18th Sunday B – 5 August 2018 (Stanberry & Ford City, MO)
The problem that Jesus is experiencing with the crowds is that they’re coming
about it the wrong way, all this way to ask the wrong questions – and so much preaching
on this subject does too. “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because
you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” They cannot look past
bread. So when we hear homilies that talk about the Eucharistic species being what we
know bread to be – but like WAY bigger – we miss the Lord’s point.
Even though the Jews have, not only witnessed, but participated in a sign of
Christ’s divine power, they still need convincing. And so they ask Jesus to perform again
a mighty deed from their history: manna in the desert. And here is where Jesus makes His
point, which is this: the Eucharist is not like bread, but bread is like the Eucharist.
You’ll say, “I think you have your timeline off, Father. There was bread for thousands of
years before the institution of the Eucharist. Even at our own Mass we have gifts of bread
and wine that change into Christ’s Body and Blood.” Hear me out! Christ is talking about
what we might call pre-reminiscence. We all know what it is to reminisce, we call to
mind a memory. This weekend we have the parish carnival – the fifty-fourth! Some can
recall when it started and their parents there and how it’s changed – that’s reminiscing.
For the crowds the collective, Jewish memory of being miraculously fed on the way to
the Promised Land. Yet what Jesus asks in pre-reminiscence is for them to imagine that
their experience of bread is what reminds them of something that predates their memory but for which they have always longed. In fact, the people ironically express this desire when they say, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” when we know from the very first lines of John’s gospel that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The German theologian, Alexander Schmemann, says: “The ‘original sin’ is not primarily that man has ‘disobeyed’ God; the sin is that he ceased to
be hungry for him and for him alone…. God acted so that man might understand who
God really was and where his hunger had been driving him. Christ is our bread –
because from the very beginning all our hunger was a hunger for him” (For the Life of the World).
At the parish where I was in Columbia, it’s the custom to announce the liturgical
ministers before each Sunday Mass – a way to promote participation, but full disclosure, I
find it a way of turning the sacred liturgy into a talk show (“Tonight at Mass our lectors
are…”). There is also the custom to ask if there are any guests in the congregation – of
course, a way to extend hospitality. I, however, never asked guests at Mass to stand and
introduce themselves – that’s not because I didn’t want to be welcoming. Rather, it was
because, one, I would find that awkward as a guest; it’s the church equivalent of going to
a Mexican restaurant on your birthday and the waiters come put a sombrero on your head
and sing “Feliz Cumpleaños” – it’s sweet but mortifying…. And two, I didn’t ask guests
to be recognized because regardless of where you come from, every baptized Catholic
coming to Mass is not a stranger but is home!
To feel “at home,” is a very powerful sensation. You may love to travel, to sight
see the wonders of the world, but let me ask you this: How good does it feel to come
home? And just maybe you’ve had the experience of being somewhere for the first time
and feeling strangely at peace – that it felt like home. This is pre-reminiscence! We need
a renewed sense of what it means to be at home with the Lord in the Eucharist.
Christ’s miracle is a sign of God’s abiding love for His people – more than merely a sign because it’s His very self that He brings. St. Paul told us a few Sundays back, Christ “is our peace,” creating a lasting communion between God and man. When put to death, Jesus
could’ve called on the powers of heaven to destroy his enemies. But He didn’t. Instead of
responding to human sin and violence in kind, He bore them up on the Cross. And by
assuming them, He overcame them! He does not create a simple fix for us by turning
stones to bread, but in turning a destiny of nothing, of oblivion, of immortal homelessness
into an eternal dwelling with God – the God who transforms minds away from merely
what we have only ever known, to a joy we know to be written on our hearts.
When our Fr. Regis, of happy memory, would come upon a grand spread of food
at a special occasion in the monastery, he’d rhetorically ask in his semi-palsied,
characteristic lilt: “All this and heaven too?!” Brothers and sisters, let us not forget what
the gift of Christ, the Bread of Life, is for us. The Eucharist is not like bread but bread is
like the Eucharist! It is the pledge to a pilgrim Church of our ultimate homecoming. In
this Sacrament, He makes Himself finite so that we might become infinite. Thus, our
hunger for Him must grow; because if we’re to become one with the God who is an
Infinity of Love, we will spend our heaven never ceasing to grow in the communion it