Sunday Word

Eucharist is food for the journey

Father Alfredo Hernandez
Sunday, Aug. 12
1 Kgs 19:4-8; Ps 34:2-9; Eph 4:30–5:2; Jn 6:41-51

Immediately before the bread of life discourse (from Chapter 6 of John) which we are reflecting on this month, Jesus’ disciples had crossed the Sea of Galilee after the multiplication of loaves and fish, and Jesus came to them walking on the water. This incident begs the question, borrowed from many a joke about chickens and roads: “Why did Jesus cross the sea?” The answer, of course, is to get to the other side.

It is impossible to appreciate the Catholic faith without a sense that the whole of life is a journey to the other side. Like Elijah, we need food for our journey, even when that journey seems too difficult or even pointless. Like the Ephesian Christians to whom St. Paul wrote, we need nourishment for our efforts to follow his exhortation, to be “imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love.” The life St. Paul calls us to live is precisely a life in imitation of Jesus’s self-giving love made present for us in the Eucharist: “as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.” As we cross to the other side, across the sea of life, our food for the journey, our “viaticum” (the name the Church gives to our last Communion before death), is the Eucharist, the bread of life.

In Psalm 32, we proclaim: “Taste and see how good the Lord is; blessed the man who takes refuge in him.” In the Eucharist, we taste in the most perfect way the “goodness of the Lord.” In the Eucharist, we “look to him that (we) may be radiant with joy.” The Lord promises us great joy, for this life and for heaven, through this awesome gift. Do we realize the amazing gift we are offered, precisely so that we can carry on the most important journey of all time?

On Aug. 6, we recall the 40th anniversary of the death of Blessed (soon to be saint) Pope Paul VI. In his 1965 encyclical on the Eucharist, “Mysterium Fidei,” Paul VI quoted the Council of Trent in discussing the importance of all Christians expressing their faith in the Eucharist. He specifically addressed the role the Eucharist plays in preparing us for eternal life: that “they may be able to move on from this wretched earthly pilgrimage to their heavenly home where, without any veil, they will eat the ‘bread of angels’ that they now eat beneath the sacred veils” (Mysterium Fidei, 72).

As you approach the altar today, I invite you to consider the journey you are on. Think about how you need the life of Christ in you, so that you may remove from your heart anything that would “grieve the Holy Spirit.” Reflect on the struggles you face, which you can meet only with his help. But do not be afraid to look further ahead as well, for he is food for the final journey, too, and he assures us that we have nothing to fear as we approach the other shore: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

My own father passed away 12 years ago, on Aug. 9. As he was on his deathbed, I wrote the following words, commenting on this Sunday’s readings for the parish bulletin of St. Juliana Parish in West Palm Beach, where I was then pastor, words which have resonance for us all, as we continue our journey to “the other side”: “Like Elijah in the desert, my father has received bread for the journey, when he received holy Communion as viaticum on Aug. 1. He believed firmly the words of today’s Gospel: ‘I am the bread of life. … I am the living bread come down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.’ May Jesus’ ‘words of eternal life’ give us all strength as we receive Our Lord in the Eucharist this day of the resurrection.”

Father Hernández is academic dean and Director of Liturgy at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach.

Come, receive the bread of life

Father Alfredo Hernandez
Sunday, Aug. 5
Ex 16:2-4, 12-15; Ps 78:3-4, 23-25, 54; Eph 4:17, 20-24; Jn 6:24-35

In Sunday’s Gospel, we enter fully into Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, the bread of life discourse. Jesus’ listeners hear him say that the Father will give them the true bread from heaven, which “gives life to the world.” Their response is, “Sir, give us this bread always,” to which he responds, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Even if this crowd will not truly understand the message of the bread of life discourse, even if we have trouble grasping its awesome truth ourselves, their initial response was the correct one: “Sir, give us this bread always.” It is the bread of life that fills us and gives us life. We can try to live our lives without it, but the one who has tasted this bread and appreciated its real worth must come to the point of asking Jesus to “give us this bread always.”

Ironically, Jesus truly desires to “give us this bread always.” If there is an obstacle to receiving it, the obstacle is always on our side. Perhaps it would be helpful this month, when we will be reflecting continuously on the wonderful mystery of the bread of life, to consider what blocks we might put on receiving this gift of the Lord.

