Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve published here on the blog! Let’s get back to work.
For several Sundays in Cycle B of the Roman Catholic Lectionary the church proclaims the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. This is sometimes called “The Bread of Life” chapter. On the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time the first verses of the chapter (John 1:1-15) are read which tell the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish that feed a huge crowd. This sets up the rest of the chapter as a time for Jesus to teach about himself being the Bread of Life.
The story of the “multiplication” of the five loaves of barley bread and two fish, some scripture scholars say, is St. John the Gospel writer’s story of the institution of the Eucharist. Matthew, Mark and Luke have Jesus do this on the last night before his death. But John uses the story of a miraculous feeding of thousands as his story about the Eucharist the Church continues to celebrate. There will always be enough of Christ’s body and blood to feed his church down through the ages through the miracle of the Mass. The rest of John 6 is a “theology” of the Eucharist. The rest of the chapter which is read over 5 weeks can sound a bit repetitive, though. “I am the bread of life!” I AM the bread of life!” I am the BREAD of life!” I am the bread of LIFE!” This sequence of readings becomes a challenge for a preacher (like me) to find something to say and not sound repetitive, too. Repetition can have a congregation tuning out. “Didn’t we hear this last Sunday?”
So, here at St. Mary where I am pastor, this year I am going to spend a few weeks talking about different aspects of the Mass, to try to go a bit deeper into our appreciation of what is actually taking place in the liturgy we come to each Sunday and maybe begin to get a little complacent about or just go through the routine and miss the wonder of what’s happening. I can tell you those folks who were fed with 5 loaves and 2 fish weren’t complacent. They were in awe about what had happened. I hope maybe my parish will be a bit more in awe, too, at what takes place at the altar Sunday after Sunday when we’ve finished what some churches would call a “Sermon Series.” I asked for some input about what to talk about in my sermon series in a survey that was published in the parish bulletin throughout June and July. Unfortunately, I got all of two responses. I hope that doesn’t mean that my parishioners are not curious about learning more about the Mass! But some of my reflections over the 5 weeks will be related to one of the responses I did get. The person carefully hand wrote a page and a half of questions. Not all were about the Eucharist, but maybe his or her thoughts will inspire a couple of other homilies. This first reflection on preaching John 6 reflects another concern the person expressed about how to get adult children who choose to not attend Mass to come to the Eucharist more often.
First let’s talk about why we even attend Mass. That’s the point I want us to contemplate this first week. Why do Catholics need to come to Mass? We can get to the heart of the answer by paying attention to a detail in the story of the feeding of the thousands. Jesus was responding to a NEED. The people were hungry. They had a recognizable physical NEED. .
Now a small host and sip of wine isn’t going to fill you up when you attend Mass. That’s because we’re not at the Eucharist because of the need of physical hunger. Some people might be hungry who come to Mass because there’s not enough food in the house. Or the hunger is a result of the Eucharistic fast of an hour we’re supposed to observe to remind us of our need for what we receive in communion. Just as we need food to survive in the body, our souls, our spiritual relationship with God needs nourishment. That’s what we find here at the table of the Lord Jesus. Food for our souls to strengthen us to live what we are baptized to be, members of Christ, witnesses to his resurrection. Here, we encounter the risen Jesus in person (a real presence of Jesus) so that we can tell others the truth. Jesus lives and you can live perfectly with him, too.
Our presence here is a response to a NEED. Our need is to encounter Jesus, to be feed to become what we eat for the sake of the world.
We hopefully don’t attend Mass to be entertained by a witty pastor (although that’ might get people in the door). It’s not to be moved by a great praise band (while that might make the time seem to pass more quickly or lift our hearts to God). We’re not at Sunday Mass, I hope, out of fear of punishment for a sin (although it is a sin to miss Mass. But adults, hopefully, don’t do things to avoid punishment but to satisfy a need to do the right thing).
If we’re here at Mass because of need…then how do we encourage others to attend, especially adult children? First, we don’t try to guilt people into participating in the liturgy. Guilt won’t work. They’ve decided to be absent, probably because it’s not fulfilling a felt NEED in their lives. All the excuses about not attending Mass (It’s boring, it’s repetitious, I don’t get anything out of it, I want to sleep in, I put my time in, in Grade school) are just that, excuses. What strikes me as odd is that we don’t stop eating after we’ve had a couple of meals as a child. We keep eating to stay alive or we stare. We NEED to help others see they NEED to be fed, to be strengthened, that they only get what they need, hope, peace, a better way to live, AT MASS, sitting down with Jesus and sharing the meal of his Body and Blood.We must help people who don’t attend Sunday Eucharist to meet Jesus and want to get to know him better. We have help them to have a significant relationship with Jesus that gives meaning to life, a reason to live unselfishly. Instead of the “knowledge” about Jesus and the theology we pour into the heads of children in Catholic Religious Education we have to help the non-attending see they can have and NEED a deeper RELATIONSHIP with Christ. Knowledge about religious things doesn’t save you from death and give life to the soul. Being united to Jesus, does. And you can’t be united to the one who loves you without being by staying away from his Body experienced both in the assembly of the faithful and in receiving the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine changed into his Sacred Body and Blood.
That’s more difficult to do than guilt, or the bells and whistles of praise music or amazing preaching. Tell people how the Mass leaves you feeling closer to Jesus, how the Eucharist gives you a sense of God’s love. Maybe then others will want to share in this banquet.
The boy in the story of the feeding of the thousands was willing to give away what he had and Jesus did amazing things with the gift. Give to others what knowing Jesus means to you. Tell non-attenders, with love, about how you meet Jesus and encounter at the Mass, how the Mass fulfills your needs to you and maybe the crowds will come to our Eucharistic banquet rooms seeking to be nourished and with their needs met, perhaps needs they didn’t even know they had!