I’m back from a summer break on writing this column and grateful to our summer seminarian intern Colm (no pun intended as his name is pronounced “column”) for writing some great articles this summer.
I’m excited for the next few Sundays as we have entered one of my favorite, and I believe, most important parts of the Church’s three year liturgical cycle. We are in Ordinary Time Year B, and normally have Gospel readings from the Gospel of Mark. But during this time, we jump to cover the Gospel of John, chapter 6, which gives us much beautiful teaching on the Eucharist, our greatest treasure as Catholics! So, I want to give you a 30,000 foot view of our Gospel readings, so you don’t get lost in the middle.
We began last week, July 25th, the 17th Sunday Ordinary Time B, with its Gospel of John 6:1-15, the “Feeding of the 5000.” What is so interesting about this miracle is that it is the only specific miracle recorded in all four Gospels (besides the Resurrection). So it is a very important miracle! It teaches us that Jesus can manipulate and multiply matter such as bread in order to feed us.
This Sunday, 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time B, John 6:24-35, begins of the “Bread of Life Discourse.” What was the meaning of last Sunday’s miracle? The people are focused on signs and what Jesus can do for them and how he can fill their bellies. But Jesus explains they need a greater food that gives eternal life which only He can give, that they are to believe in Him, and finally that He is the bread come down from heaven.
The next Sunday, Aug. 8th, 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time B, John 6:41-51, Jesus builds on how He is the Bread of Life. The people murmur about it, but Jesus tells them that “whoever believes has eternal life” and “whoever eats this bread will live forever”. Thus we see an even stronger link between faith in Jesus and the need to eat the bread Jesus gives, which is Jesus Himself. But in final verse (51) of our Gospel, Jesus drops the bomb that the bread He gives is His flesh. A cliffhanger that has to be continued the next week!
The following Sunday, Aug. 15th, we lose the 20th Sunday of Ordinary time since on this day we celebrate the Solemnity of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But if we had the 20th Sunday, we would continue our journey with John 6:51-58. In this section of the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus doubles down on that we need to literally eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, and repeats this several times to drive in the point. Whereas the earlier parts of this Bread of Life Discourse we might have interpreted symbolically, here there is no way to interpret it but literally real. And as we see in next week’s Gospel, that is exactly how the people take it.
Finally, on Sunday, Aug. 22, the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time B, we get the conclusion of the the Bread of Life discourse of John chapter 6, verses 60-69, and we see the response to Jesus’s bold statements on the need to literally eat His Flesh and Blood. It tells us that “many of the disciples of Jesus who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (v.60) and “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” (v.66) So, we see how important the truth of the Eucharist is, that Jesus is willing to let people go who don’t believe it. Jesus doesn’t explain it away, but instead even asks the Apostles if they want to leave. As Catholics, we believe the Eucharist is Jesus, truly His Body & Blood, which gives us eternal life! So, these next weeks, let’s ponder with new amazement this most awesome gift we are given at every Mass.
P. S. Totally unrelated, I’m involved in a justice effort about predatory lending, i.e. payday loan reform. If you or someone you know has had an experience with a payday loan, I’d like to hear it. Thanks!