Sunday Sermon for August 12, 2018, the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: 1 Ki 19:4-8; Eph 4:30-5:2; Jn 6:41-51
In the second reading St. Paul tells us not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God. He then goes on to list a number of things that grieve the Holy Spirit: bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, and malice. He goes on to instruct us to imitate God and the love of Jesus Who handed Himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God. When we consider this, we can say the failure to act in faith, hope, and charity would grieve the Holy Spirit even more than the vices St. Paul mentions.
This becomes important in the context of the other readings today. In the Gospel our Lord refers to Himself as “the living bread that came down from Heaven.” He goes on to tell us that whoever eats this bread will live forever and that the bread He will give is His flesh for the life of the world. This last statement connects directly to what St. Paul said about our Lord being a sacrificial offering to God.
It is the sacrifice of Christ that brings the forgiveness of sins, destroys death, and restores us to life. But our Lord is very clear that we have to eat the bread which is His flesh. This does not imply simply taking in His teachings and believing in Him. Later in the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel Jesus makes it unmistakably clear that unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood we do not have life within us. He goes on to speak of His flesh as true food and His blood as true drink. In other words, He is not speaking in figurative language.
This being the case, would it not grieve the Holy Spirit if we fail to believe in the true presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist? After all, the Mass is the continuation of the sacrifice of Christ and the Eucharist is the Lord Himself truly present among us. However, for the sacrifice to happen, both the physical sacrifice two thousand years ago and the mystical sacrifice of the Mass are dependent on the Holy Spirit.
In order for our Lord to sacrifice Himself physically, He had to have a body; the Incarnation was caused by the Holy Spirit Who overshadowed the Blessed Mother to unite our lowly humanity with our Lord’s eternal divinity in the union of one Person, Jesus Christ. At Mass we call upon the Holy Spirit to change the ordinary substances of bread and wine into the very Person of Jesus Christ, that is, His Body, Blood, soul and divinity.
This is the fullness of the Person Who was conceived in the immaculate womb of Blessed Mary and it is the same sacrifice He offered on Calvary for our salvation. How it must grieve the Holy Spirit when people refuse to believe in our Lord. In a society which has somehow determined that only “scientific knowledge” is permissible, many are unable to accept something they cannot prove scientifically. Even more, people fall into the trap of “seeing is believing” and if they cannot perceive our Lord with their senses, particularly sight, they will not believe. The ironic part of this is that it requires no faith to believe what one can see.
Many things are not scientifically provable, yet we believe them to be true. But because people two thousand years ago could not see the divinity of Jesus, they could not accept Him as God. It is puzzling today that some people who believe in the Scriptures as being inspired by the Holy Spirit and thereby believe in the divinity of Jesus because it is stated explicitly in the Bible, refuse to believe in the Holy Eucharist because they cannot see or feel Jesus.
Why do we think God would require faith from people two thousand years ago but He does not require faith of us? One can say it requires faith to believe in the Scriptures and in the divinity of Christ, but we have the advantage of centuries of Saints who have worked out the theology and made it more accessible for us to believe. The people at the time of Jesus did not have any of that. Moreover, Jesus did not allow His divinity to be seen by the people (except at the Transfiguration) nor did He call attention to it. He required faith. Our Lord requires faith from us as He required of the people of His own day.
We do not believe in the Real Presence because of all the miracles that have taken place in and through the Eucharist, as wonderful as they are. We believe because Jesus said it. To fail to believe in the Eucharist and to love Jesus in the Eucharist causes the greatest grief to the Holy Spirit and to Jesus.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.