Notice that Jesus first responds to physical hunger. Hunger continues to be a horrible problem. Even tho we produce more than enough food, still some suffer hunger. I saw that when I was in Peru. In 1990 early frosts and lack of rain destroyed most of the crops. They had to bring in food from outside. Once I saw a train arriving with carloads of rice. The workers carried the hundred pound bags to a warehouse and as they did so a few grains fell out of each bag. When I came by an hour later, the bags were unloaded and a man with torn clothes knelt on the sidewalk with a small broom. Next to him was a woman in a ragged dress holding a plastic bag for him. Two little children were also picking up the grains. The rice mixed with gravel and dust would be that family's food for the next few days.
Hunger continues to exist even tho our agro-industry produces enormous amounts of food, more than enough for everyone. Part of the problem is political, part economic--but part also is that we need to share--like we do at Holy Family in the second collections. This weekend the two-bit collection is for the Mary Bloom Center in Peru, a work I am proud of because it gets to the root cause of hunger.
Jesus multiplied the loaves because he does not want people to go hungry. Still for most of us, the problem is not physical hunger. We have plenty eat, too much sometimes, but there is a hunger which is harder to recognize. St. Augustine put his finger on it back in the fifth century. In the introduction to his Confessions he says, "You have created us for yourself. And our hearts are restless till they rest in thee." We try to calm our restless hearts with so many things: sex, alcohol, drugs, television, gambling, money. I am amazed at how many people are maxed out on their credit cards. They are hungry, but what they are eating is straw.
As St. Augustine observed, only one can fill the human heart--the One who says, "I am the Bread of Life, he who comes to me shall never hunger." Because Jesus alone fills our emptiness, he chose to give himself to us under the form of bread.
Last Sunday, Greg McNabb pointed out the eucharistic realism of Jesus' words. He literally says we must munch or chew his flesh. Our translation softens it a bit by saying "feed on my flesh," but it is still graphic, perhaps too much so for our ears.
We have lost some of that eucharistic realism. A recent poll of Catholics asked whether they believed Jesus was "really present" in the Eucharist or if it were just a "sign." The majority chose "a sign." Now there may be a misunderstanding here because, of course, the Eucharist is a sign. Like all sacraments it is an "outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." But a sacrament a unique sign. It not only signify (that is, means something) it brings about, it accomplishes what it signifies. There is a stoplight outside our church on 20th and Roxbury. When it is red it means "stop." If it were like a sacrament, it would actually bring cars to a halt.
The Eucharist then is not a "mere sign." It is a sacramental sign which makes Jesus bodily present. Let's be honest. Our faith is weak. It is hard to grasp that this piece of unleavened bread is Jesus: Body, blood, and soul. Humanity and divinity.
That faith is demanding, but perhaps we weaken it by the way we receive communion. Let me begin with something we have down played: communion on the tongue. Some people have the idea it is old-fashioned, that it is unnatural to directly place food in another's mouth. But is it? I remember many years back my brother and I had caught some crab and we were eating at a table while our sister Melanie nursed her baby. I took a piece of crab, dipped it in the sauce and placed it directly in my sister's mouth. She said it was delicious. All us us can think of times when we received or gave food directly to someone and it was special, even reverential.
At the Last Supper Jesus dipped some bread and gave it to a disciple. He surely did not place it in the hand. For all we know Jesus may have given communion to the apostles directly on their tongue.
Now I am not saying I want all of you to start receiving communion on the tongue. But if you receive in the hand, I want you to be aware of certain danger. In our culture the food we take in our hands is fast food or snack food. It has less importance to us. We can transfer that mentality to the host--and it would be disastrous for our faith. If you receive in the hand, please do as Father Peterson taught. Place your left hand on top of your right, forming a cross, a throne to receive your King. After you say "Amen" which means I believe this is Jesus, step to the side and reverently place the host on your tongue.
Receiving the wine, the blood of Christ, can perhaps reinforce the specialness of communion. Unless you are an old time Italian family, you probably only serve wine at special meals. Not everyone will want to take the cup and parents will have to decide if they want their children to. Before you take the cup, the Blood of Christ, you should bow your head or genuflect. The same applied to the Host. As the person before you receives, simply incline your head in reverence or genuflect on one knee. Only a few people are doing this now, but the rubrics do call for some sign of reverence.* It reminds us this is not ordinary bread or some "mere sign." It is our Savior we are receiving.
If you were to meet some great person, say Mother Teresa, and she extended her hand to you, I believe you would instinctively incline your head as a sign or reverence and respect, before you you took her hand. Should we not do the same or even more for Jesus when we receive Him in communion?
Most of our problems would be solved if we could deepen our reverence for Jesus in the Eucharist. Last June Archbishop- Murphy ordained three men to the priesthood. At the reception after the ordination I was talking with a young lawyer from Mercer Island. I asked him if he could explain to me why so many of our priests in recent years had come from St. Monica's on Mercer Island. I told him you wouldn't expect a comfortable place like Mercer Island to produce one priest, let alone the four or five we have seen recently. That lawyer said to me, "At St. Monica's we have twenty-four hour a day adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. It has a powerful impact not just on priestly vocations, but many other ways." Here at Holy Family we have started adoration at least one hour on First Friday evenings.** I would love to have our church open more often if there were people willing to come and spend the time with Jesus.
Jesus tells us, "Come to me. I am the Bread of Life. He who feeds on me will never hunger. And I will raise him up on the last day.
*"When the faithful communicate kneeling, no other sign of reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament is required, since kneeling is itself a sign of adoration. When they receive Communion standing, it is strongly recommended that, coming up in procession, they should make a sign of reverence before receiving the Sacrament..." (Inaestimabile Donum) For more complete discussion see Expert Answer Forum
**As of year 2000, we have Eucharistic Adoration five days a week. See Holy Family Schedule
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C