Message: The Body and Blood of Jesus we receive with humility and gratitude - not a prize for the perfect, but the food God gives us.
Last weekend we celebrated the Feast of the Trinity: God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To approach our relationship with God we used Fr. Robert Spitzer's Four Levels of Happiness: sensual pleasure (that steaming bowl of spaghetti), ego gratification (an achievement that brings distinction), service (the feeling of being useful and valuable to others). These first three levels are good. Still only on the fourth level can we experience happiness that lasts. That is, the level of transcendence: connecting with goodness, beauty and truth. Ultimately that means somehow entering the life of God - through Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
This weekend we see the great way Jesus lifts us to the Father: by giving his Body and Blood. I mentioned last Sunday that I was going to lead into this theme in an unusual way - by a quote from Lady Gaga! You may have seen the picture of her with an elderly priest - I think older than me. :) He is wearing a Roman collar, looking toward the camera with a happy expression. Next to him Lady Gaga, not wearing some outlandish dress, but what looks like a flannel shirt buttoned to the top, her arm draped over the priest's shoulder. Below the picture is this quote: "Thank you Father Duffel for a beautiful homily...I was so moved today when you said, 'The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but the food that God gives us.'"
That's very good: not a prize for the perfect. Jesus says as much in instituting the Eucharist: "The chalice of my blood poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins."
This of course does not mean we grow complacent. The Guidelines for Reception of Communion (you can find them on the inside cover of the missalette) say, "a person who is conscious of of grave sin is not to receive Communion without prior sacramental confession." Grave sin could include betraying ones family by adultery, taking the life of a child by abortion or turning from God by deliberately staying away from Sunday (weekend) Mass.
Now, avoiding grave sin and being a weak human are two different matters. The Bible says that a just man falls seven times.* Things like anger, lust, greed, gluttony, laziness, envy and arrogance - they trip us on a fairly regular basis.
So, Communion is not a prize for the perfect but food that God gives us. St. Paul makes this clear in his account of the Last Supper institution of the Eucharist. He emphasizes eating the bread, Jesus' body, and drinking the cup, his blood. He sums up with these words: "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes."
We see the dimension of food even more dramatically in the Gospel. For a hungry crowd, Jesus quintuples fish and bread, then squares and cubes those amounts. An act of compassion, for sure, but much more. Notice the verbs: Jesus *takes* bread, *blesses* it by giving thanks, *breaks* it and *gives* it. This is Eucharistic language: take, bless, break and give.
In order to appreciate the Eucharist we need to know the Jewish roots: the lamb whose blood takes away sin, the manna - a bread-like substance that comes down to feed our ancestors in the desert.
Today we see roots that go back to Genesis. In a context of gratitude for the rescue of his nephew, Abraham meets a mysterious person - Melchizedek who is both king and priest. Using bread and wine, Melchizedek offers a prayer of blessing and thanksgiving. Right in the book of Genesis we see the Mass foreshadowed: a priest lifts up bread and wine in thanksgiving. It even has a collection: Abraham gives the tithe - 10% of his possessions!
So, bread and wine - the work of human hands. They become the true Body and Blood of Jesus that lifts us to God.
We want to lift others with us. Like Abraham was grateful for the rescue of nephew, Lot, we lift our family members to God. And this week we particularly bring to God our young people to be confirmed next Sunday. At the end of General Intercessions we will say together a prayer for them.
We come to Mass with gratitude and humility. Humility we see the very elements we offer - few things are more ordinary that bread and wine, especially in the Mediterranean world. And gratitude because these humble elements transform to something of incalculable worth, beauty and goodness. The Body and Blood of Jesus we receive with humility and gratitude not a prize for the perfect, but the food God gives us. Amen.
*Proverbs 24:16 "Although a righteous person may fall seven times, he gets up again, but the wicked will be brought down by calamity."
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