Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 9th, 2015)

Today’s first scripture is an excerpt from the First Book of Kings. It describes how the great prophet Elijah was driven nearly to despair and begs the Lord to end his life. He falls asleep and is awakened by an angel, who offers him food and drink, and once nourished by this heavenly gift, he overcomes his despair, is renewed in strength, and continues his mission.

The prophet Elijah, perhaps second only to Moses in terms of his power and significance, was sent to proclaim the Lord’s word of truth during a perilous time.

The mighty Kingdom of David had been fractured by civil war, with two kings and two kingdoms now competing for the allegiance of the Israelites. Elijah is sent to the Israelite kingdom of the north ruled by King Ahab and his pagan queen, Jezebel. King Ahab, hoping to solidify his power and increase his wealth, sought to ingratiate himself with the pagan kingdoms that surrounded his territory. To do this, he introduced the worship of false gods and promoted their cults to the Israelites. Idolatry is recalled in the Old Testament as the greatest of evils, an evil that is at the root of so much of the cruelty and injustice that we inflict on one another. As such, the one, true God sends Elijah to warn the king that terrifying consequences await the worshippers of false gods.

Ahab and his queen were angry beyond description with Elijah, whom they believed, quite rightly, was questioning the legitimacy of their right to rule the Israelites and sowing the seeds of rebellion.

They acted with all the force they could muster to drive Elijah into the wilderness, hoping that exposure to the elements would do him in and rid them of an insolent prophet. If not for the intervention of the Lord, Ahab and his queen just might have succeeded.

The Church presents the story of Elijah in the wilderness as a kind of allegory for our own spiritual lives. We might never face the trials and tribulations of an Israelite prophet or have to face down wicked kings or queens, but all of us have a mission and all of us will face a struggle of some sort and be tempted to despair as a result of the demands our mission will place on us. What then will the Lord offer to us? How will he intervene?

Today’s scripture foresees that the Lord’s intervention will be somewhat like what he offers to Elijah.

The angel who brings heavenly nourishment to Elijah, food and drink to sustain him for his mission, is meant to be understood as a reference to the Blessed Sacrament- to the Eucharist.

In the midst of the difficulties of life with its temptations to despair, Christ sends to his faithful the gift of the Blessed Sacrament, making his own divine life food and drink to sustain us for the mission he asks us to accomplish.

This is important to remember. The purpose for which we gather together is not to be elated emotionally by entertaining talent or eloquent speeches, but to partake of heavenly food and drink, given to us, not simply by an angel, but by Christ himself.

In our second scripture for today, an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the apostle warns us not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God by engaging in behaviors that would tear apart the unity of the Church and paralyze the Church’s missionary endeavors.

The apostle begs of us an examination of our own consciences in regards to how we are treating one another, and whether or not our actions are building up the Church or tearing it down.

Saint Paul highlights bitterness, anger, malice, and shouting as symptomatic of severe sickness of soul, qualities that are contrary to the Gospel and make us more like an anti-Christ and less like Christ.

There have been in the recent past ideologically driven movements in the Church that have sought to drive momentum for their agendas by inciting anger, inventing grievances and leveraging disappointment. These movements have left many communities of Christians in utter ruin and have so compromised the mission of the Church that in some areas, it seems the Church is in total retreat.

All this grieves the Holy Spirit and restoration of the Church is only possible when people repent of their anger, abandon ideology, and live with the same attitude towards their neighbor that Christ has for us- that attitude is one of self-sacrificial love. Much more momentum is possible for the Church’s mission to be accomplished if our attitude towards one another is one of self-sacrificial love. Unfortunately too many Christians just don’t believe this or just don’t want to do it, and prefer to use anger and ideology to advance their causes.

This grieves the Holy Spirit.

We are moving deeper into the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. Remember, this year, the Church places emphasis on the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. Why?

The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John is about the Blessed Sacrament, about the Eucharist. In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, the Lord Jesus tells us in his own words what the Blessed Sacrament is and why he is giving the Eucharist to us.

What he tells us about the Blessed Sacrament is truly extraordinary.

The Blessed Sacrament is the Lord Jesus himself- it is his own life, his own divine presence, given to us as food and as drink. What is revealed to us in the Eucharistic mystery is not merely a symbol of Christ or an expression of the values of the community, but the revelation of the Eucharist is the Lord Jesus himself.

Christ gives himself to us in the extraordinary way so that we can be sustained for the mission he gives us in this world, but today’s Gospel gives us another reason that Christ gives us the Eucharist- to prepare us for heaven.

This world and this life is not all that there is for us. Christ reveals this truth to us definitively in his resurrection from the dead. Life in the here and now is a passage to a different kind of life and the mission Christ gives us now is preparing us for a mission in a world that is yet to come.

The qualities that will be necessary for us to fulfill our purpose in heaven are those qualities that make us most Christ-like. Christ gives us the Blessed Sacrament so that by receiving his own divine life, we can become more and more like him.

This is the purpose for which Christ gives us the Blessed Sacrament, so that receiving his life we can become more like him.

Some folks don’t appreciate this truth or reject it entirely. A lack of appreciation for Christ’s purpose for giving us the Blessed Sacrament reduces the Eucharist to merely a symbol, an artifact of culture or an expression of ethnic identity. None of this compels one to become more like Christ.

Others recoil in horror at being anything other than what they want to be. Being like Christ is a detriment to a project of self-fulfillment and self-realization. As such, they insist that the Eucharist is only important inasmuch as it might advance their own causes or agendas, or satisfy emotional needs. If the Blessed Sacrament doesn’t deliver my best life now in terms of personal and emotional fulfillment, then the attitude is that Christ can keep his gift to himself.

Refusals of Christ’s gifts, or worse, accepting his gifts and using them for purposes that are contrary to Christ’s will, are not without consequences, and this is, bottom line, what Christ is insisting that we understand today in his Gospel.

Christ gives us his divine life in the Blessed Sacrament so that we can become more and more like him. Is this what we want from the Eucharist? Is this what we have prepared ourselves to receive?

Ferdinand_Bol_-_Elijah_Fed_by_an_Angel_-_WGA2360

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