Pastoral Sharings: "Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time"

WeeklyMessageHomily from Father Alex McAllister SDS  
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Posted for August 23, 2015

Because of the relatively short extracts in the lectionary from the Gospel sometimes, like today, we have to look at the text which occurs immediately before in order to understand what the Gospel of today is all about.

We must recall that the Sunday Gospels for the last few weeks have come from an extended explanation of the Theology of the Eucharist which Jesus gave following on from the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand as found in the Gospel of John.

Just a few verses before today’s extract Jesus says, ‘Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.’ You can imagine that these words were very difficult for the people to understand. Jesus himself even says that the people might be shocked by his words.

His remarks were addressed directly to the Jews and were given as part of his teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum. But then the focus shifts and the response comes from Jesus’ own disciples forming the first line of our text today.

By switching the focus from the Jews to the Disciples the Evangelist John is actually emphasising the difficulty of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist. He is suggesting that while there might be no surprise that the Jews can’t agree to this teaching it is also something very difficult even for Jesus’ closest disciples to accept.

One of the main points of the extract given for us today is to emphasise the fact that that because of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist a number of his own disciples left him and returned to their former way of life.

We can understand that what Jesus taught about the Eucharist must have come as a shock to the Disciples and was difficult for them to understand. And even when they felt they had finally grasped it some of those Disciples would actually have found it quite revolting with all the talk about eating flesh and blood. It is understandable that a number would have left him over this.

Even today people find the theology behind the Eucharist very difficult to understand. This is why almost all of the Protestant Churches have watered down Christ’s actual teaching on the Eucharist. Some more Evangelical Protestant Churches have simply airbrushed it out altogether and others have accepted it only partly.

Their positions vary from at the one end the Eucharist being regarded as nothing more than a solemn meal with the Eucharistic elements having no particular significance going right through to a position at the High Anglican end of the spectrum where the Eucharist is regarded in much the same way as we Catholics treat it.

However, Christ himself is quite unambiguous when he says, ‘my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink’. These words can only be taken to mean that the Eucharistic species really do become Christ’s body and blood. This was the firm view of the Apostles and it remains the firm view of the Catholic and Orthodox wings of the Church ever since.

This teaching, however, remains very difficult to understand. We know the molecules of bread and wine do not change; there is no scientific experiment that could ever prove them to have become the body and blood of Christ. Yet this is what we believe has happened.

What we actually understand is that a mystical change has occurred. The Church teaches that the Eucharistic elements are changed at the level of their very being; their isness, if you like. There is no change in their touch or taste or in anything that can be perceived externally except that they now are no longer merely bread and wine but are the body and blood of the Lord Jesus.

This is a great mystery. But mysteries are there to be puzzled over, they are there to be embraced and they are there to be experienced. And it is the definite experience of the Church down through the centuries that the very best way to come as close as possible to Christ is through the frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist.

There are some remarkable words in the Gospel text given for today: ‘Then Jesus said to the Twelve, “What about you, do you also want to go away too?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.”’

This is a very important statement and indeed they are words that could have been uttered by almost any faithful Christian down through the centuries. You will notice that Peter does not say that he understands everything that Jesus has been saying about the Eucharist. But he is clearly expressing his belief that whatever it is that Jesus is saying must be right.

Peter is putting this not in terms of mere rationality but is expressing his deep down faith that it is only Jesus that has the answers to all the important questions and that there is no one else who can guide them more faithfully.

Peter’s conclusion that Christ is the Holy One of God is the same conclusion that countless faithful Christians have come to over the last twenty-one centuries. There is no one else who can give us a better understanding of the inner realities of life, there is no one else who knows the will of the Father better than Jesus. And this is surely because he is, as expressed so beautifully in the words of Peter, the Holy One of God.

While the Theology of the Eucharist is surely an intellectual puzzle and is something with which the great minds of the Church can grapple we ourselves don’t really need to do this. All we should do is to simply believe the words of Jesus that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink and then accept his invitation to feed on him in our reception of the Eucharist and so to enrich our lives and our souls.

By drawing close to Christ in the Eucharist we are able to share in the most intimate union with our Divine Saviour. We come to see the Eucharist as nourishment for our souls feeding us on our journey to eternal life.

