Prv 9. 1-6; Ps 34; Eph 5. 15-20; Jn 6. 51-58
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
The struggle to understand Jesus’ words about his self-proclaimed identity as the bread...from heaven and his life-giving quality astonished his hearers, who quarreled among themselves, saying,“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” I want to reflect briefly with you on this astonishment then on communion’s effect on us.
This part of the Fourth Gospel remains difficult to appreciate for one reason because it challenges interpreters of scripture. It’s also difficult to appreciate because humans then and now object to cannibalism./1/ Yet, in the earliest days of the church that’s exactly one charge leveled at Christians. The Romans were a modest people, although exceptions existed, which isn’t different from us. Anything that deviated from their accepted norms was objectionable. The way to deal with the objectionable was to call it as one thought it was. People were accurate sometimes but not accurate at others, as with the Christians.
One defender preserved these discrediting remarks. These are mild ones. We are in church, after all.
[Christians] know one another by secret marks and insignia, and they love one another almost before they know one another; everywhere also there is mingled among them a certain religion of lust, and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters...it is thus that their vain and senseless superstition glories in crimes.”/2/Brother and sister, the common way Christians called each other confused those who did not share their unifying experience with and in Jesus. The cannibalism charge is too gory to relate; see my blog. My point is that people in the days during and after Jesus took very seriously their norms and their religions.
Earliest Christians had something we lost: a freedom to imagine themselves in the past and future as well as the present./3/ We connect with their freedom at mass when we proclaim the mystery of faith: Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our live, Lord Jesus come in glory! That form includes us. Another form, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again, does not include us, which may impress us as no more than a mental act of remembering just as the ones that include us.
Yet the earliest Christians were not mentally remembering during their eucharistic celebrations. They were doing as Jesus told them—and us: Do this in memory of me. Memory was less mental and more active.
Each celebration made present the past—at the altar, what Jesus did; and the future beyond the altar in daily life—Jesus at work in and through believers. This freedom, Jesus past work alive in the present with power to reshape the future, is less not forgetting than enjoying graced self-knowledge. Our sacramental eating and drinking at the Lord’s table is our communion with Jesus; our communion with him, deepened by our sacramental eating and drinking, also helps us recognize ourselves on mission with Jesus and each other.
Christian self-knowledge is practical now as then. Christian self-knowledge is wisdom. Wisdom is not knowledge; wisdom puts to good use what we know and what we believe. St. Paul calls us to be wise, and told us what he meant: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish people but as wise...do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what are the Lord’s desires for you. Eucharistic eating and drinking intensifies our relationship with Jesus and helps us grow more alert to what Jesus invites each of us to do in his name day to day.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, be alert to the Trinity choosing you. Ask your patron saint to present you to Jesus to converse with him. Confide in Jesus your astonishment at this invitation to feast on him. Recall a communion that moved you, changed you, strengthened you, and tell it to Jesus. Write it as a letter to Jesus if you find that helpful. Ask Jesus to deepen your longing for him to keep inviting you to join him and to give you courage to join him. Close by saying slowing the Lord’s Prayer, pausing to desire at its phrase, daily bread, that the eucharist will keep you close to Jesus and to others.
1. One charge of it is in Minucius Felix Octavius, R. E. Wallis, trans., The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, N. Y.: The Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887), Vol. 4, pp. 177-178.
2. Ibid. The tamer remarks! Of course, New Testament writers witnessed that Christians referred to one another as brothers and sisters (James 2.15) and greeted one another with a holy kiss (Romans 16.16).
3. David Bennett offered this insight to this freedom: “The Greek word for remembrance, anamnesis, does not imply simple psychological recollection. Enlightenment rationalistic assumptions have clouded many an interpretation of Jesus' words here. The word anamnesis, as it was often used in ancient times, means to bring the past into the present and the present into the past. In the Eucharist, we truly experience Christ's life, death, and resurrection, and Christ is made present to us, and we are made present to Him. This is far more dynamic than merely remembering something.” In “The Eucharist: The Medicine of Immortality.”