Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 19)

During the past few weeks, the Gospel passage for the Sunday liturgy comes from the “Bread of Life” discourse in The Gospel According to John. Today’s Gospel passage continue from that discourse.

Jesus is inviting us to go deeper into the mystery of who he is and the life he offers us. Throughout the lengthy teaching, he is inviting us to faith – to believe in him and the One who sent him.

He tells us that he is the living bread come down from heaven. He is the one sent from the Father, who teaches us the way to the Father. At the conclusion of last week’s passage, Jesus declared, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” His death on the cross is the offering that perfects all others. He will empty himself in love so that we might live and have eternal life.

The passage today develops that theme. A quarrel erupts and people say, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus does not back off from what he has said. He means it as he has stated it.

To emphasize this, he says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

For further emphasis, he adds, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

Every time we gather around the altar, we commemorate Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. We enter into the mystery of his lifegiving death. Our participation in the Eucharist nourishes us for our journey in this world and prepares us for the communion of eternal life. As Jesus says, “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Jesus presents us with the gift of himself. He offers not only words and example on how to live, but his very self. Our participation in the Eucharist unites us to him and sustains us for life. He feeds us in a very concrete, yet mysterious, manner.

The senses will deceive us on this presence, for the bread and wine look, smell and taste like ordinary bread and wine. Yet when we look through the eyes of faith (which hearkens back to his call for faith throughout the Bread of Life discourse), we can see him truly present and hence be nourished by him.

The first reading for today’s liturgy is from the Book of Wisdom. Here the invitation to wisdom comes using the language of food and drink: “Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.”

The bounty of wisdom is available to all who seek it. The same can be said of the life that is offered in and through Jesus – all are invited to believe and partake of the Bread of Life. The path to wisdom includes leaving behind foolishness. The path to life includes leaving behind all things that lead to death.

This is the point of the passage from the Letter to the Ephesians used as today’s second reading. Paul exhorts us “not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.  And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.”

Our celebration of the Eucharist is an act of thanksgiving to God. We gather to praise him for his goodness and to receive the Bread of Life. Jesus is the living bread that comes down from heaven. Seeing with the eyes of faith we join the psalmist in saying, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”