18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B (2021): Ex 16:2-4, 12-15, 31; Jn 6:24-35
Sunday, August 1, 2021
The multiplication of the loaves and fish succeeded in captivating the attention of the people near the town of Capernaum to set the stage for Jesus to further teach about the gift of Holy Eucharist. Yet quickly it was evident that the fruits of the miracle were less about the wonder that something miraculous occurred but that the miracle had produced a quick solution to the immediate needs of the hungry being feed!
Our Lord knew that his teaching on the Eucharist would be difficult, no more than that, scandalous, because they were otherworldly as He declared that this new Bread of Life was not simply bread and wine endowed with symbolic and spiritual meaning, but the miraculous way that Christ in his totality would enter into those who eat his flesh and drink his blood.
Quickly, Jesus wanted to move the people away from an all too human understanding of the miracle of the fish and loaves that would prepare them to accept the miracle of the Eucharist by chiding them for being somewhat amazed a miracle had occurred but incredibly amazed that Jesus provided them a free meal that they had to do nothing to receive.
So too as Catholics we also need to be continually on guard to reduce the gift of the Eucharist to its earthly benefits and forget that we also need to savour the miraculous nature of the Eucharist and realize that to receive it is to bring us daily closer to eternal life in heaven.
For example, we can often reduce our celebrations of the Holy Mass to very human terms, such as saying their value resides in building community, inspiring works of social justice, affirming those who feel outcast and benefiting the good of society. While none of these motivations for attending the Holy Mass are wrong and have great importance and value, if that is our sole motivation for attending, we forgo the primary reason for attending Mass which is to worship and adore God and open our hearts to realize that at every Mass Jesus Christ comes down from heaven to be with us in the Holy Eucharist and even more wondrously, will actually enter into our souls and bodies when we eat the holy bread which comes from above.
Many at Capernaum took Jesus’s rebuke to heart when he said they cared more for having their fill of bread than worshipping God for the miracle they had just witnessed, but they wanted to know more of what this rabbi had to say and so they rightly asked him to provide a sign that was reminiscent of the miracle of the manna in the desert.
Now the people had been waiting for a long time for the manna to return. Many believed that when the manna ceased to be provided by God, that it was taken up into heaven and kept safe until its return when the Messiah would appear and prove his identity by bringing down the manna that was stored in God’s temple in heaven.
What they did not realise was that the descent of heavenly manna would not be like it was in the past when the miraculous bread appeared every morning on the desert ground, but that the true manna was an actual person, Jesus, who is co-eternal with the Father and was preparing the people to know a communion with God with such intimacy.
In the Holy Eucharist, Jesus is showing us that at every Mass He will come to be with us, that he will leave the bliss of heaven to enter once again into the trials and tribulations of the human experience, humbling himself to be present under the hidden guise of bread and wine and enter into the body and soul of a believer, knowing that in many he will be welcomed with joy and others with indifference.
This is the gift, and if you will, risk, Jesus will take in being with us in the Eucharist and why he perpetually challenges us to fall more deeply in love with the Blessed Sacrament and seek forgiveness for our sins so that we will never receive him in an unworthy manner.
Hearing that the manna was to return, it is little surprise the people asked that this newly returned manna be given to them always, even if they did not yet understand what exactly this new manna would be.
So too does the Lord invite us to pray that the Eucharist be given to us always. But this means as we must assure that our celebrations of the Holy Mass continue. This is why we pray for more vocations to the priesthood, to make Sunday Mass a priority, especially now that restrictions on our celebrations have become less and have made the return to Sunday Mass more and more possible, of continuing to financially support our parish to assure we can provide access to the sacraments, and to make the very conscious choice to daily put God foremost in our lives.
God will feed us with the Eucharist always but asked that we our best to assure this can take place. Let us pray for one another that together we will take up the challenge to do so.
In Jesus through Mary, Fr. Nathan