Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Homily for April 13th, 2016: John 6:35-40.

          An African priest tells about a priest-friend who is studying in Paris. One day the French priest with whom he lives was unwell unable to celebrate his regular 4 p.m. Mass for nuns in a nearby convent. He asked the African priest to substitute for him. When the African priest rang the convent doorbell at 3.55, the Sister who answered was surprised to see an unfamiliar face. She thought he was a street person asking for help. “I’m sorry,” she told him. “We’re just about to have Mass. We can’t help you now. Come back later.” Fifteen minutes later, the nuns called the rectory to ask where their priest was. Imagine their embarrassment when they learned that they had just turned him away.

          Why did those good Sisters go without Mass that day? It was because the priest who came did not look like the person they were expecting. That was Jesus’ experience. His fellow Jews were expecting that God’s long awaited anointed servant, the Messiah, would come dramatically, descending from the clouds of heaven. Jesus was not dramatic. He was ordinary. When Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” they thought he must be crazy. “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?” they asked. “Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”  

          Jesus’ people knew about “bread from heaven.” That was the manna with which God had fed their ancestors during their desert wanderings. But the prophets also spoke of bread as the spiritual nourishment which God gives to those who approach him in faith and try to do his will. So when Jesus said, “I am the bread come down from heaven,” he was using the language of the prophets.        When Jesus says, “I am the bread come down from heaven,” and “I am the bread of life,” we read those words as a reference to the Eucharist. That is correct. But there are two tables in the Eucharist: the table of the Lord’s body, but also the table of the word. The first part of the Mass, the liturgy of the word, is not merely a preparation for the “essential part”: consecration and communion. It is equally important, and equally essential. The Second Vatican Council said in 1965: “In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them. And such is the force and power of the word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting source of spiritual life.”

          We repeat then in this Mass the words of the boy Samuel when the Lord called out to him in the Jerusalem Temple: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:10).