The Most Reverend Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
21st Sunday Ordinary Time
August 23, 2009
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
“Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’” John 6:67
A while back I received a note from someone I had not seen in a long time. This person at one time had lived in the city and been a good acquaintance to many. Now she and her husband lived far away and correspondence had grown infrequent. The note ended with these words, “Give my love to all who might remember me.”
We all like to be remembered. Jesus is no different. John Henry Cardinal Newman once wrote that it is impossible to imagine a God who would communicate a message as important as the salvation of the world and then not provide for that message to be remembered. For this purpose, the Church exists, to preserve the memory of what Jesus did and said and communicate that message.
In the Gospel of today we reach the climax of St. John’s Sixth Chapter. It is a critical moment in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. He has just taught that He is the bread of life and that unless you eat His flesh and drink His blood you have no life in you. “For my flesh is true food,” He says, “and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55). Many in Jesus’ day, who heard Him say this, thought that He could not possibly mean what He was saying. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52). That was their reaction. Some still react that way.
There is a tension here. Jesus will offer no excuses, no qualifications. He says what He says, and most of those listening walk away. He does not call them back. He only repeats the teaching, over and over again. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:56). Take it or leave it, He seems to be saying. “Does this shock you?” Jesus asks (John 6:61). If you cannot believe that Jesus can give Himself to you as a meal, then how can you believe anything else. Jesus expresses it this way, “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (John 6:62). What belief in the Eucharist requires is faith.
You see faith does save you, but it is not that feel-good, cozy me-generation type of faith. Nor is it a matter of a bunch of words alone. What moves us to faith in the Eucharist is a leap of total trust in what Jesus says, no ifs, no qualifications and no conditions. How does Jesus explain it? “It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail” (John 6:63) (6). To believe that Jesus can give Himself to us as food, for the life of the world, requires a faith that only the spirit can give and a freedom-filled grace can accept.
I wish to speak of a personal experience. One of the most moving experiences I ever have as a priest is at Mass. It is during the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, when we recall what Jesus did the night before He died. Something happens that I am sure you may not even notice. As I begin to pray the Eucharistic Prayer, a mysterious silence descends on the congregation. It is a moment I cannot forget. Heads are bowed. Everyone is kneeling. We are all focused in one direction. And I lift the bread and the cup and say, “This is my Body,” “This is my Blood.” What are you saying to God? I have often wondered. What intentions are you bringing to the Eucharistic mystery? The problems of the day? Difficulties in marriage? Concerns about children? Tensions at work? Perhaps, you are simply praising God and thanking Him for many blessings.
In some way, we are all one around the Eucharistic altar of the Lord. No longer any divisions exist. We are one with the Church in its profession of faith in the Eucharistic Lord who said He was the food for eternal life. This is the life of faith, and how can we miss it? At this moment, at this profound moment of communion with God, Jesus asks the question, as He does in the Gospel. “Do you also want to leave?” (John 6:67).
The question is like the statement in the friend’s note. “Give my love to all who might remember me.” For those who remember me, I am always present with love. Jesus wants to give us His love. So we believe, and we remember. But to whom will He give that love? He gives it to a Church that believes and remembers Him. “For no one hates his own flesh, “ St. Paul writes, “but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body” (Ephesians 5:29-30).
And who better to answer for the Church but Peter himself? “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (John 6:68). In that quiet moment of the Eucharistic Prayer, your silence captures the faith of Peter. When Jesus asked you, “Do you also want to leave?”, you did not answer, “Lord, there is soccer game in Dallas.” Or, “Lord, there is a dance review Sunday morning.” No, you answered as Peter did, “Master, to whom shall we go?” You answered as the Church, the Bride of Christ, who cannot live apart from Her spouse who is Christ.
It is one thing to have faith when everything is going well. It is yet another thing to have faith when the world is crashing in over your head. And it is yet another manifestation of faith tried by fire, tested and true, that believes in the impossible, that Jesus could give Himself to you as food. That Eucharistic faith brings us, the Church, here and now, saying, “Master, to whom shall we go?”
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Most Reverend Glen John Provost