20th Sunday of the Year Proverbs 9:1–6; Ephesians 5:15–20; John 6:51–58
Marie and John The Eucharist is a beautiful expression of faith and love.
Some time ago a college student named Marie wrote an article called “I Bring Jesus to John.”
Marie is a eucharistic minister in her parish. Each Sunday she attends the ten o’clock Mass. After Mass she takes the Eucharist to a man named John, who lives all alone.
Describing John, Marie says, “His rocking chair creaks as he sways back and forth beside his living room window.” His hearing is bad, his eyesight is poor, and a heart attack has slowed his movements. But John’s 88-year-old faith is strong and vibrant.
Each Sunday John waits eagerly for someone. “That someone,” says Marie, “is Jesus, and I a 22-year-old college student am privileged to bring Jesus to John.”
While Marie attends the ten o’clock Mass, John watches the same Mass on television. Thus when Marie arrives with the Eucharist, John feels a part of it too.
After taking off her coat Marie sits down beside John. Then she rereads the Sunday gospel, just in case John’s poor hearing caused him to miss any of it on television. Marie ends by reviewing the homily with John.
Next comes the moment John has been waiting for all week. Marie begins it by praying with John the Lord’s Prayer.
Then she holds up the Body of Christ for John to see and says,
“This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.”
John answers in a soft but firm voice, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the words and I shall be healed.”
Marie then gives John Communion.
After a few moments of silence, Marie opens a book and prays:
“God, our Father, may the Body of Christ which Brother John has received bring him lasting health in mind and body.”
Marie concludes with a prayer that has become John’s favorite. It goes something like this:
“Lord, Holy Father, free your servant John from sickness, restore him to health, strengthen him by your power, protect him by your might, and raise him to new life on the last day.”
After this prayer Marie and John chat together for a while. Then they hug, say good-bye, and promise to pray for each other until they meet again next week.
That simple story of John and Marie is truly beautiful for two reasons.
First, it illustrates the kind of faith Jesus invites us to have when he says in today’s gospel:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. . . . My flesh is the real food; my blood is the real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him.”
Both Marie and John witness to their faith in these words of Jesus.
Marie does it by bringing the Body of Jesus to John. John does it by receiving the Body of Jesus.
And they both do it by their prayers together before and after John’s Communion.
It is right here, in their prayers together before and after Communion, that the story of Marie and John may have something practical to say to us.
The story of Marie and John reminds us that if the reception of Communion is to be a faith experience, it must be done within a prayer context.
Let me illustrate by a comparison.
The moment of receiving Communion could be compared to a diamond. The time before and after Communion might be compared to a gold band.
A diamond by itself is beautiful. But it becomes incomparably more beautiful if it is placed in the center of a gold band and made the centerpiece of a gold ring.
The same is true of Communion. Communion by itself is a beautiful experience. But it becomes incomparably more beautiful if we place it within a setting of prayer.
If our own experience of Communion seems to be missing something, maybe it’s missing the setting of prayer.
How prayerful are we before and after receiving Communion? What goes on in our mind and heart as we approach the altar to receive the Body of Christ? What goes on in our mind and heart after we have received the Body of Christ?
Do we speak with Jesus as with a friend? Do we give him thanks, ask his forgiveness, and seek his guidance?
This brings us to the second reason that makes a story of John and Marie so beautiful.
Besides the kind of faith Jesus invites us to have in today’s gospel, the story also illustrates the kind of love Jesus invites us to have as Christians. The warm friendship that has grown up between Marie and John is the kind of friendship that all Christians should try to cultivate toward one another.
And so a second question we might ask ourselves is this:
Does our own reception of Communion make us more loving in our lives, especially toward those who need our love most, like John? In other words, does it draw us closer not only to Jesus but also to one another?
Let’s conclude by listening of Saint Paul describe the kind of faith and love we should have because of our reception of the Eucharist:
“The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ.
“Because there is the one loaf of bread all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf.” 1 Corinthians 10:16–17
In conclusion, then, the story of Marie and John illustrates the kind of faith and love Jesus talks about in today’s gospel when he says:
“My flesh is the real food; my blood is the real drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I live in him.”
Series II 20th Sunday of the Year Proverbs 9:1–6; Ephesians 5:15–20; John 6:51–58
Bread of Life The least return we can make to the Lord for his incredible gift to us is to receive it worthily.
Nearly a century and a half ago, a poor family from a tiny Yugoslavian village decided to emigrate to the United States. It was made up of a father, a mother, a teenage boy, and four little girls.
