Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, June 23, 2019.)

The people were longing and looking. They had heard about Jesus — about his preaching, his teaching, his compassion. They heard of the crowds and disciples. And they came to see for themselves.

They were longing for something this world was not giving them. They were looking for an encounter with God. Some were probably asking: “Is this the anointed one? Is this the Messiah?”

So when they heard Jesus was in Bethsaida, they came. Accounts differ on the numbers, but they were in the thousands. Jesus welcomes the people; he speaks to them about the kingdom of God and cures those who needed healing.

Luke’s account tells us that as evening fell, the Twelve approached Jesus asking him to dismiss the crowd so they could find lodging and provisions. At this Jesus says: “Give them some food yourselves.”

“Five loaves and two fish are all we have,” they reply.

Jesus has them sit the crowd in groups of fifty. He then takes the bread and fish, offers a blessing and begins to distribute the food. In the end, “all ate and were satisfied.”

The people who had been longing had their fill. The people who were looking, found.

The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is a powerful account of God’s interaction in the life of humanity. He is present there. He fills their minds with his Word. He fills their hearts with his presence. He fills their bodies with food.

The event is another reminder to us that God is not distant from his people. He is always present with us. He is aware of our longings and hopes. He is aware of our needs and desires. He is aware of our joys and sorrows. He engages us in real and concrete ways.

Jesus in himself is the primary way in which he is with us. The Word becoming flesh, the Son of God becoming the Son of Mary, brings God himself into the life of the world he created.

Two weeks ago, we celebrated Pentecost and were reminded that Jesus remains present among us through the Holy Spirit. Today we are reminded that he remains present in another way, through his mysterious presence in the Eucharist.

We celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. The mystery is part of the great mystery of God’s love. We celebrate that in the Holy Trinity. We celebrate that in the Incarnation. We celebrate that in the Eucharist. The mystery engages the timeless and boundless love and life of God in the life of the people he created.

We celebrate the real presence of Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine. In the celebration of the Eucharist, Jesus comes to us in a real and concrete manner. Joined with the one offering on Calvary, we are united in the sacrament of life, the sacrament of salvation. Jesus feeds us with his body and blood.

The sacrifice is one of love. Jesus offers himself in love. It is this love that saves. It is this love that nourishes. It is this love that gives life.

The second reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians contains the earliest written remembrance of the institution of the Eucharist. Jesus, at the Last Supper, took bread, gave thanks, broke it and said: “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Then he took the cup and said: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

St. Paul adds, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

Jesus is present in this celebration. The incarnate Lord is with us as we remember him. And he remains.

The first reading recalls the mysterious encounter between Abraham (at this point still called Abram) and Melchizedek. Melchizedek is a mysterious figure, the king of Salem (which means “peace”). This reference in the Book of Genesis is the only time that Melchizedek appears. He is a priest of God most high. He offers bread and wine in thanksgiving for Abram, and he offers thanks to God most high for his protection of Abraham. Here he foreshadows Christ, who not only offers the sacrifice but is himself the offering. The praise of God is celebrated in thanksgiving (“eucharist”).

We are the people who look and long just like the crowd outside Bethsaida two thousand years ago. Some come looking for inspiration. Some come looking for peace. Some come looking for wisdom. Some come looking for consolation.

Some come looking for healing. Some come looking for direction. Some come looking for hope.

Some come looking for help. Some come looking for joy.

The longing for life lies deep in the heart of each person. When we come before him with humility at the mystery we celebrate in faith, we will find that for which we long: “for they all ate and were satisfied.”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.