Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

"Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world."

We began last Sunday a series of readings from the sixth chapter of Saint John's Gospel, a series that will lead us into September. These readings invite us to ponder the great mystery of the Mass and the 'bread which has come down from heaven."
A personal note: I decided while studying theology in the seminary that my personal spirituality should be founded on the Mass and liturgy, including the sacraments and the Liturgy of the Hours. I love to recite the Franciscan crown (similar to a rosary but longer) and I study the lives of many saints, but my number one fascination is with the Official Prayer of the Church; that is, the liturgy. A priest spends much of his life in these formal prayers; they should mean something to him. And his fascination with the Church's prayer should draw his congregation into that prayer.
A second personal note: Not long after I was ordained, I attended a workshop on the newly-revised "Eucharistic Adoration," formerly known as "Benediction." The presenting bishop reminded the clergy that the Church's prayer is always directed "to the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit." If I had heard it before, it finally clicked into my consciousness that afternoon.
That teaching is nothing new, but it needs to be said often. The Second Vatican Council didn't rediscover this truth as if it were long lost, but it should never slip away from our daily reflection. Whatever we call our prayers -- Benediction, Confession and Extreme Unction have new names -- they are prayers of the whole church directed to the Father of Jesus by His Holy Spirit. 
In fact the presiding priest loudly declaims this doctrine during every Mass, "Through him, with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever!" And the Church says "Amen!"
When we attend Mass we stand in God's sanctuary where the Father is sitting on his throne, with angels flying overhead, shouting, "Holy, Holy, Holy!" We have been gathered by the Holy Spirit from many places -- some quite distant! -- and now our Shepherd and Friend Jesus reassures us as he ushers us into the Presence. He hardly needs to tell us to genuflect or kneel for we've already gone down before the Creator and Father of All.

In today's gospel, Jesus reminds us, "...it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven."
The word for this is oblation, one of the few words left in the English language that still retains its sacred meaning. It can be defined as "the presentation of bread and wine to God in the Eucharist," but that represents only half the definition. We received this gift from the Lord, and now we offer it to the Lord. It is both the reception of, and the presentation of, the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.
The gift is Jesus. The gift is myself. The gift is my family, friends and companions. The gift is everything I know and love and many things I would rather not have -- sorrows, disappointment, pains, disabilities, regrets, shame and guilt. All is gift and all belongs to the Giver. Shepherded by Jesus we come before the Lord and, at his coaching we say, "Here I am."
"My father gives you the true bread from heaven." This doesn't come simply from our ancient religious tradition; that is, from Moses. Rather, it's an immediate gift, like the manna which must be eaten now and cannot be preserved until the morrow. Not only is the ancient past not forgotten, it's not even past! His life, death and resurrection are as close as one's breath.
On seeing it, the Israelites asked one another, "What is this?"
for they did not know what it was.
But Moses told them,
"This is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat."
We should continually ponder this mystery of the Eucharist, asking of the Holy Spirit, "What is this?" We hardly know what to make of it. Many people conclude that because the music was less that amazing, the homily offered no new insight, the congregation was distracted, and participation was mechanical, the Mass means nothing. They "get nothing out of it."
"What is this?" we ask.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.