Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
My friends in Christ, as most of us probably know, summers in Spokane – when we are not closed because of coronavirus – the Opera House at Riverfront Park hosts a thousand high school youth for the annual Steubenville Northwest Youth Conference; and those youth would agree that there is truly something holy (something supernatural) going on there every summer. In addition to the dozens of confessions the priests hear (and these are no Mickey-Mouse confessions, let me tell you; they are truly substantial confessions, truly the stuff of saints! I mean, the anxiety, and pressure, and suffering that the youth are made to suffer in the world today)…. In addition to that, each year at that conference, I participate in the Eucharistic Adoration that takes place on the Saturday night of the conference weekend. And each year on that Saturday night, something happens that, really, can only be explained by the fact that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and is working constantly in our world…that the Lord is risen – truly, He is risen.
What do I witness there each year? Well, simply put, I see teenage boys hugging each other and weeping openly. Yikes! Normally, teenage boys would just as soon cuss at each other and slug each other in the face – and that is how best friends greet each other in the hallways at school! Yet there is not a bit of that at Steubenville Northwest; no, these high school boys and girls are blessed with a consoling realization, cast in the light of the Real Presence during the Eucharistic Adoration, that far more than being mere nameless faces passing each other in hallways at school…they are all brothers and sisters in Christ…. Truly, something holy, something supernatural, happens there, and I just have to believe that it has everything to do with Jesus – His Real Presence in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is God, and God is love. The Eucharist then is the Sacrament of love. And so, once again, it all brings us back to the infinite and eternal love of God for each and every single one of us. In our Scripture text today from his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul teaches us something about the love of God – specifically, about the power of the love of God: nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He tells
us that nothing – absolutely nothing – is more powerful than God’s love! So infinitely powerful God’s love is for us, and nothing, not even death itself, can keep us from this love. No wonder Saint Paul mocks death when he says, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
But you know…as it turns out, there is something after all that can keep us from God’s love, something which, in that sense, is more powerful even than God, and it is this: our rejection of God’s love, and so our own rejection of the Lord Himself. God is love; God gives love. And yet, in the end, ultimately, it is us who must choose to receive.
God will not force it; we must choose to receive it. Jesus only proposes; He never imposes.
Today, this theme of God’s love (of giving and receiving) comes to the fore. In the Prophet Isaiah, we are given the prophecy of a feast for all – to which all of us are invited. “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat.” Receive, says the Prophet, what God so lovingly, desperately, wants to give! But then, he wonders why, in spite of this call, we “spend…money for what is not bread,” or “wages for what fails to satisfy,” especially since God is right here inviting us to “come, without paying and without cost [to] drink wine and milk!”
And so, it seems that, once again, it is all a matter of God’s love for us and thus a matter of giving and receiving: God gives; we receive.
We know how God gives: the Word of God proclaimed and the Bread of Life given freely for all. But how do we respond to this giving? By hearing the Word and by receiving the Lord in the Eucharist. The Lord exhorts us in the Prophet Isaiah: “Heed Me, and you shall eat well…. Come to Me heedfully.” The Lord tells us: hear My Word, receive My Son. Likewise as God says to Saint Peter and the sons of Zebedee on Mount Tabor: “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” Heed Him. Receive Him.
God’s love – and our receiving God’s love…. What does this look like? We find a glimpse of what it looks like in our Gospel text today from Saint Matthew. God’s love, manifested in the Lord
Jesus Christ: when Christ “saw the vast crowd, His heart was moved with pity for them.” Pity, yes, because they were like sheep without a shepherd: lost and afraid and in want of nourishment. Such a beautiful humanity in Jesus Christ, that His heart would be moved with pity for them, for us! And so, He took them in, as it were, and “He cured their sick,” and He set about to give them what food He had – what nourishment they so desperately needed to receive: “looking up to Heaven, He said the blessing, broke the [bread], and gave [it] to the disciples….” I hope those words sound familiar, because they are a near-exact echo of what the priest says at every single Mass. This entire scene of the miraculous feeding of the multitudes is incredibly Eucharistic, and it is a profound confirmation for us of what this looks like, God’s giving and our receiving. And notice what happens at the end of such miraculous feeding: “They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over – twelve wicker baskets full.” Not bad, considering that He had only five loaves and two fish to start! But why was there so much left over? Because when God gives, and when we receive, we find that God gives in superabundance! Think about the Mass. What is it that we bring to God at the Mass? Tasteless bread wafers and cheap wine. But what is it that we receive from the Lord in return? His Sacred Body and Precious Blood. We offer scraps…we get Jesus! What a deal! What a marvelous exchange! God will not be outdone in generosity. God gives in superabundance. And we actually need look no further than the Cross of Christ to appreciate that. Just one tiny drop of His Precious Blood would have been more than enough to save us all from damnation – yet Jesus gave it all! And we participate in this holy and miraculous exchange at each Mass and in our good and worthy reception of the Lord in the Eucharist. We get it. We receive it. And we receive it in superabundance – for thus is how God gives.
Even just to adore the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, without actually receiving Him in the Eucharist, is a truly blessed, truly graced opportunity for us to receive the superabundance of God’s infinitely generous gift of Self. And we see that at Steubenville Northwest each year. And we see it
also here at Saint Mary: in our adoration chapel behind the tabernacle – open almost all hours each day…every Friday evening at 6 PM, during which time I am available for confession…every month on first Friday in the morning…every month on first Saturday after the 9 AM Mass…and, hopefully, many other opportunities besides as our diocesan Year of the Eucharist continues.
In all of this: Jesus is there! And thank God for that! Because otherwise, without the Lord at the center of our lives, a Catholic faith (a so-called “faith” that is) would be nothing more than an hour each week spent on torture devices called “pews” listening to a bunch of platitudes squawking from some big guy in colorful robes. Without Jesus in our world, life itself would be a meaningless heap and truly a living hell in the very literal sense of the word…. But Jesus is here; Jesus is real and alive; and truly He is risen, and truly He is God…. May it be that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who is God and is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, would strengthen us in faith, hope, and love – for Him as well as for His Church. And may our worthy reception of Him in the Eucharist bless us all with that superabundance of the grace and the glory and the majesty of Almighty God.
on Monday, August 10 at 8:19AM