Over the last few months we priests have been trying to stress the importance of receiving the Eucharist reverently at mass. We have been doing so because we think that the way we receive Holy Communion reveals a lot about the state of our faith.

If we enter deeply into the appreciation of this holy mystery then surely this will be reflected in the way we actually receive the Eucharist. If we have deep faith in the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament then we will not swan up to receive the Eucharist in any kind of casual way, but from our actions everyone will be able to recognise our great depth of faith.

So I urge you to examine yourselves and to think carefully about the reverence you show when you receive the Blessed Sacrament. Being observant of our own behaviour at this important moment can actually be something which deepens our faith and gives an authentic expression to our belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Digest of Articles from Catholics Blogs and Websites
August 23, 2015

Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time: John 6 Part 5–The Choice Is Ours

The battles were over.  The promised land was won.  There were no enemies left strong enough to route the Hebrews from the land.  Now, the people who had defeated Jericho and beyond needed to establish their lives.  But if they were safe from the attacks of pagans, they were not safe from the culture of the pagans.  Their fathers had been attracted to pagan cultures and many had followed them before the crossing of the Jordan.  Those were the gods beyond the river that Joshua referred to.

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

John 6: 60–69

Gospel Summary

This passage brings the sixth chapter of John’s gospel to a climactic conclusion. Jesus has fed a large crowd with bread and fish; he has revealed his divine identity as I AM by showing his power over the sea; in the synagogue at Capernaum he has revealed that he himself is the bread of life given by the Father—as the bread of his teaching and as bread of the Eucharist. Now upon completion of his teaching, many of his followers murmured, saying, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Jesus responds that human nature alone (the “flesh”) is of no avail in coming to believe and to have life in him. This faith and life is possible only as a gift of the Father.

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B— August 23, 2015

Today, after repeatedly insisting that His disciples must eat His flesh and drink His blood, Jesus asks, “Does this shock you?” Well, yes.

Gospel (Read Jn 6:60-69)

In the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus has been speaking to a mixed crowd. There were “the Jews” who had tracked Him down after the feeding of the five thousand. There were also His “disciples,” people who had already started to follow Him. Among these, of course, were the Twelve. It was common for rabbis in Judah to attract disciples; recall that John the Baptist also had disciples. These were men eager to learn and very probably spiritually hungry. At this particular time in the history of Judah, Messianic expectations were very high. Because of His remarkable and very public miracles, it is not surprising that Jesus had many “disciples.” What is surprising is how hard He made it for them to follow Him. …more

Does the Bible Support the Papacy?

It’s a slow news day, so take time to read this long apologetics article which shows how the Bible and Apostolic Fathers support the ministry of the Pope.

In a world where everybody seems to have the questions, but nobody dares to have an answer, Catholics believe they do have a source for some answers. We believe Jesus had authority directly from his Father to teach the truth, and that he gave some of that authority to his apostles. Catholics believe their bishops are the successors to the Apostles and that they speak with apostolic authority.

Ten Reasons to Pray the Rosary

Motivation is the key to carrying out any worthy enterprise. Great men and great women have clear goals and strong motivations. They know what they want and they have a clear plan before their eyes.

CEO’s in successful companies know what they want, have goals, deadlines, and concrete steps to attain those goals. Professional athletes have a determined determination to win.  They study their opponents weak points, capitalize on their own strengths and play for victory.  Therefore, to attain to any goal there must be a clear plan and strong motivations. …more

We All Need Our Daily Bread

What are the staples of your diet? What is essential?

A well-balanced, nutritional diet is important to a healthy physical, mental, emotional and spiritual life. And I don’t mean only the food we eat.

Food is important, of course. For me, there’s fruit such as pineapple, cantaloupe, grapes, bananas – I love to eat those at some point of the day. I like vegetables a lot, too: green beans, carrots, peas, corn. Since I don’t always have enough, I’ll drink a V8 with lunch many days. I like to have meat in there somewhere, especially if I eat fast food. Stopping at a restaurant also means I usually have some form of a potato dish. I love potatoes.

On Losing Our Life to Find It – A Meditation on a Paradox Taught by the Lord

In the Gospel of Mark, there is a funny story about Peter that speaks to the paradox of losing one’s life only to find it more abundantly:

Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:27-31).

