19th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 8 August 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: I Kings 19: 4-8; Responsorial: Psalm 34; II: Ephesians 4: 30 – 5:2; Gospel: John 6: 41 – 51
The prophet Elijah, in our first Bible reading, is overwhelmed and exhausted. He has been faithful to God in proclaiming the need for repentance for the people of Israel and the great hunger of God to forgive and bless. But they have persisted in their sins and rebellion. And Elijah is worn out. He has run away into the desert. He sits under a broom tree praying to God to die. God, in His mercy, as He at times does with all of us, declines Elijah’s prayer. Instead, God sends an angel and commands the prophet to get up and eat the meal God has provided. Elijah obeys and is led, by God, on a forty-day journey, sustained by the one holy meal, to Mt. Horeb. Elijah, like all believers and servants of God, experienced and grew in the holy graces of reverence, respect, and renewal.
Our Gospel readings these past few weeks have blessed and challenged us with the Biblical truth, Jesus is The Bread of Life. Jesus, in this famous discourse from John chapter 6, teaches without any equivocation that His actual Body and Blood are real and truly present in the Eucharist. As Catholics, we believe in this holy promise. As Catholics, we believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine. We believe they really and really are the Body and Blood of our Savior.
But, as it was when Jesus proclaimed this truth, so it is now. There are many who say it is, at most, only a remembrance that we are called to share. There are many who may believe but are struggling perhaps with basic doubts or simply with the weariness at the way some Catholics (and other Christians) argue over these matters or the ways of worship to which we are called.
The belief, the awareness, of Christ’s Real Presence is often obscured by intense daily cares and worries. It also can be veiled by actual ignorance, irreverence, and even abuse.
However, none of these challenges or problems in any way diminish the holy fact, Jesus is truly Present in the Eucharist. Jesus is the Bread of Life! Our ability to believe and realize, with ever-growing faith, this glorious gift, is what God calls us to, just as He called Elijah. We are on a journey of faith. We are called, together, to experience this personal relationship with Christ, the Living Bread. We are called, as the refrain from our psalm affirms, “to taste and see the Lord is good”.
Why, then, is it so difficult to actually experience this promise and provision of God? The reasons may be many. And many well-written, well-expressed reasons have been shared. But perhaps that is part of the problem. It isn’t about our human reason, alone. It is about our relationship with God. Perhaps we need to allow God to simply bring us to His holy meal and feed us. And all we need really bring is our reverence, our respect, and our willingness to be renewed.
St. Paul, in the epistle to the Ephesians, commands: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…”. I sadly sense that God’s precious Holy Spirit is grieved however by a lack of reverence for the Body of Christ, for the Eucharistic Presence, and for the Body of Christ, the Church, the people of God. There have been allowed, for far too long strife and divisions between Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. And within each of these places, there are even more divisions. Within the Catholic Church there is strife over the ways and traditions of worship. Where there should be reverence and respect bringing renewal there is judgment, strife, and the quenching of God’s Spirit. Instead of grieving the Spirit of God we are called, again, to be a people of reverence, respect, and renewal.
REVERENCE ~ There is a frequent lament and complaint of the alleged lack of reverence at Mass. Noisy chatter, children running up and down the aisles, use of cell phones are all sad examples of what too often occurs before and at Mass, saddening the Spirit of God. And for some, there is a frequent focus on the lack of “proper” postures or the lack of correct language, such as Latin. There is often consternation at the style (or lack thereof) of dress some may have when coming to God’s house. The matter of head-coverings for women is another example and a concern for some. All of these reflect some aspect of the externals of reverence. They all contain valid concerns. But none of them are worthy to distract us of our worship of God, our reverence for Jesus in His Word and in the Blessed Sacrament. It is a holy and good custom if women want to cover their heads for worship or for people to wear their “Sunday best”. It wasn’t that long ago that those styles were the norm in all churches and in society in general. They are good but they should be seen as only diverse expressions of our inner worship. Life and styles change some for good, some not, and some that don’t really matter. What matters is the posture of the heart and soul before God. Are we clothed in garments of compassion, kindness and forgiveness instead of judging and pride?
RESPECT ~ This brings us to a word that is actually considered synonymous with reverence…RESPECT. In our worship of God we need have true reverence for the reality and Presence of God in Word and Sacrament. But we also need to share deep respect (reverence) and recognition for the Presence of Christ in each other. This will quench the temptations to judgment and strife, to pride and spiritual cliques that may seek to oppress. As we, properly realize and worship the Real Presence of Jesus in the Chalice and Host, as we kneel before the Tabernacle containing those consecrated Hosts so we should remember and reverence the Presence of Christ in each other, these living tabernacles. We should respect, deeply, the truth that we are Temples of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul, again, admonishes us to be a people and place of compassion, forgiveness and kindness. True reverence for the Real Presence of Christ will lead us to look to Christ in the Eucharist and in each other. It will lead us to faithfully see that what may be improper dress, posture or talking of others, in our eyes, is their best for the place they are today. And it will affirm for all of us our journey to be renewed.
RENEWAL ~ When we come, seeking God in growing reverence for His Presence and respect for His people we will be fed, as Jesus promised. We will truly “taste and see the goodness of the Lord”. We will experience God’s renewal in our hearts and in our faith communities. When we come to Mass with a clear intent to expect to meet God, to receive the Bread of Life, we will be nourished, guided, and strengthened. But we must come in an active, seeking faith. We need always come to Christ expecting to grow…even change. You may realize that you want, you need to quietly wait, kneeling in prayer. You may sense that yes, you do have something better to bring to Christ in what you wear. There may be those women who wonder if God might be please if they wore a mantilla, or for some it isn’t necessary. For all of us we are renewed as we allow the Holy Spirit to renew and refresh both the reverence of our hearts and actions and the respectful realization of Jesus in each other.
As we allow this quiet, holy miracle to be in our lives we will grow in our reverence and respect for God, not just at church but in all the places God will lead. We will grow in the glorious, holy adventure to bring and see God’s Presence in creation, in our families and neighbors, even in our world. And we will see, as we grow in reverence from the heart, and respect from our soul, we will see renewal in our midst. And we will then understand that our reverence for God, our respect for His Presence in each other, cannot be contained to a language, a style, a place, or our understanding. For it is a result of our relationship with God and the joy the Holy Spirit will bring as the life of Christ grows in our midst.