I’ve heard a number of Catholics over the years say that whenever they happen to be in another state, or in another country throughout the world, and they attend Mass, even if it’s in a language they do not understand, that they know they are still receiving the Eucharist in all its truth. They may not understand the language spoken at the Mass if it’s celebrated in a foreign country. But because of certain positions, be it standing, kneeling, or sitting, they understand at what point the Mass is at. And even more, they understand that they truly receive the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior that flow from the Prayers of Consecration in whatever language in which they are spoken.
It’s an awesome and telling sign of how the Church is Catholic, meaning universal, in its scope. That when our Lord instructed the Disciples to go out and teach all nations, and baptize the world with his baptism of love and life, and to bring the Good News of salvation to all people, they took Jesus literally by spreading the geography of the Church to encompass all nations known to them.
And at the heart of what they brought to all nations is what we celebrate today; the Eucharist. Without the Eucharist, without the memorial that Jesus instructed us to do in remembrance of him, then our journey cannot be a fulfilling journey of preparation for meeting the Lord. With the Eucharist, we become sharers in the life of Jesus, right now. This food, his Body, is truly the gate that grants us passage into a life that is more than just human. We don’t live for this world. We live in this world, and for a short time at that. But the effect of our receiving the Eucharist is meant to point to something much greater than what we see and experience here.
The Eucharist binds us to Jesus is ways that nothing else can. Some of us come forward to receive what looks like a small, round, piece of bread with a cross on it. “Gee, what a lovely design” some may think. For those who receive in such a way, with such a mindset, I challenge you to expand and enlarge your approach to reception. Rather, approach with eyes of faith, and know in your heart that our Lord is truly consumed in our reception of Communion, and what that means for each of us.
I remember a friend one time was complaining to me about a homily she heard. (Of course it wasn’t mine. No one complains about my glorious homilies. Right?) She was complaining that the replacement priest in her parish, who was an older, retired priest filling in on a weekend Mass (because we do need vacation once in a while), that he was boring and she couldn’t get anything out of the homily. In all honesty, the complaint is well and fine. I say that because the good, God-fearing people of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church deserve good homilies. And I mean that sincerely.
However, I had to ask my friend the question, “Did you receive the Eucharist?” “Well, yes I did.” “Then what are you complaining about because you heard one bad homily from an older, retired, probably very holy replacement priest filling in for your Pastor so he can enjoy a little respite. Some R&R? Were you not satisfied for one Sunday in receiving our Lord along with a bad homily? Maybe Billy Graham can fill in for your Pastor next time! You might hear a good homily, but you won’t receive the Eucharist!”
Anyway, my friend won’t tell me anymore if she hears a bad homily.
Preaching and listening and hearing the word is important beyond description. The word of God feeds us. Preaching is easily one of the most important things we do as priests and deacons. Even Pope Francis spent much time, effort, and energy writing in The Joy of the Gospel about the essential importance of preaching. That priests need to spend more time in preparation for homilies. Even if it takes us away from other responsibilities.
But, nothing comes before the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Our faith begins and ends with the Person of Jesus Christ, who is consumed in the Eucharist.
Listen to these words; “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Whoever hears a good homily will live forever.” My friends, tell me what I preached about two weeks ago on Pentecost Sunday. A short two weeks ago. Now tell me if you received the Lord in the Eucharist on that day.
In the Gospel Jesus says “the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” Our faith is so rich and varied that there are numerous ways to “feed” on Jesus. We are richly fed and satisfied through the word, as already mentioned. I’m sure we’ve all had moments where the Spirit has touched us deeply through reading and hearing the word of God. Such moments of feeding on Jesus taste better than a Lobster-fest on the beaches of Maine.
We are fed Jesus in our commitment to a solid and consistent prayer life. The same Jesus who taught us the Our Father, the greatest of all prayers. Praying just one Our Father in a solemn and reflective manner is such a beautiful way to slowly feed on Christ.
We are fed Jesus in the preaching of the word, even when it causes some people to fall asleep. We are fed Jesus in the gathering of believers in his name. Our combined faith is a spiritual food-fest for Christ.
But the most intimate feeding of Jesus is in the Eucharist. The words that John records of Jesus in today’s Gospel are the most personal, deeply-held convictions of our Savior. To eat his flesh and drink his blood is indescribably personal. It is our Lord’s most profound sharing of himself. It is the gift that keeps on giving, for those who are blessed to receive with eyes of faith.