ASK FATHER: The Apostolic Pardon and You

From a reader…


What does apostolic pardon mean?

The Apostolic Pardon, or Benediction, forgives temporal punishment due to our sins, not the sins themselves.

If anything remains from our lives, provided we die in the state of grace, for which we have not done adequate penance, the temporal punishment due to those sins, if we have not done adequate penance in life, is forgiven us through the Apostolic Pardon.  This is why the Apostolic Pardon is often given after the Last Rites of sacraments of penance, anointing, and Viaticum.

Five Reasons Why the Transfiguration Really Happened

You know the old schtick from the New Testament scholars: all those miracles stories and supernatural events?

They’re all pious fiction. Somebody made it up. It’s “mythical”. They added that stuff to make Jesus more special. They added that stuff to make it seem like he was fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. They cooked up those stories to make him into the Son of God.

Pshaw! It never happened! How gullible are you? C’mon. Get real. He was just an ordinary country preacher who had a run of bad luck.

The Shared Wound of Jesus and Mary

When I was a new Catholic, I still retained enough of my Evangelical DNA to fret that Catholics “honor Mary too much” and that titles like “co-Mediatrix” were “unbiblical”. But of course “Bible” doesn’t appear in the Bible either and I didn’t think that unbiblical.

But, in fact, the idea of Mary as co-Mediatrix is there, and I really should have gotten the clue from Scripture itself. She is told directly by the prophet “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). What does that mean?

Do Catholics Worship Mary? (Video)

10 Quotes that Will Help You Decide

Do Catholics worship Mary? This is an issue that is often misunderstood even among Catholics. This short video clip taken from the Symbolon Series, produced by the Augustine Institute, offers beautiful insight into why Catholics hold Mary in such high regard.

The historical background discussing why we give Mary the title of Queen is certainly helpful information to know.  (This seems to be true for most Catholic teaching; our faith offers an explanation for everything we believe that is rooted in biblical and historical tradition.)

What Keeps Me from Loving Others as Christ Does?

(Part I of II)

Dear Fr. Bartunek, thank you for this most relevant reflection. In the last paragraph, the question, “What is keeping me from loving others with [Christ’s] kind of energy, constancy, and creativity?”,been playing in my mind repeatedly for months. I have been blessed beyond belief over the past year and a half; yet, I cannot bring myself to love everyone with this same generosity. Most recently, I have allowed a woman into my home temporarily who is culturally very different from myself. Though she is a very kind-hearted individual, I feel like a hypocrite because I have such difficulty accepting her. This is not how Christ treats me.

What Keeps Me from Loving Others as Christ Does?

(Part II of II)

Editor’s Note: In Part I, we examined the bearing our attitude might bring to bear on what keeps us from loving others the way Christ does.  Today, we will look at what we can do about it.  Here is the question we are examining:

A Brief Biblical Manual on the Problem of Deception

A great clarion call goes up quite often in Scripture: “Do not be deceived!” And indeed, this call must go up as never before, for we live in times of great deception. So many have been deceived about marriage, sexuality, life, the existence of God, and what our life is really all about. And while our current times show widespread deception, it must also be noted that deceiving and being deceived are common human tendencies, especially in our fallen condition. Scripture speaks often of this problem, and we do well to look to some of the texts and see what they have to teach us.

Let’s first look at the Latin and Greek roots of the word “deceive.”

Saint Peter: Flawed, Forgiven, and Faithful by Stephen J. Binz

One of this book’s subtitles is “Walking with Peter from Galilee to Rome.”

It’s the perfect description of this book. When I’ve read about Peter in scripture I usually tend to relate it to myself. Am I acting like Peter or not? What lessons could I learn from his life? I’ve never stopped to ask myself what Peter himself experienced every step of the way with Jesus. Or to wonder what he learned as he went on “alone” after the Ascension.

Stephen J. Binz turns the spotlight on Peter so that we remember he was a real person, in unimaginable circumstances, traveling and learning from the Son of God, and then carrying on the ministry after Jesus’s ascension. I’ll certainly never think of Peter the same way now that Stephan Binz’s book made him and his journey come alive.

