Homily for the twenty-first Sunday of the Year - Year B - Jn. 6:60-69


by

Canon Dr. Daniel Meynen
 
 

" Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, «This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?» But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, «Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe.» For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. And he said, «This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.»


" After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, «Do you also wish to go away?» Simon Peter answered him, «Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.» "





Homily:


" Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, «This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?» "


For the last few Sundays, we have had the opportunity to reread the sixth chapter of Saint John, one of most important chapters this evangelist ever wrote, one which almost exclusively deals with the Eucharistic mystery presented to us by Jesus the Bread of Life. Today, we will comment on the end of this chapter.


Jesus had explained and described what communion with his Body and his Blood consisted of, and what were its fruits: to live in him in his own divine life which he himself gets from his Father. Jesus had said: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me." (Jn. 6:56-57)


But for this to take place, Jesus said that one needs to eat his flesh and to drink his blood! This is something hard to believe! And precisely because it is hard to believe, Jesus also said that one must have faith and believe what he taught us. Quite simply. For everything depends on this: either one believes or one does not. And once one has started to believe, all one must do is to persevere in this faith until the end. The Eucharist, therefore, is this: a Mystery of Faith! The Eucharist is that divine reality which unites, or which divides. It unites if one believes in it, and it divides if one does not believe in it, or if one does not believe in it correctly.


Faith is a supernatural virtue which resides in our intellect: faith requires some human support, that of our human knowledge, a knowledge which may consist of simple ideas, but which is often made up of more or less elaborate judgements. Thus, concerning the Eucharist, faith needs to know that what we call the Body of Christ is seemingly bread, and what we call the Blood of Christ is seemingly wine. But as soon as faith receives from the intellect these two data, namely "This is my Body" and this is bread, or "This is my Blood" and this is wine, it wants to retain, from among these words, only those which are the Words of the Lord affirming "This is my Body" and "This is my Blood", leaving at the purely intellectual and human level the other data: "this is bread" and "this is wine". Faith, a gift of God, serves to lift up our soul and spirit above material and corporeal contingencies. It is to this supernatural attitude that Jesus tries to lead his disciples.


" But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, «Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe.» For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. And he said, «This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.» "


Jesus is speaking here of his Ascension into Heaven: and this is not by chance. Once Jesus had gone up to Heaven, the disciples who believed in he whom they had known on earth would not stop thinking of him. This is human, everyone acts in this way, especially if the one who is gone is someone dear, someone beloved, who has died but whom one hopes to be alive with God. So, once Jesus had gone to Heaven, the disciples revived within themselves their memories of the Master, they made use of their memory to call to mind everything that he had taught them. But as we are speaking here of Jesus, who is not only man but also, and first, God, the Holy Spirit takes action and comes to the aid of the disciples. And so was accomplished what Christ had said: "The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (Jn. 14:26)


So Jesus is speaking of his Ascension at this precise moment, for, later, in instituting the Eucharist, he will say: "Do this in memory of me." (Lk. 22:19) The Holy Spirit and the Eucharist are very closely linked: one does not go without the other. Of course, the Holy Spirit acts throughout the Eucharistic celebration and, through the ministry of the priest, he makes the Body and the Blood of Christ truly present under the species of bread and wine. But the Holy Spirit also acts in us, and he helps us to remember these words "This is my Body" and "This is my Blood". As soon as we hear these words spoken by the priest in the name of Christ in person, the Holy Spirit is there to help us to truly understand what this means. Already, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, we can commune in spirit of the Body and the Blood of Christ. It is then that these words of the Master take on all their meaning: "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life."


" After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, «Do you also wish to go away?» Simon Peter answered him, «Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.» "


The Eucharist unites if one believes in it; but it divides if one does not believe in it, or if one does not believe in it correctly. "After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him." And Jesus is not afraid to put the following question to those who remain, those whom he knows well: "Do you also wish to go away?" The answer is clear, and Jesus knew what it was in advance: "Simon Peter answered him, «Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.» "


This is truly a question of knowledge - not human knowledge, but rather a supernatural and divine knowledge. "We know that you are the Holy One of God." This knowledge was given to Peter and to the disciples by the Holy Spirit, for he is the one who goes to the very depths of the divinity: "The Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God... No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God." (1 Cor. 2:10-11)


This knowledge is given to us by the Eucharist, for it is the Memorial of the Lord par excellence, the privileged means through which we are placed in relation to the Spirit of God and his Knowledge. On the feast of Saint John, the very person whose Gospel we read today, the Church prays as follows, at the end of the offertory of the Mass: "Lord, Bless those gifts we present to you. With Saint John may we share in the hidden wisdom of your eternal Word which you reveal at this eucharistic table."


When we receive the Body of Christ during this celebration, let us ask the Holy Spirit to pour forth upon us all his gifts, for our sake and for the sake of our community, of the Church and of the whole world! But let us not forget to associate Mary, the Mother of Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, for she is at once the Wife of the Holy Spirit and our Mediatrix with the Savior of men!



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