Of course, the first obstacle to receiving the gift is not to be present to receive it. If we were to be told that someone was giving a million dollars to each person who showed up at a local mall and spent an hour there each Sunday, there is no way we’d miss out. Yet when we’re told that Jesus is giving us his very self, in his life-giving body and blood, it can be so easy to miss. We are offered a gift greater than that which Moses and the Israelites received in the desert. We receive the food that nourishes and satiates us perfectly. Is receiving it the most important appointment of our week? “Sir, give us this bread always.”

This leads to the question of whether we truly believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Jesus responds to his questioners: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” By his own witness, faith in him includes faith in his presence in the bread of life: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” If our faith in the Eucharist has wavered in any way, this is a good month to ask for an increase in that faith: “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Certainly, another barrier in the way of receiving the gift of the Lord can be our remaining in sinful situations. St. Paul asks the Ephesians to “put away the old self of your former way of life.” Living the Christian life means living differently: “You must no longer live as the gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” Coming forward to receive holy Communion does not mean we think we are perfect, for the Church is indeed that “field hospital” to which Pope Francis refers so often.

At the same time, though, there has to be a commitment to live a new life, or else we are making a mockery of the gift we are being offered. This month it would be good to make time for confession, if it’s been a long time since we’ve gone, and to consider if there are situations in our lives that need to change if we want to approach the altar to receive the amazing gifts the Lord wants to give us. As we ask for the grace of continued conversion, we know that it is Jesus himself who nourishes us to live a new life, so we ask him to feed us and give us his life: “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Coming each Sunday (and more often, if possible), asking for deeper faith in the eucharistic Lord, setting out on a journey of continuing conversion — these are all important steps in opening ourselves up to the gifts Jesus offers: “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Trust the Lord with all you have

Father David Scotchie
Sunday, July 29
2 Kgs 4:42-44; Ps 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18; Eph 4:1-6; Jn 6:1-15

Five barley loaves and two fish — that’s all the boy had to offer. Five barley loaves and two fish. Barley loaves, not tasty like wheat, were food for peasants. The loaves were small, maybe as big as your fist, like a dinner roll. Five barley loaves and two fish, enough for one person to have two meals. Or two people to share one meal. That’s all the boy had to give to Jesus.

Five thousand men, not counting women and children, that’s how many people showed up hungry.
Philip the practical did the math. “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” He looked at the books, looked at the crowd and looked at Jesus. “Sorry, boss, it can’t be done.”

There’s never enough. Not enough time, not enough money, not enough jobs to provide for a family, not enough roads, not enough affordable housing, not enough health care. Anyone can see that resources are limited. “Sorry, it can’t be done.”

Fear is not far away. Faced with such need, who wouldn’t take a step backwards and tuck their lunch under their robe?

The priest passed by the mugged and beaten pilgrim in the ditch. The Levite, hearing the groans, shifted as well to the opposite side of the road. Perhaps the robbers were hiding in the bushes. Perhaps someone better trained could handle the situation properly. The priest and Levite might have wondered, “If I stop to help him, what would happen to me?”

A Samaritan traveler came upon the wounded Jew. So moved with compassion, his only thought was, “If I don’t stop to help him, what would happen to him?” (Lk 10:29-37).

Seeing the 5,000, some might have said, “Boy, I hope they brought their lunches.” Others might have said, “I hope they don’t expect us to share our lunch.”

For Jesus, sending away the 5,000 hungry was not open to discussion. He said, “Lunch is on us.” Then Jesus took the boy’s loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. Just like that.

One couple heard an Indian missionary plead for sponsors, $50 a month for a child. The husband had recently lost his job. After much prayer, they decided to go ahead with sponsoring. A week later he got another job. The moral of the story is not that sponsoring a poor child will get you a job. The takeaway is that the Lord does great things with the little you give him, even if it is only a barley loaf.

The Gospel is not about sharing, some for you and some for me. It’s about trusting the Lord with all you have, even if it is only a barley loaf. We do not know how Jesus fed the 5,000 not counting women and children. We know only that the boy’s barley loaves, in the hands of Jesus, were more than enough.

Take, give thanks, give it all away. Same words as at Mass. We do not know how the bread and wine becomes body and blood of Christ; it just does. We do not know how God the Father raised Jesus from the dead; we just know that he did, and destroyed the power of fear, selfishness and death. Jesus can do miracles with your barley loaf. All you have to do is put it in his hands.

To take to prayer: What barley loaf does Jesus want from you?

Father Scotchie is pastor of Most Precious Blood Parish in Oviedo and his latest book is “Can I Say a Prayer With You: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying With Someone.” Email: frdavidscotchie@gmail.com.

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United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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