Sunday, 26 August 2012

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Jn 6:60-69
We just heard one of the most dramatic passages in the Gospels, namely, we heard how a large number of Jesus’s followers abandoned Him. They had heard His teaching and said, “this is intolerable”(Jn 6:61) and “after this, many of His disciples left Him and stopped going with Him”(Jn 6:67).
So, what was this teaching, this “doctrine”(Jn 6:60), that caused this reaction?

We reach today the conclusion of our 5 week series of readings from John 6 on the Eucharist, and the teaching that these disciples found so objectionable was precisely His teaching on the Eucharist. So, let us recall what He had said,
He had said, repeatedly in this chapter alone, not only they He would give them His “flesh” (four times)(6:51,53,55,56) to eat but that UNLESS they ate it they would not have “life”(6:53) but that if they did they would have “eternal life”(three times)(6:50,51,54).
And, we can imagine, if they found these words objectionable they would have been even more horrified when finally at the Last Supper, the first Mass, He said, “This is My Body... This is the chalice of My Blood”(Lk 22:19).
And we know this was all a reference to the Eucharist because of his references to Himself as “THE Bread” (eight times)(6:35,48,50,51,51,51,58,58) “of life”.

Now, the simple point I wish to focus on today is the truth of what He said.
Because, as we know, many people claim that the Eucharist is just symbolic. And, as we know, sadly, even among Christians, this is the pivotal point where the Protestant churches separated from the historical Faith of Christianity held by the Catholic Church. Such people say things like, “Jesus said ‘I am the door’(Jn 10:9) but no-one claims that doors get changed into Jesus”. Well, such arguments miss several points, let me note two.

First, the claim that this is all symbolic misses the fact that Jesus was making a GRAND claim at this point, a claim beyond just claiming to be the “door”, a point that His hearers recognised as significant even if they dis-believed Him. And the obviousness of this is rammed home by the simple repetition and length with which He refers to Himself as “THE bread” and as His “flesh” being that which we must eat.
And, to come back to the Gospel text of today, we need to grasp the HUGE significance of the crowds of Jesus’s disciples who turned away and stopped following Him because of His teaching on this point: He didn’t say to the people walking away, “No! Wait! I was just speaking metaphorically and in symbols, I didn’t mean it literally”.
He didn’t say that. He let them walk away. Because He meant what He had said. This is not just about symbols. It’s about Him coming to us in the Eucharist, under the APPEARANCE of bread but as the reality of being His “flesh”, His Body and Blood, His Soul and Divinity (Council of Trent: DS 1640; 1651, cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1413)

Second, the claim that this is all symbolic avoids the fact that all of Christianity up to the time of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation held that this was not just symbolic. None of the Protestant Reformers were able to turn to early Christian writers who argued their cause because none of the Early Church did.
Let me give an example from the early saints, what are called “Church Fathers”: St Augustine said that the bread was changed such that we should “adore” it –adoration being that which we give to God alone. He said, “No one should receive the Eucharist unless he first adores it”. You adore God. You do not adore a symbol.

So, to wrap this up, where does this leave us?
It leaves us with a “hard teaching”(Jn 6:6). I believe it with my whole heart, but I know it is a hard teaching. I know that it goes counter to everything else in my normal living: normally I trust my senses, and if it looks like bread I say it is bread. Here, I am supposed to say it is not.
I have a choice, believe my senses, or believe what the Lord Jesus tells me, “this IS My Body”. The very nature of Faith means to accept what God has said BECAUSE God has said, not because it is an easy teaching, but rather despite the fact it is a hard teaching, to accept it because God has said it. Because otherwise, where else do we turn? As St Peter said in that text today, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that You are the Holy One of God”(Jn 6:68-69).

