Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sunday word

20th Sunday of the Year B (20 Aug 2006) Pr 9. 1-6; Ps 34; Eph 5. 15-20; Jn 6. 51-58
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

When I was a boy the parents of one neighbor-family, who was Mormon, wondered aloud to my parents what use going to church was. My parents mentioned the neighbors’ question to me, which was a way of teaching me at a young age that plurality colored our society.

My impressionable mind already knew that because most of my Greek cousins are Greek Orthodox. My new learning was an appreciation that, unlike the Mormons, we are a sacramental church. Sacraments use natural things--water, oil, fire, bread, wine, words, touch--in order to make us aware of God’s relationship with us and to deepen our relationship with God.

Sacraments are not signs because signs have one meaning. Take an eight-sided red sign. It means stop and only stop. That is clear and fixed, so much so that stop signs are not only on streets. Their images are on web pages and on directions packaged with equipment. Sacraments are richer than signs.

Sacraments offer more than single meanings: dying and rising (baptism); sacrifice and meal (eucharist); healing by sharing in Christ’s cross (anointing the sick); two people making one life together with their two personalities (marriage). Those combinations don’t exhaust the meanings of those sacraments. Sacraments are richer than signs. They are “swamps of meaning and swamps of being”--a graphic expression of my recently deceased teacher, Fr. Aidan Kavanagh.

Sacraments also make real and present what they express through their swamps of meaning. They have their hazardous sides: we enter swamps at our own risk. Jesus invites us to live differently, promising to stand beside us as we stand against whatever oppresses, whatever mocks life or harms people and whatever defies God’s justice and wisdom.

As swamps of being, sacraments soak us in genuine life, divine life. Jesus announced with authority that he was both that life and the giver of that life to all.

Manna was bread from heaven, but it only nourished the body. Jesus is the living bread which 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.

Jesus is true food and true drink by which we abide in Jesus and Jesus in us. But does not a person always enjoy Jesus' presence within one’s heart? That was our Mormon neighbors’ question to my parents. Of course we do! Our eating and drinking at the Lord’s table, which is always a communal feast--first with our ears and eyes during the liturgy of the word, then by each one’s personal communion during the liturgy of the eucharist--allow us to intensify the relationship Jesus already has with us.

To feast on Christ’s body and blood saturates us with Jesus’ Spirit and connects us with what it is genuine, godly and wise. Many other things intoxicate us with the folly of the world, leading us to debauchery, to use St. Paul’s word. Debauchery is riotous living from which our relationship with Jesus keeps us. Debauchery, too, results in killing--human spirits as well as human beings. Debauchery is also--this is so subltle to note readily--a killing pace, against which all of us, adult and child, student and worker, spouses and friends and ordained ministers need to guard. Our greatest guardians are Jesus and deepening our relationship with him. Christ’s body and blood is one help to becoming filled with [his] Spirit and not intoxicated by other things.

After communion we pause to pray privately.** Our words or the words of another we may use help us to taste and savor the One we have eaten and drunk in order to become the One we have received, as St. Augustine taught his parishioners.***

Begin to notice what Jesus is doing in you and for you via his communion with you. Set aside 10 minutes each day this week and return to what you began to notice here because it is the beginning of Jesus’ invitation to you to live more intently as his friend and disciple and to live in a more friendly way with others and the entire earth. Don't be surprised if Jesus challenges you. Do remember Jesus graces you to live his challenge.
* I first heard him say it in class in 1980. No doubt he used in his published works.

** General Instruction to the Roman Missal [GIRM], 88.

*** Augustine's conviction of divine indwelling his Confessions make clear: “Why, then, do I ask thee to come into me, since I also am and could not be if thou wert not in me?” (I.2.2). His eucharistic teaching elaborates on the sacrament’s effects on us.
In Sermon 57.7 Augustine taught Christians "are what they receive." Also, Sermon 272 is often cited.
Another line is telling: “You [Lord] do not make me into yourself, you become me!”--I paraphrase from memory.

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