Homily – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

(The following is from Pastor Dick Dahl)

Pastor Kathy introduced us to today’s liturgy in an e-mail this week with some of the following words:

“We Catholics have long called ourselves a Eucharistic people and rightly so because this is what Jesus always taught us to be. Simply put, this means that we are to share ourselves with others—in effect, be the “bread” that feeds not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually.  The readings for the last several weekends, as well as this one, deal with how we often get caught up in our physical needs and desires rather than seeing the bigger picture….as Paul teaches in the second reading this week….”

I suggest the following further thoughts about today’s Liturgy:

Pope Francis has said he wants the Catholic Church to make a lasting difference in people’s lives. He has repeatedly said he wants the Church to be a hospital on a battlefield, taking in all who were wounded, regardless of which side they fought on. Can we find a connection between this image and today’s readings?

The Church has counterposed the reading from First Kings with that from John’s Gospel. The first reading describes Elijah become weak from fear and exhaustion after he had fled into the desert. He was at the point of despair. Then he was given bread and drink that enabled him to continue for forty days and nights until he reached the mountain of God.

The desert is a symbol of our journey through life, often one of struggle. Forty is a symbol of an undetermined length of time, just as each of our lives is of an undetermined length of time. Can we relate to Elijah even though the time and circumstances in which we live are very different?

Then we hear the reading from John’s Gospel. Jesus tells those who were questioning his authority, “I am the living bread come down from heaven. If any eat this bread they will live forever. The bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

We know that John’s Gospel reflects a deeper theological development than the earlier three Synoptic Gospels.  It was written thirty years or so after them  during the last decade of the first century AD (or Common Era). More time had gone by for the Christian community to better understand what Jesus’ actions and words meant.

He said his body and blood, surrendered for our life, were bread. When we eat this bread, we are strengthened, like Elijah in the desert, for the journey we are on in our lives. Like Elijah, at times we fear, become anxious, grow weary. We may even want to give up. We need the healing of a spiritual hospital…like the one Pope Francis compares the Church to. Even when we feel alone and unsure about going on, the Church is the means by which Jesus offers himself to us, the Bread of life to revive and strengthen us.

In the second reading Paul says that, just as Jesus loved us by offering himself in sacrifice for us, we are called to walk in love. He says, “Try…try to imitate God…as beloved children.” He seems to compare the Holy Spirit to a mother upset by the quarreling of her children when he says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit with whom you were sealed.” “Get rid of all bitterness, all rage and anger, all harsh words, slander, and malice of every kind. In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate, and mutually forgiving….”

We struggle with conflicts…with those we love, and with those we don’t like or perhaps even know. The first Christians had the same struggles or Paul would have had no reason to write to them as he did. We, like they, are sealed with the Spirit of the Father and Son. Jesus offers us himself, the Bread of everlasting life, for our journey.

One of my friends in the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship shared with me his view that Catholics are lucky to have the Eucharist, this powerful sacramental meal that unites and nourishes us. How right he is!