A week before their ship sailed, the family’s relatives and friends threw a “going-away’’ party for them. They gave the family practical gifts of several loaves of hard bread and several blocks of cheese.
A week later the family boarded an Italian ship. Since they had never been out of their village, and since few on board spoke Yugoslavian, they were overwhelmed by what they saw and heard.
It was a cold winter day, so the family went immediately to their third-class cabin below deck. There they stayed to themselves and ate their bread and cheese sparingly to make it last the entire ocean voyage.
On the last day of their journey the weather cleared a bit, and the teenage boy was growing restless. So he asked his father for permission to go above to explore the ship.
When the boy didn’t return within the hour, the father went looking for him. He found him in a big dining room, sitting at a table, eating from a plate overflowing with meat, vegetables, and even dessert.
The father’s heart stopped. He had visions of spending his first days in the United States in prison. For there was no way he could pay for all the food his son had ordered and was eating.
When the boy saw how frightened his father looked, he said:
“Don’t worry, Dad, it’s free. While we’ve been fasting on rations of cheese and bread, everyone else has been feasting on banquets like this. They’re included in the price of the ticket.’’
James Colaianni, who recalls the story, draws this comparison. The world is filled with people who are like that poor Yugoslavian family.
They are journeying through life, totally unaware of the incredible Banquet of Life that God spreads for them each day. It’s the banquet of Holy Communion, and it’s included in the ticket of life.
Jesus refers to this incredible banquet in today’s gospel reading. Listen again to what he says:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever. The bread that I will give you is my flesh, which I give so that the world may live.” John 6:51
The difference between the Bread of Life that Jesus gives us and ordinary bread is beyond comparison.
When we eat other bread, that bread becomes a part of us. It enters our body and changes into us.
But when we eat the Bread of Life, just the opposite happens. It doesn’t change into us; we change into it. It transforms us into what it is: the Body of Christ.
And this is why, if we eat it, we will live forever. By eating the Body of Christ, we are transformed into Christ, who will live forever.
When you pause to ponder this great mystery, you can’t help but marvel at what an incredible gift it is.
What a tragedy to go through life totally unaware of this incredible gift. What a tragedy indeed to go through life totally unaware that the Banquet of Life comes with the ticket of life.
Yet, my brothers and sisters, there is something even more tragic. There is something infinitely more tragic. And that is to go through life aware of the Banquet of Life but to take it for granted and to fail to appreciate it.
Someone once made this observation: “When we look at the Body of Christ before receiving it in Communion, it’s hard for us to see Christ in it. But when other people look at us after we receive the Body of Christ, it’s even harder for them to see Christ in us.’’
That person’s point is that after receiving the Eucharist, we sometimes act as though we had not received it.
In other words, we become so accustomed to receiving the Eucharist that we take it for granted. We fail to appreciate it, and that lack of appreciation is reflected in our attitude after Communion.
Look at it this way. We might compare the moment of receiving Communion to a diamond, and we might compare the time before and after receiving Communion to a gold band.
A diamond by itself is beautiful. But it becomes incomparably more beautiful if we place it in the center of a gold band and make it into a diamond ring.
It’s the same with Communion. Communion by itself is a beautiful experience. But it becomes incomparably more beautiful if we place it in the center of prayer and make it into a prayer experience.
If our reception of Communion seems to be lacking something, maybe it’s because we have allowed it to become separated from prayer. Maybe it’s because we have allowed it to become an event by itself. Maybe it’s because it is not a prayer experience.
To put it in another way, how prayerful are we before and after receiving Communion? What goes on in our mind and heart before and after receiving the Body of Christ? Do we speak to Jesus as to a friend? Do we give him thanks, ask his forgiveness, and talk to him about our problems?
The poor Yugoslavian family made the entire voyage to America unaware that the ship’s meals came with the ticket. What a tragedy that was.
An even greater tragedy is for people to make the entire voyage of life unaware that the Banquet of Life comes with the ticket of life.
But an infinitely greater tragedy is for people to make the entire voyage of life unaware that they have turned the Banquet of Life into a lifeless routine by failing to make it a prayer experience.
This is the message contained in today’s gospel. This is the message that Jesus wants us to ponder and take to heart as we make ready for the Banquet of Life that he has prepared for us today.
Series III 20th Sunday of the Year Proverbs 9:1–6, Ephesians 5:15–20, John 6:51–58
Incredible gift It is the same Jesus who died on a cross for us on Calvary.
Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” John 6:51
One day, years ago, a priest walked into a church in Germany. As he knelt there, his attention was drawn to the large bronze tabernacle door. It was divided into four panels.