Sunday, 19 August 2012

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Jn 6:51-58; Prov 9:1-6
We’re now in our 4th of 5 weeks of Sundays with Scripture readings on the Eucharist. And I’ve been taking a different focus for each of these Sundays. Last Sunday I preached about how the Lord comes to us in Holy Communion with everything that we need, adapted to each one of us according of what each of us need at this very moment in our lives.
This Sunday I want to shift the focus from receiving to offering, and these things are very intimately related because it is only IF we offer that we are able to receive, and there is a very real sense in which the more we offer the more we receive. In this respect we could quote St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, “He who sows sparingly, shall also reap sparingly: and he who sows generously shall also reap generously... for God loves a cheerful giver”(2 Cor 9:6-7).
What is received in the Mass is Holy Communion, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself fully present, under the appearance of bread but actually present with all that He is: His Body, His Blood, His soul and His divinity.
However, in every Mass, well before we receive Holy Communion, there is something that we must offer: the bread and the wine are offered. This offering from us is taken, prepared, offered, and by the power of the Holy Spirit and the action of the priest speaking the words of the Lord (“This is my Body... This is the chalice of my Blood”), this offering is transformed into Christ Himself.
There are 2 simple things I wish to highlight about this process.

First, the offering of bread and wine should be made in union with much more: our WHOLE LIVES should be offered in union with this offering. When the priest raises the paten holding the bread and utters the words of the offertory prayers we should each be mentally and spiritually placing ourselves on that paten to be offered to God. In particular, the needs and intentions that we bring to that Mass should be mentally placed upon the paten. Whether it’s a job problem or a family problem or a sickness, that petition should be offered on the paten, along with things like thanksgiving and sorrow etc.
Linked with this, it’s an important practice to spiritually unite ourselves with this offering many times during the day: Whenever I pause during the day and renew the offering of my day, and of some particular task or need, I should unite that offering to the Mass, because somewhere in the world the Mass is being offered and I can unite myself with that offering.
This Sunday’s newsletter (also printed at the bottom of this text) has a copy of a ‘Morning Offering’ prayer that does just this –offers my day to God IN UNION WITH the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

My second point is about the nature of the prayer being offered in the Mass. At one level it is OUR prayer, we come here to pray, the priest offers Mass for us. However, at a deeper level it is not so much our payer as the prayer OF JESUS, the eternal priestly prayer of the one eternal High Priest offering the sacrifice of Calvary, of Himself on the Cross. As the new Catechism puts it (quoted at end of this text), quoting the Council of Trent, the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrifice of the Cross are “one single sacrifice”. That one single sacrifice that was then offered in a “bloody manner” is now “offered in an unbloody manner”. A different MANNER of being offered, but the same offering.
AND, and this is a pivotal point, it is BECAUSE it is the prayer of Jesus and not just our own private prayer that it is a prayer with such incredible effect:
A prayer that (1) results in bread and wine being transformed into the Lord Himself as our food;
a prayer that (2) is truly effective in making our offering accepted and heard.

To sum up: We come here to Mass, but we come not merely to receive Holy Communion. In fact, the thing that is more important, the thing that fulfils our Sunday obligation of worship, is not receiving Holy Communion but rather it is attending Mass, uniting ourselves to this Holy sacrifice, offering ourselves in union with this offering –that’s what is the bottom line that fulfils our Sunday Mass obligation.
So, to quote St Augustine, “Let us turn to the Lord”, let us offer ourselves to Him and with Him and through Him, that our offering with the bread and wine, transformed in the Holy Sacrifice, may truly transform us too.

Morning Offering
“O Jesus,
through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day
for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world,
in reparation for my sins,
for the intentions of all my relatives and friends,
and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father. Amen.”

Bloody and Unbloody Offering
“The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: ‘The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered Himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.’
‘And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner... this sacrifice is truly propitiatory’.” ( Council of Trent, cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1367)

Sunday, 12 August 2012

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Jn 6: 41-51; 1 Kgs 19:4-8
We’re gathered here at Mass now, as we come every Sunday, to the same Mass, the same thing. I want, however, to say a word about how the Eucharist is also different every time we receive Holy Communion, different every week, different every day, different according to our different needs.
If you recall, we’re now in our 3rd Sunday of 5 Sundays with Scripture readings on the Eucharist, all focussed on John chapter 6, and my focus this Sunday is on this aspect of being fed, fed according to our needs, the Eucharist being adapted to YOUR particular needs this very day.

