must dig deeper. We must ask questions. We must research.
And we don’t take a year off to dig deeper. We do so while continuing to worship and pray, while continuing to be actively engaged in the faith.
In the silence following the homily, or in the moments following reception of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist today, I ask that you consider these questions:
- Am I standing on the periphery, picking and choosing what I want to believe or not believe?
- Am I digging deeper and seeking to understand Church teachings that challenge me?
- Am I a pretender?