19th Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 12, 2018.
1 Kgs 19:4-8; Eph 4:30-5:2; Jn 6:41-51
The forgotten purpose of the Eucharist
I was still basking in the joy of having received my First Holy Communion when my mother brought me to reality about the Eucharist by saying something like this, “Congratulations on your First Holy Communion. Now I want to see a change in you.” I didn’t understand then what she meant but now I do.
The Eucharist demands change from us constantly because it is no ordinary or earthly food. When we eat earthly food, we receive strength to do what we want to do. But when we receive heavenly food, the food that God gives to us and food that we know about only because God chooses to reveal it to us, God strengthens us do what He wants us to do.
The First Reading shows heavenly food in action. The Prophet Elijah is in flight for his life from the murderous queen Jezebel because he had given public witness to God before all the Israelites that led to the slaughter of 450 prophets of Baal. He is afraid, discouraged, and longs for death, “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” God gives him heavenly food in the form of “hearth cake and a jug of water.” He does not grasp the power of this mysterious meal but God reveals to him through an angel the importance of this food, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you.” When Elijah ate and drank, he abandoned his earlier plans for death and received strength to do what God wanted him to do at that time, “Strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.”
Today’s Gospel shows Jesus speaking about His Eucharist presence as the ultimate heavenly food. Jesus attests that it is God who provides this meal for us, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” It is also the Father and not mere human wisdom that reveals to us the nature and power of the Eucharist, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.” Then, here is the clincher: the Eucharist is not to give us strength to do what we want to do but through the Eucharist, God strengthens us to do what He wants us to do and to do so just like Jesus Christ did i.e. with love, generosity and sacrifice.
Jesus emphasizes the utter uniqueness of the Eucharist among all other heavenly foods by comparing it with the manna that the Israelites ate on their journey to the Promised Land. God gave and revealed this mysterious food to His chosen people. The manna was meant to give them strength to do what God wanted them to do i.e. obey His Commandments, journey faithfully to the Promised Land, and give witness to God before all the nations. The Jewish ancestors “ate the manna in the desert but they died,” because they ate but did not change at all from their willfulness. Knowing what God wanted from them, they still chose to rebel and reject His plans for them.
The Eucharist remains the ultimate heavenly food because it gives eternal life, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Eternal life is attained by doing the will of God with love, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of my Father in heaven.”(Mt 7:21) The Eucharist gives eternal life by giving us divine strength to continuously transition from doing what we want to do to actually seeking to do only what God wants us to do the very same way that Christ Jesus did it.
Hence merely receiving the Eucharist is not enough for eternal life. The Eucharist is not a magical rite such that we are changed simply by our frequent reception of this Blessed Sacrament. We must also come to the Eucharist with a readiness and willingness to change and let go of our self-willed tendencies to embrace the divine will no matter what it may cost us. If this constant change is lacking, if we are not constantly moving from self-will towards the divine will, then we forfeit the eternal life that Christ offers to us even as we partake of the Eucharist.
St. Paul invites the Ephesian community to change too. They are to remove all “bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling and malice,” and embrace “kindness to one another, compassion, and mutual forgiveness.” They are to be “imitators of god, as beloved children.” This is a tall order. How can they do this? They can do so by focusing on “Christ who loved us and handed Himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.” Where did Christ hand Himself over for us? He did so first on the Cross and He renews His self-offering to the Father in every Eucharist that is offered. In every Eucharist, Christ, the Living Bread, comes down to us to transform us into God’s children bathe in the fragrant aroma of divine adoption and enables us to make a pleasing offering of ourselves and our wills to God just like He did.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how easy it is for us today to do only what we want to do without any regard to what God desires for us? How can we hope to experience the transforming power of the Eucharist in our lives when we come to Mass with the intention of receiving divine grace so that we can carry out our own plans and not God’s plans? We easily let others in our deviant cultures dictate to us what to do. Even when we do what God wants of us, we hardly do so with the spirit of love, generosity and sacrifice that we find in Christ. More than more Eucharists, we need better dispositions in our Eucharistic celebrations shown in our openness and readiness to be constantly molded more and more into Christ’s own image.
The present clerical sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church is a painful reminder that we have forgotten (or ignored) the purpose of the Eucharist as the ultimate heavenly meal that makes us more like Jesus Christ and strengthens us to act like He did. When the ordained faithful, graced and transformed for the sake of the Eucharist, become satisfied with being merely good or looking good to the public, when our ongoing conversion is ignored and we become reluctant to journey continuously to become more like Jesus Christ and to participate ever deeper in His own attitudes, then our Eucharistic celebrations fail to impact and change us as it has the power to do. Clergy scandals abound when, indelibly configured to Christ, we ordained do not strive to become more like Him and imitate His readiness to do not what He wants but what His Father wants. The Eucharist is to guarantee that we say what Christ said to the Father at the Agony in the garden, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
The same applies to all the faithful conformed to Christ at baptism. The Eucharist is meant to deepen our conformity with Christ in heart, mind and soul and to make us act accordingly. If we too are not striving for that which is great, better, and more beautiful by God’s standards, then we too become open to scandalous behavior in our words and actions.
Our Eucharist is no earthly meal and it is not just another heavenly meal! That is why it demands constant change from us. Because the Eucharist is the ultimate heavenly meal in which Jesus comes down from Heaven continuously to offer Himself to us and reveal to us the power and beauty of His Eucharistic presence, we too are strengthened today to change and offer ourselves completely to God the Father and do what He wants us to do in a Christ-like way no matter the cost. This is how we and our actions become a truly fragrant aroma to God even as we journey into eternal life.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!