17th Sunday Ordinary Time – Homily (Fr. Smith)

The section from Mark’s Gospel last week brought us up to the multiplication of the loaves and the fish. This week we continue this story, but we switch to St. John’s gospel. St. Mark is the shortest gospel and in order to have readings until the end of the year we need to supplement them with St. John for this month. This is the easiest place to do this. The multiplication of the loaves and the fish is the one miracle which can be found in all 4 gospels. That itself is very important. None of the gospel writers could conceive of the church without the Eucharist. We need to ask ourselves this month: can we?

The other gospels tell the story of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. John does not, but will show us in these readings that he believes that Jesus instituted it and has a very profound understanding of its meaning. He does this today by the way he celebrates the miracle:

Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, 
and distributed them to those who were reclining, 

The other Gospel writers have similar sayings at this point. St. Mark for instance writes:

taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to [his] disciples to set before the people. 

At the Last Supper, Mark reminds us that Jesus:

 took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body. 

Matthew and Luke and indeed Paul report basically the same actions. This was and indeed is the pattern of the Eucharist. We still take, bless and distribute the bread and bless and pass the cup of wine. 

By bless we mean more than the recognition that Jesus will turn the bread and wine into his body and blood but the entire Prayer. The blessing was a special one used by rabbis when they ate with their closest disciples. They are the model for the Eucharistic prayer which we say at mass from the opening dialogue after we present the gifts “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” to the closing praise – “Through him with him and in him”. 

The Eucharistic prayers are great gifts and inexhaustibly rich with meaning, but we will look at only two aspects today. 

If the words of institution – this is my body, this is my blood – are not the only part of the Prayers they are uniquely important. They make the eucharist a sacrifice. Sacrifice forms a covenant, our relationship with God.  Mark tells us “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many”. And we will see John develop the consequences of this in the bread of life discourse this month. Luke (22:18-20) and Paul (1 Cor 11:23-25) will add “do this in remembrance of me”. The word for remember is Anemesis which means participate. This remembering allows us to participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, we speak of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. After the Eucharistic prayer it is not just bread and wine but truly the body and blood of Jesus. Why is this important? Jesus did not die and rise to give us a good example but to create a new relationship with God and indeed among all of us. He came to give us a new away of being human. Because this new covenant is offered with the sacrifice of Jesus it can never be replaced there can be nothing higher. This will always be the most intimate relationship with God. It also is the basis for the most intimate relationship with each other. If this is a real sacrifice when Jesus is consumed at Mass then you and I are really brothers and sisters if not, then this is just a simile, we only look like brothers and sisters. The Eucharist creates the deepest bond of all: the blood which flows from Jesus makes us more of who we are than the blood that flows in our own veins. 

The Eucharistic Prayer is also the reminder that in Christianity all roads lead to the Trinity. We end the prayer with “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” Through the Eucharist we enter into the Mystery of God himself. This participation may begin within the parish walls but must be brought into the world. The social teaching of the Church also begins with the Trinity and compels us to see everyone as our neighbor for whom we must be the good Samaritan. The God we worship at Mass is, as our second reading told us “…over all, and through all and in all”. He has chosen to be that in our world by using us as his presence. 

We will read these sections from John’s Gospel while we are beginning to rebuild our parish from COVID. This will not occur by itself. Our Parish leadership has been working on several initiatives. One of these is a series of small group discussions with representative samplings of parishioners to discern where the parish needs to go. If you are invited to participate, I hope that you will be able to do so. We will trust that where two or three or here about a dozen are gathered in Jesus’ name the Holy Spirit will be with us and guiding us.

Yet we must remember that just as Paul and the gospel writers could not conceive of building the church without the Eucharist, we should not consider rebuilding our Parish without it. 

Let us then pray that the spirit will enlighten us in setting goals for a new beginning for St. Charles but let us give thanks that in the Eucharist we have already been given the means to attain them.