The Mystery Of The Eucharist – Fr. Gary Pennings

Fr. Gary Pennings’ Homily August 21, 2021

“As I said we are wrapping up our trek through chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. We missed kind of a crucial part last week. I kind of referenced it the week before. Last week the part of the Gospel that we didn’t hear at Mass is where his Jewish disciples said, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ Now, you would have thought if Jesus was just kind of speaking in metaphor because he did speak in metaphor. He said I am the gate, I am the shepherd, I am the vine. We didn’t take that literally right? We don’t think he’s a vine in the literal sense, but he didn’t say that here and if they thought he was speaking figuratively why would they be offended? It was because they thought he was speaking literally and they couldn’t take it. They said, ‘What is he talking about?’ But he doubles down. He doesn’t back away. He said, ‘Amen, amen I say to you unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you.’ Today we see as a result of this the scripture says, ‘Many disciples went back to their former way of life.’ They no longer walk with Jesus. They turned away. The teaching was too difficult. He looks to the twelve his inner core there and he asked them, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ And again as so often happens in the scriptures, Peter is the spokesman for the twelve. He says, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the word of everlasting life.’ It’s your word that gives us life. To where shall we go? We are coming to believe. We are in the process and we are convinced that you are the holy one of God. Their faith had tripped over that wavering point, but apparently many others hadn’t. Jesus is trying he had said earlier, ‘If this shocks you what is gonna happen when you see the son of man ascending back to where he came? You see the question wasn’t really the Eucharist. The question really was is he really God? That’s what they were really questioning because their statement, ‘How can this man?’ Well if he’s just a man he can’t give you his flesh to eat, but if he’s God all things are possible. If he’s God things came to exist by His word. He spoke them into being. You see the real question here is one of faith in who is Jesus? Is he the Lord of life? Is he the Lord of life? Is he the one through whom all things have been made or is he just a wise teacher? It’s pretty hard to believe the Eucharist is what the Church says it is if we don’t believe Jesus is who he says he is. ‘If I am God,’ he implies, ‘If you believe that, why can’t you accept this Eucharist? Why can’t you accept that this bread is truly my flesh? So many people look at this passage and they come up with reasons not to accept it, but you know just because it’s not explicit or somehow more strongly made in scripture and I think it’s pretty explicit here, but you look at the life of the Church. What did the early Church do? How did the early Church understand the Eucharist? It was at the center of their life? It’s not some medieval invention. The mystery of the Eucharist has been at the heart of the Church since the earliest days. They gathered in the synagogue and then they gathered in homes for the breaking of the bread. Even the groups that broke away from the Church in the first thousand years over usually political issues, about usually the Pope, ‘I don’t have to listen to that guy.’ they all maintained a belief in the Eucharist. It wasn’t until the reformation that the belief in the Eucharist began to wane.

The Eucharist is the body and blood, soul and divinity of the Lord. Has it changed you? Are you different? I have to ask that question of myself. Have I been changed by the Eucharist? And if I’m honest I have to say, ‘Not as much as I should be.’ Why? It is what it is. It’s the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, so it’s not it that needs to change. It’s not even this that needs to change. It’s not that we need better music or better preaching or better art or better structures. It’s me that’s gotta change. The soil of my heart has to be ready. We have this teaching that says the sacraments do what they say they do, but whether they bear fruit or not depends on how well disposed we are. Sometimes even I as a priest maybe don’t properly prepare all week long for the Sunday liturgy. Jesus was God in the flesh and yet in many towns he went the scripture says he could perform no miracles there. Why, because he was somehow less than God in those towns? No! He was fully God, but the townspeople’s hearts were hardened. The soil of their heart wasn’t ready to receive the seed of truth that he gave and there were no miracles performed in those towns. So when I look at myself in the mirror and I wonder why I haven’t been transformed after going to communion for…I’m 66 so…you do the math…58 or 59 years or whatever? It has something to do with my heart. I haven’t been ready. I haven’t put the work in before I get to the church.

Sometimes young people today tell me, ‘Father Mass is so boring.’ Well maybe if you think it’s just ritual, but if you understand what happens here it’s far from boring, but to appreciate and to receive the graces of the Mass we’ve got to come prepared. You have to think of what that means for you. I think I know what I need to do to be better prepared. What do you need to do? Some have suggested prepare the readings. For me I would suggest better daily prayer life because the Eucharist should be the culmination of a week long prayer. Your daily prayer should make you long to receive the Lord in the Eucharist, long for that communion with him. This was a hard teaching and many walked away. I suspect because their hearts were never really committed, maybe not even committed to who this Jesus was. He is who he says he was and the Eucharist is what he says it is. Is my heart ready to recognize that awesome truth and let it change me?