Gospel Reflection July 25 – Deacon Don
Sunday, July 25
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
John 6: 1 – 15
Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee.
A large crowd followed him,
because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.
Jesus went up on the mountain,
and there he sat down with his disciples.
The Jewish feast of Passover was near.
When Jesus raised his eyes
and saw that a large crowd was coming to him,
he said to Philip,
“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
He said this to test him,
because he himself knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered him,
“Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough
for each of them to have a little.”
One of his disciples,
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;
but what good are these for so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.
So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.
Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted.
When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”
So they collected them,
and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments
from the five barley loaves
that had been more than they could eat.
When the people saw the sign he had done, they said,
“This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.”
Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off
to make him king,
he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
Today’s Gospel of John describes the feeding of the 5,000. Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John is a thorough discourse of Jesus as the Bread of Life. It is a Gospel within a Gospel of what we understand about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Bishop Brennan’s diocesan initiative, Real Presence Real Future, has as one of its objectives to renew the understanding of the Real Presence found in the Eucharist.
We will continue to read through Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel for the next five Sundays. It’s that important! Believing in the Real Presence is a pivotal belief in our Catholic faith. It might just be the litmus test for all Catholics. Other faiths may have Eucharist, but none of them fully ascribe to the belief that the elements of bread and wine become the true Body and Blood of Christ through the actions of the priest at a Catholic Mass. We do. Yet, a PEW Research Study, released in late 2019, reported that almost 70% of Catholics believe that the Eucharist is symbolic rather than the Real Presence. Despite being a teaching of the Catholic Church since its earliest days, the Catholic Church seems to be facing a crisis of Eucharist as mere symbol. So, why should this matter? It is core to our faith as Chapter 6 describes the truths of the Real Presence.
Back in the 1950’s, a young Flannery O’Connor (who was a devout Catholic — writer and essayist) once said while having a discussion concerning the Eucharist, the other person described to her that the Eucharist was symbolic only. Flannery responded by saying, “If (the Eucharist) is only a symbol, then to hell with it.” Her comment was not a comment of her disbelief, but rather an indictment that reducing it to mere symbol renders it to the point of irrelevance. Mere symbol goes directly against the evidence found in Chapter 6. We can all learn from her confession of faith. Indeed, if the Eucharist is mere symbol, then why bother? Perhaps, that is why so many of our fallen away brothers and sisters of faith have concluded to hell with it. We need to be patient and reenergize our faith and understanding of the Real Presence first within ourselves before evangelizing to others the Good News found in the Eucharist.
It is deeply saddening to see so many Catholics leaving the faith. Often, it can come from a lack of understanding of the beauty and truth of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. If it were better understood as being true and not merely symbolic, why would anyone leave the Catholic faith and seek faith elsewhere? “I don’t like the Pastor. I don’t like the music. The Mass is boring. The Mass takes too long. Parking is too difficult. The church is too cold or too hot.” All of these spoken or unspoken concerns should subordinate to the tradition of 2,000 years of our very direct and real participation with Jesus at His last supper. Yes, it is mystery — not a puzzle to be solved, but a mystery to approach our participation in it with reverence and awe. Today’s Gospel begins our reading of Chapter 6. It concludes today with fragments of bread to spare — twelve filled wicker baskets. The reference to twelve suggests abundance and completion just as the references elsewhere in the bible to the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles, and many other Scriptural references to twelve. This reference to twelve is to assure us that this Scripture reading achieves fulfillment.
To understand the long history of the Real Presence and the teachings of the Church, consider watching and listening to Bishop Robert Barron on his recent release on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It could be the best 75 minutes you will ever spend in deepening the Catholic teachings of the Real Presence. He walks through the history of the Real Presence and the teaching challenges over the past 2,000 years. He ends on how the Real Presence continues to be the source and summit of our faith. Use this URL to watch Bishop Barron: https://books.wordonfire.org/eucharist-book . Skip down to the bottom of the web page to open the free playing of his presentation on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
If you are already a believer in the Real Presence, Bishop Barron will reaffirm your belief and give you a deeper appreciation and understanding of our Catholic teachings of the Eucharist. If you are questioning the Real Presence like so many Catholics, Bishop Barron offers you a logical and comprehensive primer that may just move you from disbelief to belief. If you are a non-believer of the Real Presence, Bishop Barron provides a rationale as to why Catholics believe in the Real Presence and why we have consistently held this belief dating back to the earliest days of the Church. Understanding John, Chapter 6, can move you toward the belief in the Real Presence and away from mere symbol. Jesus, in His own words in this Gospel, presents the case with no ambiguity about his leaving to each of us his on-going presence in our lives through the gift of the Eucharist.
-Deacon Don Poirier