19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 12, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
For those of you who have seen and heard me
working in this parish for the last 8 years you may have surmised
that I am not the best physical specimen on the planet:
I have all sorts of sinus and allergy problems,
and I have a bad shoulder and various other aches and pains.
Thankfully, none of these are that terrible, really only inconveniences,
and none are life-threatening.
But like many in this room, I’ve had that too.
When I was a boy, I thought I was indestructible:
but with all these illnesses and problems
—not to mention the reality of the effects of aging—
I have learned that
the smallest bacteria or the simplest bad habit,
can change your life—for the worse—forever.
Now, my situation is obviously not unique, and I have been very blessed.
Many people get sick or injured—deadly sick.
And many people struggle for years with terrible health problems.
And when they do, they search for
some medicine or food or vitamin to take to restore their health.
And especially nowadays, even if we’re not particularly sick,
people are more and more health conscience
and are very careful about what they put into their bodies.
So….what if you found a particular food or vitamin or medication
that would restore you to health when you were physically sick
or would change your out-of-shape body
to perfect health and strength?
In today’s 1st reading, Elijah seems to find just such a food.
The Book of Kings tells us that Elijah was worn out from one day’s journey
–all he wanted to do was lay down and sleep–even die.
But when he eats the food brought by the angel,
he suddenly has the strength to travel 40 days and 40 nights
through the hot desert.
If you or I found food like that we’d make it the staple of our diet.
The spiritual life isn’t much different.
We all sometimes suffer from spiritual sickness or injury.
–maybe we do something sinful to injure our spirit;
–maybe we live in unhealthy spiritual environments,
sinful lifestyles or states of life;
–maybe we just take our spiritual health for granted and we become weak,
defenseless against temptations we might encounter:
we let ourselves get spiritually run down,
and we don’t, as it were, “eat right”.
If we allow this to go on long enough,
we wind up completely overwhelmed by spiritual illness—sin—
or, even spiritually dead.
But what if you found a food or a medicine
that would restore or perfect your spiritual health?
Wouldn’t you also make that food the central part of your diet.
Last week, this week and the next 2 weeks we continue to read
from John Chapter 6, “the Bread of Life Discourse.”
Today, Jesus tells us:
“I am the bread of life…whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
He is, of course, talking about the Eucharist, in which He offers us the perfect food,
the perfect remedy or medicine for spiritual nourishment and health
–He offers us Himself, and He is the all-powerful God!
Nothing else could offer us all the spiritual health we desire,
or bring us to spiritual perfection
–only He who is spiritual perfection Himself can be this food for us.
Someone might ask, well what does our body have to do with our spiritual life
—how can food for the body change our souls?
But the thing is, we are not just spiritual beings: we are soul and body.
If you hit my hand, you don’t just hit my hand—you hit me!
You cannot separate body and soul—except by death.
Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus tells us:
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away….”
Our bodies can cause us to sin:
think, for example of all the things that go into our souls through our eyes
—the things we watch on television, on the internet or read in books.
Like junk food,
so many things in our daily lives
that enter into us through our bodily senses
seem at first delicious,
but in reality what they do to our souls is disgusting.
So, if our bodies can be so directly connected to the spiritual reality of sin,
and if things that go into our bodies
can be the source of spiritual sickness,
then why is it so hard to imagine
that our bodies and things that go into our bodies
could be a source of our spiritual health?
For example, the word of God doesn’t spiritually enter our souls,
it enters us first by the sound waves that our ears hear,
and then it effects our souls.
So imagine the incredible spiritual effect
of eating with our mouths the food which is in itself
the very body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.
Jesus gives us real physical food that has real spiritual effects.
“My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”
But even though its effects are spiritual,
the Eucharist still acts a lot like all food does.
First of all, food can’t have any effect without some cooperation from the body.
As with physical food and physical life,
if there’s no spiritual life in the body, spiritual food can do nothing:
if you put steak in a dead man’s mouth, what good does it do?
The same thing with the Eucharist:
someone in the state of “mortal”—or “deadly”—sin
gets no good from the Eucharist.
Not only that,
but have you ever been in an Emergency Room
when someone was dying?
I have, and I assure you that last thing they’d do is try to feed the person.
If they did, the person would gag on the food and make matters worse,
since at that moment he’s in no shape to handle food
—as good as it might be for him.
NO, first they try to resuscitate the person, then later they nourish him.
In the same way, a spiritually dying person shouldn’t receive the Eucharist
until their spiritual life has been resuscitated
through repentance and the grace of the Sacrament of Confession.
But not every sinner is spiritually dead or dying,
most are simply spiritually sick or weak.
So it happens that many times after recovering from being sick,
the first sign of recovery is getting our appetite back:
our bodies are weak, but alive and hungry for the nourishment of food.
So they responded eagerly to whatever food we eat,
and then use that nutrition it to bring us strength.
That’s the way our souls respond to the Eucharist:
as long as we’re not spiritually dead in mortal sin,
even if we’re completely racked by spiritual diseases
but still have some small ounce of the life of faith in us.
Sometimes we only have the barest amount of the Christian life in us:
–perhaps we’ve neglected the practice of our faith, and we’ve become weak;
–or perhaps we’ve eaten too much spiritually unhealthy food
so we’re spiritually just barely holding on.
Still, the Body of Christ, the bread of life,
can take the tiniest response and start to rebuild our health.
And as you recover from spiritual affliction, sin,
the nourishment of the food of angels needs both proper exercise and rest
to restore full health and strength.
You need to actively cooperate and make yourself do things
to allow the flesh of Christ to enter and strengthen your whole person.
Like a person recovering from physical illness, you have to exercise.
You have to do spiritual exercises,
like walking the walk of Christian life,
by obeying the commandments, acting in charity, and praying;
like lifting the weights
that are the crosses that Jesus gives you to carry.
Maybe you start slowly in the beginning, but gradually, little by little,
with constant exercise, powered by the spiritual food of the Eucharist,
you can become more and more the perfect specimen of spiritual perfection.
And as you do this you’ll see more and more
the spiritually healthy effects of eating the Bread of Life.
Using the words of St. Paul in today’s 2nd reading,
we can say that the nourishing effect of the Eucharist will help rid us of
“All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling…along with all malice.”
Instead it will place in our hearts kindness, and compassion
and the ability to love and forgive others,
as Christ has loved and forgiven us on the Cross.
And as the prayers of the Mass tell us,
the Eucharist brings us to unity with God and His Church,
giving us a share in the fellowship—or Communion—of the saints,
now and in eternal life,
as it fills us with every grace and heavenly blessing.
In short, it makes us more and more like what or who we eat:
the perfect one, Jesus Christ.
Jesus says that He is “the bread of life”:
He promises that if we eat His flesh we will have eternal life.
But that eternal life begins here and now.
It is a life born in Christ’s love, not a death resulting from our sin.
It is a life strengthened by the food which is the very flesh of God,
not a life devastated by the sickness of evil.
And it is a life brought to perfection by cooperating eagerly with
the nourishment–the grace–received in Holy Communion.
Today, as we continue to move deeper into the sacred mysteries of this Mass,
we should reflect on the spiritual diseases and weakness
that plague our lives.
And we should thank Our Lord with all the strength remaining in us
for making it so easy to be revived,
and strengthened by simply eating the bread of life.
And let us open our hearts and receive Him
believing and rejoicing that His promise is fulfilled at this Mass:
“The bread I will give you is my flesh for the life of the world.”