THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER: WORD AND SACRAMENT
WORD OF GOD:
I am sure that all of your homes have Bibles. But do check to be certain that you own a Catholic Bible. This is important because the Catholic Bible includes books such as Wisdom, Sirach and Tobit which are not found in the non-Catholic bibles. Every home with little children should also have a children’s bible, or at least a book with bible stories for children.
We can easily overlook the importance Jesus placed on Scripture. He repeatedly spoke of it and quoted from it. We should recall that He was discussing it with the Jewish teachers and leaders when Joseph and Mary found Him as a boy in the Temple. Again and again He taught that He did not want to do away with the Jewish scriptures but rather wanted to fulfill all that was found in the teachings of the prophets. We find Jesus in today’s Gospel account again fulfilling what was written in the Old Testament about the Messiah. It must have been quit enlightening because at the end of today’s episode we hear the disciples exclaim: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” [Luke 24:32]
As an aside I want to point out here that the Catholic Church is often accused of not relying on scripture. Catholics are told that their Church doesn’t feed them and nourish them with the Bible. Is it true? We should note, however, that each and every celebration of the Mass is divided into the two principal parts, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word always begins with a passage from the Old Testament followed by a reading from one of the Epistles and then a Gospel reading. How can it be said that the Catholic Church doesn’t nourish you with God’s Word from Scripture? Note, too, that there is always a thematic connection, a connection of ideas, between the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading.
We should read our Bibles, study our Bibles, but the most important thing we should do is pray with our Bibles. Instead of being all bogged down with footnotes and various interpretations, we should read a passage and just ask ourselves, “What is this saying to me?” Scripture is living, effective, a two-edged sword, cutting deeply into each of us. We need to talk to the Lord about what we read in the Bible. We should pray. And, perhaps, when we realize that God is speaking to us through the Word, our hearts will also be on fire like the hearts of the disciples on road to Emmaus.
We have been given the gift of the Sacrament of Eucharist. We have been given the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. When we receive communion, we are united to Jesus offering Himself as the Eternal Sacrifice on the Cross and filling us with the Eternal Life of the Resurrection. I find it very sad that in the history of the Church, attacks on Roman Catholicism have always included attacks on the Eucharist. The Church of the Sixteenth century certainly needed to be reformed, and was reformed at the Council of Trent. But the initial reformers very quickly took it on themselves to eliminate the Mass, eliminate Holy Orders, and eliminate the Eucharist. The Gift that Jesus spoke of in John 6, the gift that was the focus of the Last Supper, the gift that had been fundamental to the practice of the faith from the very beginning of the Church was mocked. In some places, such as in England, any priest caught saying a Mass was killed in a most brutal way. The persecution of the Catholic Church by attacking the Eucharist continues in our own times too.
It is also sad that so many of our Catholic families have not placed a great value on their own reception of the Eucharist. You are in Church because you want to receive Communion this morning. You value taking Jesus within yourself. But this is not the case in many Catholics who say that they pray, which is good, but who deprive themselves and, worse, their children, the greatest gift of prayer there is, union with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Why is it that people withdraw from a regular reception of the Eucharist? That is a hard question to answer. Part of it might be a matter of priorities: Mass is not as important to some people as their children’s sports or other activities, even though there are plenty of opportunities to attend Mass other than Sunday mornings. Or maybe some families just fall out of the habit of attending Mass every week. This is particularly evident when the school ends and the family’s schedule changes. But I fear that there is another reason that is the same both for those who attack the Eucharist and for those who believe in the Real Presence but do not receive regularly. And that reason is that to understand the significance of the Eucharist, a person needs to be open to the mystical. Our modern world has a difficult time dealing with the concept of mystery. It thinks that everything either has an explanation, or it doesn’t exist.
As a result the world deprives itself of that which is beyond the imagination of man. It deprives itself of the ability to be one with God in the Eucharist. It deprives itself of the joy of recognizing Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread. Some of our families consider the reception of the Eucharist just as something that they do, equating it with every action they perform in Church. They don’t realize that receiving the Eucharist is entering an encounter with the Lord. It is something that Jesus does. Reception of the Eucharist is an encounter with mystery, a mystical encounter with Jesus Christ. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were open to mystery. They had heard that something had happened after the crucifixion. They talked about their hope in this Jesus of Nazareth. They were open to the mysterious stranger’s explanation of scripture. And then they were open to recognizing the Lord in the Breaking of the Bread.
We are all walking our own roads through life. Can we — will we — like the disciples, recognize that Jesus is walking with us, when we read the Bible? Will we recognize Him in “the breaking of the bread”?- the Eucharist.
Fr. A. Francis HGN