Bottom line: In the Mass we receive Jesus not only spiritually but physically - his Flesh and Blood. Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.
I'd like to introduce the homily with a joke. It comes from science comedian Brian Malow: (deep breath) The Higgs Boson walks into a Church. "What are you doing here?" the priest asks. Higgs Boson says, "You can't have Mass without me." (pause)
It was funnier when Brian Malow told it.* (smile)
The joke contains a kernel of truth. The Higgs boson is about matter and we can't have the Mass without material elements.
That is theme of this homily - Jesus offers salvation that is both material and spiritual. He invites us to his own supper - the Supper of the Lamb. As we shall see, that supper has a physical and spiritual dimension.
This homily on the Lamb's Supper concludes a five-week series. We have studied John, Chapter 6 - Jesus the Bread of Life. Thus far we have seen: 1) that Jesus alone is the Bread which can satisfy our hunger, 2) that Jesus is the "Bread come down from heaven" for redemption - so we can enter a relation with the Father and 3) that receiving Jesus in the Eucharistic Sacrifice is necessary for eternal life. "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you."
These are strong teachings, even shocking, as Jesus indicates today. We can understand why many abandoned Him. Notice that Jesus did not say, "Come back. I only meant it symbolically." No, he asks his closest disciples, "Do you also want to leave?"
That's the question Jesus puts in front of us today: Are we ready to receive Jesus - not just spiritually, but also physically?
Through the centuries people have wanted to spiritualize Jesus - to take away his bodily aspect. St. John warns about them: "Many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not acknowledge Christ as coming in the flesh." (2 Jn 7; cf. I Jn 4: 1-6) We can see this over-spiritualizing of Jesus especially in Gnosticism - an ancient heresy that continues today. Gnostics think they have a secret knowledge (in Greek "gnosis") that elevates them above others. They don't need baptism. They don't need the Eucharist. They don't even need the ordinary rules of morality and decent behavior. They have a secret, superior knowledge. That knowledge - that illumination, a Gnostic thinks, is all he needs.**
Christians have always rejected this overly spiritual approach. For us salvation requires both spirit and matter. Here is how C.S. Lewis expresses it: "There are three things that spread the Christ life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names—Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper." Belief is spiritual, but baptism and Communion are physical events - sacraments. We need matter for salvation. As Lewis points out, "God likes matter. He invented it."
To accept the physical reality of Jesus and the material means of salvation takes humility. I don't have some superior knowledge.*** I am saved the same as ordinary people - by being washed in baptism and by eating a meal of bread and wine. These acts humble a person, but in the words of wonderful hymn, "Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free: 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be."
Accepting material means of salvation involves something in addition to humility. It takes discipline. Receiving the sacraments makes us part of a human community. That takes discipline and hard work. Ask any married couple.
In the second reading St. Paul speaks about the community of marriage. He tells wives to practice humility. Once a lady told me, "Father, I try to be a humble wife, but the problem is I am always right and he is always wrong." I know, but practice humility anyway. And St. Paul tells the husband to love his woman as Christ loves the Church. Christ loves the his bride by giving his life for her - to the last drop of blood. And His blood brings forgiveness - and enables us to forgive each other.
It's easy to see why people prefer a purely spiritual approach. It saves all the messy work of forming community.
To receive Jesus physically - to eat his flesh and drink his blood by weekly or daily attendance at Mass - takes work, an effort that requires infusion of grace. But, I beg you, brothers and sisters, do not give up. It will bring a reward beyond imagining.
When I introduced this series of homilies, I spoke to you about how we all desire heaven and how the devil tries to trick us by offering us heaven on earth - for example, through drugs, alcohol, porn, gambling, etc. The devil does not want to bring us happiness, but misery.
Jesus on the other hand calls us to humility and hard work, but he gives peace that endures. And he offers even now a foretaste of heaven.****
Dr. Scott Hahn has written a helpful book called "The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth." He shows how the Book of Revelation can deepen our understanding of what happens at Mass - and that the Mass gives us a key to unlock the Book of Revelation. As Dr. Hahn says, "To go to Mass is to renew our covenant with God, as at a marriage feast - for the Mass is the marriage supper of the Lamb."
The Mass is the apex of the entire Christian life. Here we receive Jesus not only spiritually but physically - his Flesh and Blood. Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb. Amen.
*I admit that I am fascinated by modern physics. When I was in high school we learned about protons, neutrons and electrons. Now kids are learning about leptons, quarks, neutrinos and bosons. What makes up matter is complex and mysterious - not just in the sense of being hard to understand, but being full of paradoxes.
The joke, by the way, works on two levels. The Higgs boson has been whimsically dubbed the "God particle." But also the Higgs field hypothesis explains "the means by which elementary particles acquire mass."
**Gnosticism involves "the teaching that the realisation of Gnosis (esoteric or intuitive knowledge) is the way to salvation of the soul from the material world." I gave examples of Gnostics in the second homily: Elizabeth Gilbert, Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra and Dan Brown (to mention only a few). I don't mean this as a put-down, but simply a description.
As Ross Douthat observes "heretics" possess an element of truth about Jesus, but do not see the complete picture. We discover who Jesus is by paying attention to "I am" statements: I am the Bread of Life, the Truth, the Way (no one comes to the Father except through me), the Bridegroom. And perhaps most dramatically: "Before Abraham came to be, I AM."
***As Catholics our faith is public and open to all. It's all there in the Catechism and anyone can buy a copy at a bookstore or even download it on the internet. For sure, the Catechism requires study and in a life-time a person can really only scratch the surface. There is not, however, a different faith for a theologian, a pope, a parish priest or a harried parishioner.
****The words of St. Pius X to children making their First Communion are worth hearing in this context:
"My dear children, you have received Our Lord for the first time. But it is not enough. Every day we ask God for the bread to sustain the life of our body. So, too, we have need of heavenly Bread that gives life to our soul. My advice is that you receive Holy Communion frequently—if you cannot do so daily—and unite yourself to the Savior. Make frequent visits to him in the solitude and silence of his tabernacle. Then you will hear him speak to you his invitation, full of love: 'Come to me, you who hunger and I will refresh you. All you who have been burdened and weighed down—and I will give you comfort, peace and consolation' (see Mt 11:28-29). My last desire, dear children, is that the love of Our Lord dwell in you so that it will change you into so many apostles, zealous for his glory. You will be the treasure of your families. You will make them happy by your good conduct. Your example alone will win them to receive Holy Communion frequently. At school, you will bring your companions to imitate your piety. In the parish, all will look on you as good angels. Finally, everywhere about you, by your prayers, by your prudence, by the attraction of your modesty, you will contribute to the conversion of sinners. And to the return of unbelievers and the indifferent to Jesus Christ."
From Archives (21st Ordinary Sunday - Year B):
Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
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Fr. Brad's Homilies
Fr. Jim's Homilies
Fr. Michael White's Homilies ("messages")
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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