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, 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.