Have you ever been extremely hungry or thirsty? How did you feel?
After my brother graduated from Arizona State University, I
flew out to meet him. On the way back to New Jersey, we stopped at the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. At 7am, I felt no hunger, no need for
breakfast. I did not recognize my own deep need for food. So, without breakfast, and without canteens, he and I descended the canyon. The canyon is a
mile deep, but the switchback path is five-miles long. The descent was very easy and fast. We virtually ran down because the switchbacks were so steep.
At the base of the canyon, we enjoyed wandering around. When the morning sun broke over the rim of the canyon, I suggested that we head back up. The
ascent was very difficult, very, very difficult. With the heat of the day beating on us, and with no food or drink in our bodies, I could walk or
half-crawl for only ten minutes, and then lie down and hide beside the wall of the canyon for five minutes. Five miles up a steep hill in my condition
became impossible for me. I was desperate for food and drink. Finally, some man with two young sons came down our path. All three of them had canteens.
I begged the man for a swig of water and a bite to eat. The man saw my need, and helped me. This bit of food and drink sustained me. I crawled up the
remainder of the switchback. At the top, I thanked God, and that man; and I promised God and myself that I would never do anything as stupid as starting
some task without having proper food and drink. Can you identify with a similar extreme hunger and thirst?
In the first reading today, the Israelites in the desert begged God for food and drink. God instructs Moses to tap a certain
rock, and water gushed forth. God sent manna to feed the people. And God instructed the people: "Do not forget the Lord, your God, who brought you out
of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery,
who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock and fed you in the desert with manna."
In the gospels, we make the transition from physical food to spiritual food. The three Synoptic gospels report the Last Supper,
at which again, God gives his people food and drink. Jesus says, "This is my body which is given up for you. Take and eat it
This is my blood which is
shed for you. Take and drink it." And in John's gospel, chapter six begins with Jesus' feeding the 5,000; and ends with Jesus saying, I am the living
bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."
Two thousand years later, the Church which Jesus founded still supplies worldwide this food and drink to God's people. In every
Mass, the ordained priest provides for himself and the congregation the Body and Blood of Christ. Throughout two millennia, Christian people have
survived by way of this food. This food and drink looks like bread and wine, tastes like bread and wine, but by the words of Christ, and the power of
Christ which resides in and through the Church, this ordinary bread and wine becomes the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. We consume what
Christ has given us. We receive the sacrament of divine life. This sacrament has a dozen names including bread of angels, the bread from heaven,
foretaste of eternal life.
Thank God for the Church's seven sacraments. A sacrament is a sign instituted by Christ to give grace. We believe that the gift
of participating in divine life results from receiving these sacraments, trusting that we are in proper state of grace to receive these sacraments.
Many of us know people who have given up their Catholic faith and religion. Ten percent of those who have drifted from the
Catholic Church join some other church or religion. Ninety percent just drift and live their lives with no religion. How sad that people walk away from
this bread from heaven, from receiving and sharing in this sacrament of divine life, of Jesus' own body and blood.
What brings Catholics back to the practice of their faith and religion? Studies show: the sacraments, especially the Eucharist;
and devotion to Mary.
Today, thank God for this feast of Corpus Christi. Thank God for this sacramental food and drink which nourish us. If you know
of any Catholics who have drifted from the practice of their faith, ask them if they miss the sacrament of the Eucharist, and the gift of divine life
which comes through the Eucharist. If they answer, "yes," there is great likelihood that they someday will return. If they answer, "no," I suspect they
are not yet sufficiently hungry. If and when they become desperately spiritually hungry, then they will return. Remember when I was desperately
physically hungry and thirsty at the base of the Grand Canyon. At the beginning of that long journey, I had not recognized even my own most basic need
for food. Only when I was desperate, did I reach out. If and when people experience a "felt need," then they are likely to reach out for what will
satisfy them, either physically; or in the case of the Eucharist, spiritually and eternally.
Read other homilies by Father O'Malley