Dear Sisters and Brothers,
When I saw the first reading for this weekend from the Old Testament book of Exodus, I couldn’t help but think of the reaction that often occurs when one pastor of a parish is moved and a new pastor is appointed. Why, oh why did the bishop do this to us??? Oh my God!!! We were all doing so well and now what is going to happen to us??? Who is this new guy coming in and how the heck are we all going to get along??? For goodness sake!!! I hope the future for us isn’t bleak and we get a Mass that is convenient (because God knows how busy I am)!!!! Lord!!! Deliver your people!!!! It really does have its parallel in the reaction of the people of Israel who had just be freed from slavery! Moses!!! Why, oh why did you lead us out of Egypt??? Oh my God!!! This food in the desert is terrible while we had incredible (slave) food up until just recently!!! For goodness sake!!! Hopefully our time in the desert doesn’t kill us and we live long enough to make it to the promised land!!! Lord!!! Deliver your people!!! ... Ok ... the words are different, but the sentiment of the people is basically the same. Lord??? Can we REALLY trust you? Can we trust that you love us and are always with us? Can we trust that you will lead us in rights paths??? Can we trust that you will “nourish” us with food that will really make a difference? Lord!!! Hear and answer our prayer!!!
In answer to the prayer/grumbling of the Israelites, the Lord sent them manna in the desert as well as quail ... or in other word, bread and meat ... or in yet other words, food to sustain them for their lives in the desert. For us, in answer to our prayer / grumbling, the Lord sent his only begotten Son, now in the form of the Holy Eucharist, to nourish and sustain us as we make our pilgrim way through the sometimes seemingly desert of our lives.
The people of Israel most certainly ate the manna and the quail, and it did sustain them, but the reality is that they didn’t always appreciate it to the extent that they should have. They eventually started to take it for granted and because of that, the “food from heaven” became expected, boring, and ordinary to them. Yeah! It’s ok, but it doesn’t really excite us!!! It’s the same thing ALL the time!!! And guess what? We Catholics can and perhaps have fallen into the same pattern of thought when it comes to how our God nourishes his people today!
The bishops of the United States really do want to have a Eucharistic renewal program for our country, and boy ‘o boy do we need a good program of renewal. As I mentioned on the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (formally known as Corpus Christi) only one third of Catholics in the United States actually believe in the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament! It’s incredibly sad that this, the most basic and important part of our lives as Catholics hasn’t been passed on to children who are now parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents. How incredibly sad that people can come into our churches for Mass and not realize that the fullness of Christ’s humanity AND divinity are present literally in our tabernacles and in the sacrifice that we offer during the Mass! How incredibly sad that some who profess the Catholic faith have somehow come to see the Eucharistic food as something expected, boring and ordinary. How much have some Catholics become like a good many of those Israelites who were complaining to Moses in the desert!!! When we look at the situation honestly, the Church today has more in common with the ancient Israelites who wandered in the desert than we might want to admit. Leopards don’t change their spots, and human beings don’t change a whole lot either unless they are open to being educated by being open to the grace of the Holy Spirit.
The people of Israel had Moses their leader and his brother Aaron the high priest to instruct them in the hopes that God had for them and to likewise encourage them in their living of the faith. Similarly, we have Jesus Christ himself as our leader, the head of the Church which is the body of Christ, and we have our Holy Father Pope Francis as the universal high priest to instruct and encourage us in our lives of faith as he guides the universal Church. On a local level, we have our diocesan high priest or bishop in the person of Bishop da Cunha. He likewise instructs and encourages us on a local diocesan level! But do we allow the grace of the Holy Spirit to constantly renew us and strengthen us in our faith?
Moses in the Old Testament represents the law and Aaron is the original chief priest of the covenant. In parallel, Jesus IS the law when we accept that he IS God, that God IS love, and that the law as summarized by Jesus is to love God first and then love your fellow human being. Loving genuinely is the law and loving genuinely is to follow Christ’s law. To make sure that this law was taught to disciples, Jesus appointed Peter to be the first chief priest of the new covenant. And today, to whomever the Petrine ministry is entrusted (elected Pope) is the successor of Peter and hence the chief high priest, the first among equals! The high priests continue to teach love and share love by the passing on of the ability to celebrate the Eucharist in the sacrament of Holy Orders.
In the Eucharist, we have so much more than manna and quail. Is the Eucharist real food? Well ... yes, it is. We’d be hard pressed to survive on one small host every day or once a week without anything else to eat. But regardless of the size or quantity of “Eucharistic bread” we consume on a daily or weekly basis, it does remain real food. But more importantly, the Eucharist is real spiritual food for us because it is literally the flesh and blood of Jesus, son of Mary and Son of God. When the Eucharist is given as the “last rites” of the Church, it is referred to as Viaticum which means “food for the journey”. But regardless of whether or not we receive it as the last rites, or simply our customary reception of communion at daily or weekly Mass, the Eucharist is that food which allows us to CONTINUE the journey of our discipleship, the journey which is our pilgrimage that is always leading us to the Father, through Jesus, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Or in other words to heaven ... or in yet other words, to our PROMISED LAND.
Our lives of discipleship can often take on the characteristics of the desert ... hot, dry, and seemingly endless. But with spiritual eyes fixed on the promised land of heaven, we sustain the journey with the “bread of heaven” that was offered as the New Covenant. Let us then pray for ourselves, for our fellow parishioners, and most especially for those Catholics who still haven’t accepted the grace of a converted heart to accept the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, that we never see our manner from heaven, the Eucharist, as common, boring or worse yet, of little value. In reality, the Eucharist today is THE most important tool that a disciple has to continue the journey and to sustain the promise that the journey will lead us to our true and eternal home, our promised land which is heaven!