What We Must Do

(Homily for Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B)

Bottom line: In no uncertain terms, Jesus tells what we must do to have his life in us: To eat of his Sacred Body and to drink of his Precious Blood. Amen.

This Sunday Jesus confronts us with the necessity of the Eucharist for salvation. "Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you."

"Unless you eat of the flesh...you do not have life within you." These are tough words and to make it clear he means them seriously, he prefaces them with, "Amen, amen, I say to you..."

Why we must receive Jesus bodily flows from what we learned last Sunday: Jesus is the living bread come down from heaven. He comes for a purpose: our redemption, our eternal union with the Father through Jesus. To attain that union, we must receive Jesus in a physical form: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you."

The Second Vatican Council speaks about the centrality of the Eucharist. "The Eucharistic Sacrifice," says the Council is "the fount and apex of the whole Christian life." The Latin words are "fontem" and "culmen." Even if you don't know Latin, you can recognize their meaning. "Culmen" provides the root for our English word, "culminate" - to reach the highest point. "Fontem" refers to a "fount," or a source.

Let me help you picture what a source is. If you visit Peru and you have an extra three or four days - and you are in good condition - you can climb a volcanic mountain called Nevado Mismi.* Mount Mismi is famous not so much for its volcanic origin as for a stream (also called Mismi) that flows from its side. Geographers have identified Mismi as the source of the Amazon River. No sign marks the headwaters - only a white cross about the height of a man. In 1982 Jacques Cousteau made the four thousand mile journey from the mouth of the Amazon to the pure waters of Mismi. You and I do something similar when we receive the Eucharist. The Eucharist, as the Vatican Council teaches, is the source of the entire Christian life.

This teaching is not new with the Vatican Council. Early Christian writers also teach the necessity of the Eucharist for salvation. In the middle of the third century, the African bishop, St. Cyprian, has a famous exposition of the Lord's Prayer. When he gets to the part about, "Give us this day our daily bread," he speaks about Holy Communion. Cyprian describes the Eucharist as "The Food of Salvation." The he quotes Jesus, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you." For that reason, Cyprian says, "we ask that our Bread, which is Christ, be given us daily."

You do not hear early Christian writers saying that the Eucharistic Bread is "only a symbol." They don't say the bread represents Christ; they say the Bread is Christ. I could give quote after quote, going back to the first century, but it's not necessary. The Church historian J. N. D. Kelly (himself a Protestant) wrote: "Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior's body and blood." (Early Christian Doctrines, 440). Beginning with Ignatius of Antioch (about 100 A.D.) he cites a string of writers, from both East and West, who took Jesus quite literally, "This is my Body."

The Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Jesus. Because of that, it only makes sense what Jesus says, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you."

The devil will do everything he can to keep people away from the Eucharist. He says, "You don't need to go to church. You can pray by taking a walk in the woods." So the guy stays in bed and turns on the TV. Or the devil can sneer, "Those people are a bunch of hypocrites." Which is a convenient way to avoid facing one's own sins. And since we are consumer society, we often hear, "I wasn't fed."

Well, we know what the guy is saying. He spent an hour in church and nothing stimulated him. That is unfortunate and we want to correct it. But isn't it illogical to receives the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus, and then say, "I wasn't fed"?

Satan has a lot of strategies to keep us from the Eucharist, but the easiest is to take the focus away from Jesus' physical presence - and put it on the ones who handle the Sacred Elements. It's a simple strategy because, starting with the Apostles, no human deserves to lift up Jesus' Body.

Now, we need to do everything possible to form good priests - and thanks be to God, today we have excellent seminarians. And if a priest strays from his vocation, the bishop should correct him or remove him. And even a loving parishioner can sometimes help a priest who is stumbling.

But, you know, most of the time we should do what St. Francis did. Once he encountered a priest who was living a scandalous life. Someone asked Francis if the priest's Masses were contaminated beyond legitimacy. Francis said nothing, but went to the priest, knelt before him and kissed his hands.

The other man, shocked, said, "Brother Francis, those are the hands of a sinner, a man bringing shame on the Church."

"Yes," Francis replied. "And those hands also hold God." Francis' gesture so affected the priest that he repented and went on to live a holy, prayerful life.

I tell you this story about St. Francis not so you will go around kissing priests' hands. (smile) That might work, but prayers for me and other priests are what we most need.

Sometimes when I am with a brother priest, maybe at a time of confession or spiritual direction, we will stop in amazement that God uses us. And more than use us, he depends on us.** Jesus says it clearly, "Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you." Jesus established a physical, material channel for salvation. Why matter is essential we will see next Sunday - the final homily in this series.

This Sunday, brothers and sisters, I ask you to take Jesus' words seriously. Let nothing separate you from Him in the Eucharist. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is the Source of the entire Christian life. You may have to overcome obstacles to journey to that Source. It is worth every effort and it will always require an infusion of divine grace. But remember: In no uncertain terms, Jesus tells what we must do to have his life in us: To eat of his Sacred Body and to drink of his Precious Blood. Amen.


*Pronounced the way you feel when I am gone: "Miss me." Or to be more exact: meese me. :)

**For sure, we can't separate administering the sacraments from proclaiming the Word. And we preachers need to keep working on being effective instruments. I found a good help in Art of Public Speaking: Lessons from the Greatest Speeches in History by Professor John R. Hale. It is a twelve lecture course on public speaking. I wish I would have had it 40 years ago, but as Samwise teaches me, even an old dog can learn new tricks.

Spanish Version

From Archives (20th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2015: Dimensions of the Eucharist Week 4: Fission
2012: What We Must Do
2009: Unless You Eat
2006: What is a Body?
2003: Two Approaches to Sexual Morality
2000: The Jews Quarreled Among Themselves

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