August 19, 2012
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 Prv 9:1-6
Responsorial Psalm Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
R. (9a) Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Reading 2 Eph 5:15-20
Gospel Jn 6:51-58
Jesus said to the crowds:
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world."
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
Jesus said to them,
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever."
An elderly man lay dying in his bed, Suddenly death's agony was pushed aside as he smelled the aroma of his favorite homemade chocolate chip cookies wafting up the stairs. Gathering his remaining strength, he lifted himself up from the bed. Leaning against the wall, he slowly made his way out of the bedroom, and with intense concentration, supported himself down the stairs, gripping the railing with both hands. In labored breath, he leaned against the door frame, gazing wide-eyed into the kitchen.
There, spread out on the kitchen table were literally HUNDREDS of his favorite chocolate chip cookies! Was it heaven? Or, was it one final act of heroic love from his devoted wife, seeing to it that he left this world a happy man? Mustering one great final effort, he threw himself toward the table, landing on his knees in a rumpled posture, one hand on the edge of the table. The aged and withered hand quiveringly made its way to a cookie near the edge of the table; feeling the warm soft dough actually made the pain of his bones subside for a moment. His parched lips parted; the wondrous taste of the cookie was already in his mouth; seemingly bringing him back to life.
What, then, was this sudden stinging that caused his hand to recoil? He looked to see his wife, still holding the spatula she had just used to smack his hand. "Stay out of those!" she said, "they're for the funeral."
So, what is heaven like? What is this eternal life that Jesus promises like? For you chocolate lovers, is it an endless mound of chocolate chip cookies? For a fishing lover, is it one 24” trout after another? For a Chicago Cubs fan, is it a World Series victory . . . again?
Further, if heaven is like and endless pile of cookies, or one great fish caught after another, or another world championship for the Cubs, do we really want eternal life at all? For too many cookies induce ingestion . . . or worse. Too many fish . . . you gotta clean ‘em! Another championship . . . even this would lose its novelty. If eternal life is just more of things, however good, maybe I don’t want it!
This is a problem taken seriously by our pope Benedict XVI in his recent teaching, called in Latin Spe salvi, in English “the Hope that Saves,” his encyclical teaching on the virtue of hope. There, the Pope said: “The question arises: do we really want this—to live eternally? Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment. To continue living for ever —endlessly—appears more like a curse than a gift. Death, admittedly, one would wish to postpone for as long as possible. But to live always, without end—this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable.” The Pope then goes on to clarify, from our faith, that “eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality . . . It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists.”
In other words, for us eternal life is not “interminable life,” but rather “the fullness of life.” So eternal life is not like a succession of chocolate chip cookies, but that first delicious bite, in which we remain, without it passing. Or the moment of the thrill of that first snag on the fishing line of the beautiful rainbow trout . . . Or the final out in game seven of the World Series that the Cubs finally win!
I don’t mean to be trite—but these moments of full life are glimpses of what eternal life is to be—full life, without its passing, subsiding, ending. Jesus tells us in the gospel, “anyone who eats my body and drinks my blood will never die . . . will have eternal life.” His Body and Blood is God’s life. He’s promising us that, if we come to him, be united to him, God who is life will draw us into the fullness of life, the unending fullness of life. For this is who God is—the unending fullness of life. This is why Jesus has come—that we might have life to its fullness. (John 10:10) And this is where we are given this promise, the Eucharist, a foretaste of full life.
To envision Jesus’ promise of eternal life, recall the most supremely joyful moment of your life—a glimpse of the life that God offers us here in Christ—supreme satisfaction, after which we will proceed to nothing, but remain in that joy. Come, let us share in a foretaste of this joy—Christ’s own divine life, now shared with us.