Lk 9.11-17                    Gen  14.18-20           1Cor 11.23-26

Says Silvester O’Flynn OFMCap: “The day when Jesus fed the multitude in the lonely place was like a summary of his mission. He welcomed the crowds,… even though they were wrecking his plans for a day of retreat with the apostles. He talked to them about the kingdom of God. He brought healing to those who needed it. And he fed them in their hunger.  Bread is the symbol of the outreach of God to his people in welcome, enlightenment, healing and sustaining.”  The message here is of warm and open hospitality and a welcome to and inclusion of all, with no exceptions, as Paul likes to remind the class conscious, and some times misguided,  Corinthians..

One of the things standing out for Catholics is our focus on Eucharist.  First Communion Day is something most of us have never forgotten, and an occasion we all looked forward to with anticipation, and certainly it’s hoped our First Communion is not our last, as it is a recurrent sacrament throughout our lives of faith, which is one reason why we are here together today.

Perhaps a part of the excitement was the party afterwards, a custom that continues to today, but more in the context of family, whereas it used to be the party in the school hall with classmates.  It’s not so much highlighted in the Protestant Christian denominations, as from the Reformation on, the sacramental side of worship was downplayed, with symbolism being the emphasis rather than Real Presence or Transubstantiation, as it was titled back around 1560, at the Council of Trent.  Whatever, there’s no doubt it is seen as the source of spiritual nourishment in our Catholic tradition as “The Bread of Life”.

This is the feast of Corpus Christi, a name which has spread widely, from the title of our local seminary, to Corpus Christi, a beachside town (nicknamed ‘Sparkling City by the Sea’) I once visited in Texas, the name evidence of the influence of the Spanish missionaries along the west coast of the USA, so called discovered on the this feast day in 1519!  On this feast, back in seminary days at Werribee, there was a tradition of students having a meal with the Blessed Sacrament community at St Francis’ Church in the city, so it was an enjoyable escape from the old seminary regime and routine.  Their emphasis was originally on adoration of the Eucharist, as part of contemplative meditation and prayer, but that changed with Vatican II and the encouragement of all Catholics to receive Communion regularly, and not just once a year, as the minimum prescribed.

The trouble was that there was misguided thinking that Eucharist was for the pure and the perfect, so that the general thought was that we were unworthy to receive it unless we had been to Confession just about immediately beforehand. (I’d certainly have trouble dealing with that these days!)  I revert to scripture scholar Frank Moloney’s book titled “Bread for the Broken”,  wherein he reflects on the gift of Eucharist as spiritual sustenance for our journey of life.

And going further back, there was the midnight fast required before receiving Communion, before my time, followed by the 3 hour fast when I was young, and then down to one hour post-Vatican II.  The emphasis here was on reverence and being well-prepared spiritually, but it did create a culture of not receiving, but rather observing.

Another practice was Communion on the tongue, which Pope Paul VI broadened from 1969, to the more natural receiving in the hand, with no suggestion of reduced reverence.  If we go back to the Last Supper and the early Christian communities, it can only be presumed that Eucharist was celebrated in homes and taken in the hand.  What’s more, with COVID persisting,  the risk of transmission of infection is much higher if  given on the tongue, despite the insistence of some traditionalists.

Luke’s Gospel directly links Eucharist to the Cross, with Peter’s Profession of Faith following the feeding of the 5,000 and then Jesus warning of the path ahead, with suffering and the Cross on the horizon, news the apostles, particularly Peter, do not want to hear.  For you and me, it’s a reminder that the path of life can be very rocky at times, and the spiritual dimension of Eucharist is reassuring and strengthening in facing up to the crosses that afflict or affect us all in some way or other.

Today’s Gospel has Jesus acknowledging the physical needs of the people who have followed him, and whom he has offered Good News and healing, now seeing them as weary and hungry.  The words used are Eucharistic echoes, with Jesus taking the bread, blessing and breaking it for equal distribution among the crowd.  I see underlying the story of the 5 loaves and 2 fish, that when resources are shared, they can go a long way, if we don’t just keep them for ourselves.  (Claude Mostowik MSC agrees too!)

We hear the earliest account of Jesus instituting the Eucharist from Paul writing to Corinthians in today’s Second Reading, and Luke’s Last Supper account virtually repeats the words we hear in today’s Gospel, and then post-Resurrection on the Road to Emmaus, where the disillusioned followers heading away from the action in Jerusalem, do a U-turn back, after they recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, as he then disappears from their sight.

Then there is the symbolism of the 12 baskets of leftovers, a reminder of the need to feed those who are not present also.  In the early Church, the practice was to take Eucharist home to those who couldn’t be present in person, a custom we continue when we take Communion to the housebound who are sick or elderly.  It’s a very pastoral and practical way of connecting them with our faith community gathered to worship together.

So, as we break the bread and share it in Eucharist, we are given the impetus as his followers, sent out to continue the mission of living and sharing the Good News in our lives. Remember, our word Mass derives from the original Latin instruction at the end of Mass: “Ite missa est”, meaning “Go, you are sent”, extended now to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”, as we hear at the conclusion of every Mass.  It’s not just a matter of “Thank God it’s over; my duty is done”, but, rather, it’s a clear reminder that our obligations as followers of Jesus don’t end at the church door when we leave, continuing our lives with a sense of mission!

john hannon                                                                                  19th  June  2022

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