Assuming Infallibility

A good illustration of how papal infallibility actually works is in the comparatively recent definition of the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

There’s a scene in Brideshead Revisited in which the worldly, spiritually ignorant Rex Mottram is receiving instruction in the Catholic faith. Father Mowbray recounts how he was unable to explain the dogma of papal infallibility to Rex, “Then again I asked him: ‘Supposing the pope looked up and saw a cloud and said, ‘It’s going to rain,’ would that be bound to happen?’ ‘Oh, yes, Father.’

“‘But supposing it didn’t?’ He thought a moment and said, ‘I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it.’”

Similar confusion exists in the popular mind concerning papal infallibility, and, unfortunately, the dogma continues to confound many Catholics.

Should We Sit Quietly During Prayer? (Part I of III)

Today I want to begin discussing misconceptions about the place of silence in prayer growth. Since we desire contemplation, should we sit still in prayer and wait for it? Should we try to make it happen by quieting our minds? This three-part series speaks to the differences between Carmelite teaching and Centering Prayer, yoga, and other types of meditation influenced by eastern religions.

Some people falsely equate silence with supernatural (infused) contemplation. They read about the need for interior silence in prayer, and they mistakenly think that if they sit quietly, God will necessarily bestow contemplation upon them. They equate the peace they find in silence to communion with God.

It is a Great Gift to Carry the Cross of Someone You Love

Mama slipped through my hands.

It was as if her bones were strands of boiled spaghetti, as if she was liquid rather than solid.

I fought the fall all the way down.

She landed in a sprawl against the oxygen machine, her head wedged between it and the portable potty. “Ohhhhh,” she moaned. I tried to lift her, but those spaghetti bones and her little bit of weight were too much for me.

The master bedroom, where my husband was, is all the way across the house from where Mama and me. I yelled for him to come help me. Yelled again and again. Yelled so loudly that my throat strained.

He didn’t hear me.

Life as a Catholic Dad

What is it like to raise a Catholic family in the 21st century? Hundreds of Catholic mommy bloggers will happily answer the question for you but they only tell one side of the story. What about a dad’s perspective on family life? How does he see it? There are many just men like St. Joseph, who are doing their best to raise their children to become saints. The Joys and Challenges of Family Life gives a voice to these men.

Ask Fr. Mike: Why Does God Allow People to Commit Evil Acts?

Dear Fr. Mike: If God knows everything, then he would have known what Hitler would do. In that case, why didn’t God just not make him?

Fr. Mike: Often when we talk about “Hitler,” we are really talking about the question of evil and suffering in the world. Even more to the point, we are talking about the reality of evil and suffering in my life. What sounds like an abstract problem is more truly a cry from a heart that sees and experiences anguish. What does it mean that God knows everything? Classical theology has reminded us of important points. First, God made time. Sometimes, when we try to imagine God creating the universe, we leave out this crucial element. “Before” God made time, there was no time. This means that God is outside of time. In a similar way God is “outside” of the universe. He is always present to all of His creation without being limited to one “where.” In a similar way, God is present to all time without being limited to one “when.”

Why I became Catholic”

I guess the two big questions to ask a convert are: why did you do it and are you happy? Answering the first point is hard. It’s like asking a man why he married a woman. There’s a temptation to invent a narrative – to say, “this happened, that happened and before we knew it we were where we are today”. But the simpler, yet more complex, answer is this: I fell in love.

I was lucky to grow up in a household open to religious belief. My grandparents were Christian spiritualists; Grandma advertised as a clairvoyant. Mum and Dad became Baptists in the 1990s. I remember the pastor one Sunday telling us that evolution was gobbledygook. The teenager in me came to regard the faithful as fools, but I was wrong. I couldn’t see that they were literate, inquisitive, musically gifted and the kindest people you’d ever meet. But I went my own way and embraced Marxism.

This Little-Known African Basilica Is the Largest Church in the World

Yamoussoukro is the administrative capital of Côte d’Ivoire, a west African country with a population of just around 24 million people. Around a third of the population of the country practices traditional African religions, a third is Muslim, and the remaining third is Christian, mostly Catholic.

That means the whole country only has a few million Catholics, at most. Nonetheless, in the late 1980s, at a cost of a whopping $300 million, the massive Basilica of Our Lady of Peace was built.

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