The 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

August 23, 2015  St Peter the Apostle Church — Naples, FL

Joshua 24, 1-2, 15-18 + Psalm 34 + Ephesians 5, 21-32 + John 6, 60-69

Now we come to fifth and final Sunday with John’s Gospel that has been like a mid summer break from the Gospel of Mark. Personally, I regret that I was not here at St Peter to reflect on all these readings with you week by week because this chapter six is such a rich treasure for us as a Eucharistic Church, and the reflection and the discovery of what is revealed is so much more intense when it is shared together in the context of a Eucharistic Liturgy. These are the final verses of John’s great presentation on the Bread of Life leading us to understand that Jesus is not talking about a material food substance made from flour and water. It is “Real” food. It is the “True Bread” that is given to us meaning it is authentic. Because it is real rather than fake or artificial, it is the only thing that will satisfy our deepest hungers. We cannot live on bread alone – there is more we need, and Jesus will satisfy that hunger with His his Body and Blood.

Yet, John insists that what he gives us is not a “thing” or an “object”, but a relationship, the very real person of Christ himself which draws us into that precious and life-giving relationship Jesus shares with his Father. Through, with, and in Christ, we take on and engage the teaching, the words, and the deeds of Jesus Christ. This is what we consume in Eucharist, the whole teaching, life, passion, and death of Jesus. We enter a whole new way of living that transforms our relationship with Christ, with the Father, and with one another. This is a personal experience, as personal and intimate as falling in love.

As John tells it, the words of Jesus and his intention is beginning to sink in for those people who have been chasing him around for more free food after his feeding of the multitude. They want another show, another “sign”, another demonstration. They like the entertainment and the excitement. They want nothing of the message and the meaning of the sign, and so when confronted with the meaning they murmur like the Israelites did in the desert, and then wander away.

Many of us know how it feels to stand there with Jesus and watch them wander away, walking away from a life of faith. We go out to dinner with long time friends whose companionship means much to us, and we find ourselves realizing that most of them do not go to church anymore. We have family gatherings for Christmas, anniversaries, and holidays where the reality and experiences of faith never enter the conversation. This experience of so many around us no longer practicing any form of faith, just as it had to be for those first disciples, is a real test of faith for us. Why do we, why should we continue to go to Mass?

Sisters and Brothers, the reason is that we have found here and have embraced here a real, a true, and a life-giving relationship. We have found faith and the assurance of faith. What makes faith reliable, does not concern what is believed, but rather it concerns the trustworthiness of the one who is believed. To sustain our faith, we must hold on to the person of Jesus Christ. This, I believe, is what happened to those who walked away and still walk away. They do not make a distinction between a what and who. Maybe they have never experienced or met the who. Those who walked away from Christ betray or refuse a relationship.

So it is with our faith based on our encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. It is in this encounter and relationship with God in Jesus Christ that we receive the assurance of faith. “I invite all Christians everywhere” said Pope Francis at the beginning of his ministry, “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ.” This relationship with Jesus Christ experiencing his teaching as beautiful, life giving, and healing is essential if we are not to become one of the drifting crowd who simply takes up life as if Jesus did not exist.

What he offers us here is eternal life, but not in the sense of the next life or some far-off, distant world, but in the sense of life that is authentic, true, and ultimate. This is a life that has meaning, has purpose, and is truly divine. When we possess this kind of “eternal life”, there will be no more need to talk about the dignity or the value of human life because all human life will be respected and treasured. There will be no more violence, no more abortion, no more execution, no more hunger, no more unwanted life, and no more inhuman poverty. The life encountered in Jesus Christ is nothing less than divine life, which is from all eternity a life of communion in love between the Father and the Son. If you want that, come forward in a few minutes. But if you want that, you can’t just take communion and run. You have to step into the relationship that is Communion.

The Eucharist is our weekly call to intimate encounter with Jesus Christ.

The Eucharist invites us to open ourselves to the person of Jesus Christ who teaches us in Word and offers his life to us in Communion, in sacrament.

The Eucharist becomes a call to faith and the personal renewal of our faith in Jesus Christ, whom “we have to believe/ and are convinced” is “the Holy One of God.”

Father Tom Boyer