1 Corinthians 11:23-26
As we come here this weekend to celebrate this feast in honor of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord in the Eucharist, we hear a story of faith and a call to increased faith within our own lives. The story of the feeding of 5000 that we hear in Luke’s Gospel today is a story that has many different aspects on which to focus and is an incredibly deep passage. As I was reflecting on it in preparation for this weekend’s homily, I was struck by the Apostles’ initial reaction and act of faith. As we pick up the story, the Lord has had this great multitude of people following Him and listening to His teaching. And as the end of the day comes, the disciples approach and encourage Jesus, “Dismiss them.” It seems an act of kindness in a sense, not to keep the people too long, not to force them to go hungry or be there too late that they would go without shelter for the night. But if we also look a little deeper, it can also be seen that this desire to ‘dismiss the people that they can go find food and shelter for themselves’ implicitly recognizes that they didn’t think that anything could be done to help such a large crowd. They knew they weren’t going to feed anyone with what they had and we get the feeling that they didn’t believe Jesus could either. They were limiting the Lord’s ability to provide and do so generously. How often do we do the same in our own lives? Limiting the Lord – surely He can’t do that! That’s too much to ask! Or that’s too little for Him to be concerned with!
To this lack of faith the Lord makes the invitation: “Give them some food yourselves.” Imagine the looks on the faces of the Twelve when the Lord said this. Each of them looking at one another and at the little bit of food they had, curious how exactly He wants them to feed the crowd before them. Then the Lord begins to give instructions and they follow His words. As the crowds are gathered into groups and seated, the food is passed around and in the end all are full, even having 12 baskets left over. The Lord provided, and generously. Exceeding all limits, He worked something miraculous for the good of the people. The Twelve originally struggled to believe that Jesus could do something like this and yet the Lord drew their faith out of them. They had enough to trust His directions and following Him there, the Lord worked through them. The invitation was extended and accepted.
This weekend the Lord extends a similar invitation to us to deepen our faith like the Apostles did. He gives us the chance, like them, to believe in something that goes against our senses and rationality. What seems to be bread is the Flesh of God. What seems to be wine is the Blood of the New Covenant that won us salvation. And we are blessed enough to receive it. It doesn’t make sense and it can’t be see with our eyes. It takes faith, so the Lord invites us to have faith and to trust in Him.
This is one grace that I have to be particularly grateful for in my own life, that the Lord has blessed me not to question the reality of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. When I was younger I was Methodist and at our church we celebrate communion every so often. Unlike Catholics, we didn’t believe it to be the Body and Blood of Jesus. It was simply a memorial action, since Jesus said “do this in memory of me.” When I came into the Catholic faith I wasn’t actually even Christian, but when I came to profess faith in a higher power and began to practice the Catholic faith, I knew deep within me that the Eucharist was really God. That simple faith in His presence has been my rock foundation from the beginning. All through seminary I knew that I could find peace by spending time with the Lord in Adoration or sitting quietly before the tabernacle because I knew it was Him. After my ordination as a priest I experienced an invitation to faith like that which the disciples received today. When I began celebrating Mass, after the consecration I would hold up the host and in my heart I would think, “Is this really You, Lord? Really? How can this be?” I had no problem believe that any other priest could celebrate Mass and make the Eucharist present. But I struggled to understand how God could use me – knowing better than anyone my own faults and failings – to perform such a mystery. It gave me a glimpse into the disciples own ministry, how they must have felt when the feeding of 5000 took place by their hands, how healing took place at their command, and how sins were forgiven at their word. If we set limits on the Lord, He cannot work. But if we simply follow after Him and allow Him to pull faith from our hearts, miracles happen right before our eyes and often through our own hands.
So as we come to this feast day, the Lord again calls us to have faith. To have faith that what we receive is not bread at all, but is the True Flesh of Jesus Christ. To have faith that the gift we receive is actually the same sacrifice offered on Calvary 2000 years ago. To have faith that God works gives us spiritual life through Holy Communion. To have faith that anytime we come before Him in Adoration, we are able to receive His grace and peace.
What an incredibly mystery! That all of these things happen, that we are brought into Heaven, made present at Calvary, and given the flesh of God for our very food! And it happens through bread. Think about that. God does all of this through simple flour and water. Now think about what can be done by we who are created in His very image and likeness if we set aside limits and simply say ‘yes.’
Lord Jesus, Bread of Life, King of kings, Creator of all, give us faith.