Thursday 12th August 10.00am
Sunday 15th August 9.30am
At Mirfield, where I trained for the priesthood, we had something called a “Deacons’ Week” towards the end of our first year of ordained ministry. It was to reflect on how things were going. I remember in one of our sessions, Fr George, one of the Community, asked us what reasons we had to be thankful in our ministry. There was an awkward silence that was finally broken by Andrew, a rather genteel clergyman in a rural parish who said: “Some of my neighbours gave me some lovely rhubarb last week.” Well, it certainly broke the ice. I suppose we weren’t used to being asked that question about how God was at work among us and what cause this gave us for thanksgiving. But it’s something well worth thinking about.
Most of us go about our lives of faith day by day and week by week and often do not notice anything particularly remarkable. Normally we might be aware of God’s presence in a fairly quiet and discreet way. But still it is worth being more aware of how God is at work and how God is being revealed to us. Ignatian spirituality leads us to be more aware of God’s presence in ordinary, everyday things. God feeds us, body and spirit - maybe not with rhubarb, but certainly with the Bread of Life – our Lord, Jesus Christ. God comes to us in Christ and Christ comes to us through his holy word and in the Sacrament of the Altar.
Jesus invites us to see with his eyes. Let’s watch him then, as he lifts up bread and says: “This is my body”. Watch him as he takes the cup and hands it to his friends, saying: “This is my blood of the new Covenant”. Look again and hear those words repeated in the world around us. Mass will be celebrated today in churches and in cathedrals, in hospitals and in prisons. People from all walks of life will come, whether happy or sad, reflecting all aspects of the human condition. They will stretch out their hands and receive the Bread of Life that Jesus gives: his very own Body.
This is made possible in the first place, not because of something that we do ourselves, but because of what God in Christ is doing among us. Jesus comes among us in the Eucharist and in the words of John’s gospel he says:
“I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
This surely should be our answer if we are asked what wonderful things God is doing among us and what cause we have for thanksgiving. God reaches out to us in Jesus. In him we find the strength and inspiration to do what we are asked to do in the letter to the Ephesians today:
“Try then to imitate God, as children of his that he loves, and follow Christ by loving as he loved you, giving himself up in our place as a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God.”
Human strength alone will not achieve this, but the Bread of Life that we receive becomes our strength and inspiration.
Let’s be clear: we need this spiritual food. Like Elijah the prophet in our first reading, we can feel buffeted by the world, often weary and sometimes overwhelmed. We may even ask ourselves, as he appeared to do, whether our efforts have been worth it. Elijah had met with rejection. He had offended Jezebel, the wife of the king, because he had spoken the truth about God and about the events that were unfolding around him. His reward was hostility and rejection and he now felt tempted to give up and to despair.
All this took place in the ninth century BC, but really, human beings do not change all that much. People in our own time can be resistant to anything they do not want to hear. The prophets of our own time who call people to take notice of what is happening in our world and to remember God, can also face hostility and rejection. In the depths of Elijah’s despondency, God offers him food and calls him to eat it before continuing his journey.
On our own journey through life, God feeds us too. Jesus continues to give us his Body and Blood, in good times and bad. Without that food and drink we struggle to continue our journey of faith. I often take comfort in the words of Pope Francis:
“The Eucharist… is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
For those with eyes to see, God does great things among us at every table of communion as we gather together to receive the Body and Blood of the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.