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Deciding to Accept or Decline an Invitation

Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Professor Emeritus
Mount St. Mary's University

(09-23-09) On a beautiful Spring afternoon near the Sea of Galilee Jesus speaks to his disciples about himself as the "Bread of Life." About sixty years later the evangelist we call John assembled this powerful teaching of Jesus in words that thrill our hearts and challenge all that is in us. In recent Sunday Eucharistic celebrations we have explored Jesus as the "Bread of God's word. The power of the spoken or proclaimed "Word of the Lord" in our lives moves us and even challenges us at the time that we open ourselves to listen prayerfully with the ears of our hearts. It is only in prayerful listening deepened by faith that the ears of our hearts can be opened to the Word of the Lord in both the Jewish scriptures and our New Testament.

The deeper challenge that confronts us today is to try to to understand the invitation of Jesus to eat his flesh and drink his blood. I wonder, friends, if those very words of Jesus have lost their ability to shock us ---as they once shocked his young disciples. We can easily sympathize with those women and men who were deeply offended by these scandalous words of Jesus. This offensive talk about "eating his flesh" and "drinking his blood" was simply too much for them. After all, even in the Psalms they prayed to be delivered from evildoers who devour flesh. (Ps 27:20) (Today those same words might trigger our memories about the dining habits of Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs.)

This dramatic, powerful way of speaking in which Jesus invites us to consume his "body and blood" is another way of his saying: "I want you to consume my whole being, my entire self." In these words he is giving his whole person-all that he is, has been, and will be to you and me. He wants his disciples then and you and me, his disciples today, to "sink our teeth" into his very person. .. .to surrender ourselves completely to him. The consecrated bread and wine that we receive in Holy Communion are in no way simply figures of speech or mere symbols.

Flannery O'Connor, the justly famed short story and novel writer makes this same point in words that have delighted many of us. She writes about a prolonged dinner which ran from 8:00 in the evening to 1:00 in the morning with Mary McCarthy, a famed American novelist. McCarthy had left the Church at the age of 15. O'Connor writes:

Well toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend.

(Mary McCarthy) said that she now thought of (the Eucharist) as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one.

I then said, in a very shaky voice, "Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it. That was all the defense I was capable of, but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of my life is expendable.

Whenever you and I approach Eucharist we need to make an "act of faith." We wonder: Could not he who fed the multitudes with everyday fish and loaves of bread feed us with the bread of himself? Could not he who died and rose out of love for us give us the living bread of the Eucharist as a way of his being present to us, in us, with us. In eating his body and drinking his blood all of us are nourished by the same food. All of us have become one body. Communion creates community. The "Lord of love" who lives in us helps us to recognize himself in our sisters and brothers. In his love for you and me we are strengthened to love others with that selfsame love.

Our faith in Jesus as Lord enables us to move beyond what we see-bread and wine. In faith or belief we are always moving beyond what we see. Seeing is never believing. We can never believe what is evident-seeable-- to us.

I can honestly say that I do not believe that you're here this afternoon. . . . because I see that you're here. And if someone else tells me you're here I cannot believe what she says ----because it is evident to me that you are here. . . Belief involves our taking the word of a reliable authority or witness who knows what she or he is talking about and not deceiving us. You and I trace the reliable authorities for the gift of our faith from God back to the witness of the Apostles. They too in receiving that gift of faith after the resurrection of Jesus had to move beyond what they saw.

The decision to respond to God's grace and believe in Jesus as the Bread of Life is up to you and me. The decision is ours to make. Viktor Frankl, famed Viennese psychiatrist learned the crucial importance of decision-making while he was interred in a Nazi concentration camp. He claimed that the last of the human freedoms (is the freedom) to choose one's attitude in any given circumstance, to choose one's own way." (Later in his life Frankl converted to Catholicism)

In response to God's love for us, we are to become vulnerable to others as he became vulnerable to us , to let ourselves be broken and poured out for others as we was for us. It is important for you and me to make the right decision to become fully who we are, fully human, fully alive. In his love for us Jesus invites us to "consume him".

When Jesus questioned his loved ones: "Do you also want to leave (me)?"---Peter's love for Jesus ran ahead of what his mind could not completely grasp. Where else could he go? Except to the one in whom he had come to trust and lean on. Like Peter, you and I, in the long run, when we look deeply at ourselves, realize that we have no place else to go---for meaning and fulfillment in our lives. With Peter may we lovingly accept the invitation of Jesus to stay with him and believe.

Read other homilies by Father Paul