21st Sunday Ordinary Time, Year B, 2021
This year is year B in our liturgical cycle and so we have readings from the gospel of Mark. But because the gospel of Mark is shorter than those of Matthew and Luke, we also get a series of gospels from the gospel of John, in particular from chapter 6. However, this year because of the solemnities of Mary Mackillop and the Assumption, we have not been able to work our way through them. It is of course not a pity to pray about Mary Mackillop and the Assumption, but one of the crucial issues in the church is precisely the focus of chapter 6 in John’s Gospel, namely, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Last week, I set some homework, the reading of a poem. This week I want to suggest you watch another video. It is a presentation by Bishop Robert Barron on the Real Presence. He gave it at a conference and his motivation was a survey that said 70% of Catholics in America do not believe in the Real Presence. We would be naïve to think this is limited to the USA. Indeed, our gospel shows that people with Jesus, his very disciples, left him because of precisely this teaching.
And so this is not new. But it is a very serious problem. Our problem though seems to be a variation on this. Our version of this problem seems to be that we don’t think it is a problem. We have tuned out the message that scandalised the disciples. We have turned the Real Presence into something that we can easily understand and so ignore. We might have come across this with people explaining that the Eucharist is merely a symbol. This seems to be a popular way of downplaying the reality of the Blessed Sacrament.
For most people, symbol just means sign. It points to something else. Bishop Barron in that talk I mentioned quotes the American author Flannery O’Connor responding to such a claim by saying, “If it is just a symbol, then to hell with it.” As I said, most people when they hear symbol think sign, like a billboard or a traffic sign. They definitely do not think about the fundamental meaning of symbol; that when it comes to the Eucharist, the opposite of symbolic is in fact diabolic. We just don’t think about symbols or talk about them that way.
And you know what? Most people don’t need to. Christianity is not a religion just for smart people. Thank God. It is a religion for everyone. Jesus gives us the good news and it is not complicated. Because of sin, it is hard to accept. We all know that. But it is not complicated. God has really come to us in the flesh in Jesus. God has really promised to be with us until the end of time. God really did command us to celebrate the Eucharist. Jesus really did tell us that when we do this, this is my body and this is my blood.
This is our faith. This is the dizzying reality of what we celebrate in the Eucharist. Something even surpassing the creation of the universe, a bigger bang. The Lord of Creation, the One in whom we live and move and have our being, this same Lord in all humility comes down to earth in the form of bread and wine simply to commune with us. To love us. To lift us up. To give us everything. And it is really him. Not bread and wine.
This is the reason why anything exists at all. All life comes from this, and all life derives its meaning from this. As the Second Vatican Council states, the Eucharist, Jesus, is the source and summit of life. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, but also the way.
One of the things I always try to teach our students is just how profound our celebration of the Eucharist is. We do this in memory of him who is true life. In the Eucharist, we remember true life. And we remember not in an abstract intellectual way. We literally re-member life, or better yet we are remembered. We come together as parts of the body of Christ to be remembered by him who is our head. Our lives are put back together again. They are turned the right way up.
Another thing I tell our students is properly speaking, once we are baptised, we do not come to church. No, we are sent to the world. Our starting point, our point of departure is the Eucharist. If anything, we only return to Church like we come back home. We do not fit Mass into our lives, our timetables, our world. We fit all this into the Eucharist. This is the offertory. Christ has formed us all as priests to receive the world and to offer it up. We are supposed to eat and bless our lives in Christ, so that all might be transformed through the Holy Spirit into the kingdom of God.
We need to know this. This is the only answer to what is happening around the world. The suffering in Afghanistan. Or the earthquake in Haiti. Or the problems attending Covid and our responses. Or the deep confusion about what it is to be human at the moment. The lesson from history is that without God, we lose our humanity. And God has come to us in the Eucharist. Without this, without him, we are lost.
Let’s pray then for a renewed and deeper love of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. May our love for the Eucharist open others’ eyes to the love God has for us, by continuing to give his Son to us in this way.