Sunday, 9 August 2009

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Jn 6:41-51: "I am the living Bread which has come down from heaven"

I recently heard something I found quite disturbing. A quotation. Something that disturbed me in that it reminded me that I am not what a should be. I heard a quote from a saint talking about what made him happy, and it made me realise that it is rarely what makes me happy. The quote was from St John Vianney, the Cure D’Ars, and it was about how the Eucharist is what gives us happiness. And the quote goes like this:
“Without the Eucharist there would be no happiness in this world; life would be intolerable. When we receive Holy Communion, we receive our joy and happiness”.

At one level, that quote seems impossibly pious. Many of us might hear such a thing and wonder how it could possibly be true. Most of us grasp at happiness in mundane things like food and TV, and so the type of happiness that this saint is speaking of seems impossibly removed from us. So, one of the ways we need to understand such a saying is to see it in the context of that person’s life, to see the type of holiness and the type of happiness that he is speaking of. So let me refer to some elements of his life.

St John Mary Vianney died 150 years ago this year. He lived in France shortly after the bloody French Revolution, at a time when it was frequently dangerous to be a priest. He was assigned to the small village of Ars by his bishop who told him: “There is not much love for God in that place; you will put some there”. And St John Vianney did indeed bring love of God to that place and by his death it was a village transformed from moral laxity and indifference to fervent devotion and love of God.

He brought the love of God to that village, not least, because he knew for himself that there is no other way to happiness. As he said, “Man has a noble task: that of prayer and love. To pray and to love, that is the happiness of man on earth”. We are not like the stones, or the plants, or the beasts: we can pray, this is what we have been made for. Stones, and plants, and animals don’t pray because they can’t pray –its not in their nature. For us, however, to love and to pray are two sides of the same coin, because prayer is an act of love, time spent with the one who loved us and died for us.

When he arrived in his parish his people were indifferent to God and indifferent to him. He started his work with years of days and nights spent in long hours of prayer. When he was asked what he was doing, when he was asked how one prayed, he said, “I look at the good God, and he looks at me”. He said that to be with God was not hard, “prayer makes time pass swiftly”, and it passed swiftly because he was with Someone he loved. He would often be known to walk long hours on lonely journeys through the snow, and yet he said he felt no sorrow, because he spent the time in prayer, lost in prayer “like a fish in water, because [he] was absorbed in God”. Whereas you and I might seek out happiness in food, he would boil a pan of a few potatoes and then live on the same saucepan for ages, even as the potatoes went mouldy, eating nothing else for week and week, year after year.

There is a particular act of prayer that I want to remind you of, however, and that is prayer to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, in the Eucharist, as he is present continually in our tabernacle. As I started by saying, St John Vianney, said that there is no happiness on earth without the Eucharist. And he said this because he knew that it is in the Eucharist that God is among us, it is in the Eucharist that we can come to God and God can come to us. When he said that there is no happiness but in prayer and love, he didn’t say this meaning some prayer to a distant God, or some love to an abstract god we cannot know. Rather, he said this meaning love and prayer for the God we DO know, and who we can love personally, and who we can lovingly pray to personally as he makes Himself present to us. And it is only here that we can find true happiness.

True happiness is NOT shown in those people who possess many things, or those who have many sensual pleasures, or in those who are most successful in the ways that this passing world measures success. Rather, true happiness is shown in the saints, the saints who manifested their true happiness by the fact that they continued to be joyful even eating mouldy potatoes and trudging through the snow -when you or I would be grumbling. True happiness is seen in the saints because they lived the essence of true happiness, love and prayer, and found the Lord where He has made Himself available to be found: “Without the Eucharist there would be no happiness in this world; life would be intolerable. When we receive Holy Communion, we receive our joy and happiness”.

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