The first panel showed six water jars, symbolizing the miracle at Cana, when Jesus changed water into wine.
The second panel showed five loaves, symbolizing the miracle at Capernaum, when Jesus multiplied the bread for the hungry crowd on the hillside.
The third panel showed 13 people at table, symbolizing the miracle at Jerusalem, when Jesus transformed bread and wine into his own body and blood.
The fourth showed three people at table, symbolizing the miracle at Emmaus, when Jesus manifested his risen presence on Easter night to two downcast disciples.
The artist picked these four miracles for the tabernacle door because they told the beautiful story of the Eucharist housed inside that tabernacle.
Take the first panel: the miracle at Cana. Some 20th-century Christians find this miracle a stumbling block.
However, most first-century Christians lived off the soil and saw a similar miracle take place annually before their eyes. Each summer, grapevines drew water from the soil, changed it into grape juice, and then, later on, fermented it into wine. The important thing, however, is not how Jesus worked the miracle at Cana, but why he worked it.
Besides saving the young married couple from social embarrassment, Jesus did it to prepare people for the day when he would change this same wine into the sacrament of his own blood.
Next, take the miracle of the loaves, which led to the discussion in today’s Gospel reading. Again, some 20th-century Christians find this miracle hard to comprehend.
But, again, most first-century Christians had no problem with it at all. As with the miracle of the wine, they saw a similar miracle take place each year in their wheat fields.
In the spring, the farmers planted a few bushels of wheat. And in the course of the summer, nature multiplied the few bushels into a hundred bushels of golden wheat.
Once again, the important thing is not how Jesus worked this miracle, but why.
Besides feeding a hungry crowd, Jesus also used it to prepare the same hungry crowd for the day when he would feed them in an even more marvelous way—in a spiritual way.
That brings us to the third panel, depicting the Last Supper. Mark describes the Last Supper this way:
While they were eating, Jesus took . . . bread, gave . . . thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. “Take it,” he said, “this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, gave thanks to God, and handed it to them; and they all drank from it. Jesus said, “This is my blood which is poured out for many, my blood which seals God’s covenant.” Mark 14:22–24
At that moment Jesus gave us a gift that only God could give. And it leads us directly to the last panel: the Emmaus supper on Easter night with two disciples.
Recall how they were walking along when Jesus appeared to them as a stranger and explained the Scriptures to them. When they arrived home in Emmaus, they invited Jesus to eat with them. Luke says:
[Jesus] sat down to eat with them, took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke the bread and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. Luke 24:30–31
The artist interprets the Emmaus supper as the first celebration of the Eucharist. And so the tabernacle door summarizes the four stages in Jesus’ gift of the Eucharist. It was:
prefigured at the marriage feast at Cana, promised on the hillside at Capernaum, instituted at the Last Supper in Jerusalem, and celebrated in Emmaus
This brings us to how the Eucharist touches our lives.
First, it is our spiritual nourishment. Just as the manna nourished the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land, so the Eucharist nourishes us on our journey to our promised land: heaven.
Second, besides nourishing us on our journey, it also makes present, sacramentally, the real presence of Jesus in our midst.
Recall that before Jesus ascended to heaven, he made this promise: “I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20
Father Joseph Hogan was a chaplain in Europe with the U.S. Third Army.
One Sunday, he felt the impact of this twofold gift of the Eucharist in a way that he had never experienced it before. He writes:
I was celebrating Mass on top of a jeep on a battlefield in France. The men were attending with helmets on and their guns slung over their shoulders.
The ack-ack was pecking at the planes upstairs, and a torrent of rain was falling. The battlefield was a sea of mud. So I told the men not to kneel down. They didn’t until the Eucharistic Prayer.
Then every man went down on his knees into the mud and the mud puddles. Minutes later, when they slogged up to receive Holy Communion, they, again, knelt in the mud puddles.
It was an incredible manifestation of their faith in the real presence of Jesus. He was present in a twofold way: with them as their support and for them as nourishment in this awful hour of human misery.
It was their way of declaring who it was they were receiving.
It was the same Jesus who changed the water into wine at Cana, prefiguring the Eucharist.
It was the same Jesus who multiplied the loaves at Capernaum, as a promise of the Eucharist.
It was the same Jesus who changed bread and wine into his own body and blood at the Last Supper, instituting the Eucharist.
It was same Jesus who celebrated the first Eucharist at Emmaus, after its institution.
It is this incredible gift that we return to the altar to celebrate. It staggers our imagination, but we know by faith that it is true.
Only an incredible person like Jesus could have conceived of and given us such an incredible gift.