This weekend we conclude the five week series of one of the most significant sections in all of scripture, The Bread of Life Discourse, from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John. As we have reflected on this critical passage, we have heard Jesus repeatedly identifying himself as The Bread of Life…that has come down from heaven…that lasts forever….that is real food and his blood is real drink…that is his flesh to give life for the entire world. He has also repeatedly told us that when we eat this Bread of Life…he will remain is us…that we will live forever…that those in the desert who ate manna have died, but those who eat this bread will never die.
These statements are the basis for our Catholic belief in his real presence manifest in our midst as a gift to us in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Over the past weeks we have taken extra efforts to emphasize the importance of this profound spiritual reality. In fact, I believe that Jesus becoming real in the Eucharist is THE most important, the deepest and the most profound reality in all of Christianity.
Through liturgical documents and the teachings of our Catholic Church, we have come to identify the following four ways that Christ’s REAL presence is made known every time we celebrate the Eucharist:
The People Gathered
The Word of Scripture Proclaimed
The Elements of Bread and Wine
The Person of the Priest
We have supplemented the larger Church teachings by unique expressions of these here at Holy Family, such as: our inclusive welcoming both before and as Mass is starting; our vibrant, contemporary music; all liturgical ministers led by the presider bow in reverence to the altar and then bow to the PEOPLE as the procession approaches the altar; our screens that enhance images and bring us supplemental wording, video and audio; the way our assembly stands in a wave from back to front accentuating ushering forward the gifts of bread and wine being brought forth; the manner in which members of the assembly come all the way up to the altar and place those gifts while facing the assembly; the emphasis that we place on breaking God’s Word open in a preaching style that addresses contemporary and relevant real life topics and concerns; the inclusion of lay women, men and teens sharing reflections during Mass; the unifying moment of praying The Our Father with hands joined by the entire assembly across the aisles; our servant model of Communion beginning with the Fractioning Rite and Lamb of God that sends Eucharistic Ministers into the assembly; the emphasis that we place on saying your name just prior to receiving the Body and Blood of Christ; accentuating our belief that the Eucharist is so sacred that it MUST be lived in the world with our proclamation that “The Mass never ends…” as we conclude. This statement is rooted in what the earliest Christians said as they concluded the Eucharist.They then responded as we do today, “Thanks be to God.” As those early Christians said this, they knew that there was a distinct possibility that some of them would not be with them the following week because they would be martyred for their faith.
As we contemplate the Lord’s real presence among us as The Bread of Life these many years later, there are many elements to this spiritual reality that have not changed. However, some have. We live in a world where people are identifying as spiritual, but not religious. Anti-institutional feelings abound as large organizations (of which the Catholic Church is perhaps the largest) have lost the trust of so many, often because of the sins of leadership.
So, in the midst of institutional Church failings and waning religious practice, I believe that the Eucharist, at its core, can feed us even more profoundly. Jesus identifies himself with what is real (people, bread, wine, scripture) and he gives himself to us as sustenance for eternity. He stimulates our spiritual imagination by connecting our past with the present and urges us to see into the eternal future. These are some of the gifts of the Eucharist that can feed us now in a critical time in the institutional church’s history – our history.
I wish to once again reiterate the three-part story of our faith that can be viewed both physically and spiritually. In the physical part of the ONE world we live in, there is often a beginning, a middle and an end to many of our endeavors.
However, if we choose to, we can also embrace the spiritual invitation to look at all of life as having a beginning, a next step and the eternal. I remind people that an easy way to remember this pattern is through 3 C’s. CREATION is the beginning (God created the heavens and the earth…Genesis 1:1). Prayerfully consider the beginnings in your life, in your work, in significant relationships and other endeavors. COVENANT is the next step. (I will be your God and you will be my people…Exodus). When have you taken a significant next step? When have you advanced, stepped up, made a rite of passage? Third, CHRIST, the eternal manifestation of that covenant (This is the cup of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal COVENANT.) What has lasted, endured, stayed in your life? What is eternal for you?
I believe that all of faith can be viewed as an extension of the covenant that God formed with all of us, humanity, and that which he forms with us personally.
What is lasting, what is communal, what is personal, what lasts, what helps us to seal the covenant with our God through which He remains in us – is best celebrated in the Eucharist – our God manifest in a real way in the Bread of Life that feeds us no matter what – Jesus Christ!
As promised, there will be a prayer service called The Quiet, a prayer experience for healing and peace for survivors of clergy sexual abuse on Thursday, August 30 at 6:00pm in the church.