The Lord, we know, feeds us in Holy Communion. And Holy Communion, which is Jesus Himself “the Bread of Life” (Jn 6:48) –as we just heard in that Gospel text, Holy Communion is often compared to the miraculous manna that the Jews were given to eat when they were wandering in the desert. If you recall, the Jews were rescued from slavery in Egypt by the miracles the Lord worked through Moses, like the parting of the Red Sea. But when they got to the desert, and wandered there for 40 years before entering the Promised Land, as they wandered in the desert they were hungry. So, as we heard in the first reading last Sunday (Ex 16:2-4.12-15), the Lord gave them manna from heaven to eat, a mysterious bread that appeared on the ground every morning.
There are 2 things I want to point out to you about this manna:
First, the people got bored with it (Num 11:6). It was the same every day. In this sense it was like the Eucharist, because we can look at the Eucharist and think it’s always the same, unexciting, uninteresting.
Second, however, I want to draw your attention to what we also read in the Old Testament about the manna, and it is this: it was mysteriously adapted to what each person needed, so that they were able to live on nothing but that manna for 40 years. In the book of Wisdom we find this commentary about the manna:
It “provided every pleasure and [was] suited to every taste ...[it] was changed to whatever each one desired”(Wis 16:20)

Now, the point is this, the Eucharist, being not just manna but the very “flesh”(Jn 6:51) of the Lord Jesus, the Eucharist is similarly adapted to our every need, even more than the manna was. And this is a point that we find reflected on in the writings of many of the saints, as quoted in the liturgy, for example: “[Concerning the Eucharist] What could be more delightful that that in which God offers us infinite delight? ‘Without their toil you supplied them with bread from heaven ready to eat, providing every pleasure and suited to every taste. For your sustenance manifested your loving kindness towards your children; and the bread, ministering to the desire of the one who took it, was changed to whatever each one desired’...This sacrament is the fruit of the tree of life... This sacrament is operative to produce both love and union with Christ.” (St Albert the Great, Commentary on St Luke’s Gospel 22,19, in Office of Readings, 15 Nov, Breviary Vol 3, p.397). Also, the Communion Antiphon this past week, week 18 in Ordinary Time: “You have given us, O Lord, bread from heaven, endowed with all delights and sweetness in every taste”.
And, if the Eucharist is what Jesus says it is, namely, His very self, then this is exactly what we should expect: as the Lord God, Jesus contains every goodness, is able to satisfy our every need. And when we come to Him with one need He is coming to us to satisfy that need. When we come to Him with another need then He is coming to us to satisfy that need.

He comes in Holy Communion to satisfy our every need:
When I come to Him weak, He comes bringing His strength.
When I come to Him sad, He comes with His consolation.
When I come to Him lonely, He comes as the companion of my heart.
When I come to Him fighting temptation to sin, He comes with the grace to resists sin.
Even when I come to Him deluded and self-satisfied and thinking I don’t need Him, He comes offering graces to draw me away from my self-delusion.

So, finally, let me bring this to a practical conclusion, let me ask you a question:
What do you think about when you are receiving Holy Communion?
Do you come to Him thinking of nothing? With an empty head? Or worse?
Or, you come to Him mentally and spiritually focused on Him so that you will be suitably DISPOSED and able to receive the graces on offer in Holy Communion?
Every need for your soul is ready to be satisfied in Holy Communion –if only we are open to Him!
I have printed in the newsletter this Sunday a little ‘Spiritual Communion’ prayer I often use, that I’d suggest to you, to focus our thoughts as we approach the altar:
“I wish, Lord, to receive You with the purity, humility and devotion with which your most Holy Mother received You, with the spirit and the fervour of the saints”

To go back to where I began: we’re here doing what we do every Sunday, every Mass, but it is not just all the same. Jesus knows what we need, He comes bringing what we need, because He comes as His very Self.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

5th August 2012

There is no sermon text today because there was a supply priest preaching.

Next Sunday we'll return to our series of sermons on the Eucharist.