The Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: Josh 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6:60-69]
No one comes to Jesus unless the Father draws him. Saints have many things to teach us about loving God. Who was it that said, “I love Jesus so much that even if he did not love me, I would still love him“? Was it St. Therese of Lisieux, the young Carmelite nun who discovered the meaning of her contemplative vocation and cried out with joy, “At last I have found my calling, my calling is love“? Was it St. Francis de Sales who wrote a five hundred page guide on loving God because he said, “We cannot live without love“? Or was it St. Irenaeus, a second century bishop who said, “We were born to love, we live to love, and we will die to love still more”? Or, St. Teresa of Avila, a mystic and teacher of the ways of prayer who had such overwhelming experiences of God’s love she sometimes felt intoxicated and walked around as if drunk? Or, was it St. Bernard of Clairvaux who writes, “The measure of our love for God should be without measure?“1 It was none of these. The one who said, “I love Jesus so much that even if he did not love me, I would still love him,” was Maddie Wall, a five year old girl living in Madison, WI. A couple months ago she was enjoying breakfast with her grandmother after Mass on Sunday. In her longing to receive communion for the first time her heart overflowed with this profound expression of love. How can anyone so young experience such a desire for Christ? Where does her hunger come from? It comes from the love put into her heart at Baptism.
Theologian Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx describes Baptism as a desire for the Eucharist.2 In Baptism we become tabernacles where God dwells. When the Father enters our hearts he draws us to love his Son as he does, fulfilling the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper, “May the love with which you loved me be in them and I in them,”. That is how a five year old girl, responding to the movement of God’s Spirit, can experience such a love and hunger for Christ. The Cure d’Ars, St. John Vianney, describes a fervent interior life as “a sea of love in which the soul is plunged and is, as it were, drowned in love.” He taught that, “Just as a mother holds her child’s face in her hands to cover it with kisses, so God holds those who love him.” Christ, like a mother feeding her newborn infant at her breast, wants to nourish us with his own body and blood. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah God says, “As a mother comforts her son, so will I comfort you,” .
Thomas Merton writes, “When we receive the sacred Host it is not only because we ourselves have a desire to receive Him, but also and above all because Christ, in this Sacrament, desires to give himself to us.“3 St. Ambrose expresses it this way: “Have you come to the altar? It is the Lord Jesus that calls you … saying, ‘Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth.‘” 4 Our hunger for Christ in the Eucharist is from the Father dwelling in our hearts, drawing us to Christ who has the words of eternal life. Not even persecution and torture can overcome the love that the Father gives us.
An early American Jesuit martyr, St. Jean de Brebeuf, suffered an excruciating martyrdom. Remembering how he had baptized their sick and consoled the dying with promises of heaven, the Iroquois Indians tied him to a post and baptized him by pouring scalding water over his head and body. Then, mocking the Eucharist, they cut strips of flesh from his legs and arms and ate them before his eyes. Firebrands were placed against his bleeding flesh, yet he did not say a single word against them. Instead, he prayed that they might have the gift of faith. To silence his prayers a burning torch was pressed into his mouth. His suffering lasted four hours. After he died the Iroquois Indians were so filled with admiration of his bravery that they cut out his heart and drank his blood hoping to imbibe his tremendous courage.5 But it is not from drinking the blood of martyrs that such courage comes. It comes from Christ in the Eucharist.
Today, medical science encourages the gift of healthy blood trnslfusions to save lives. A great American entertainer, Bob Hope, spent half of his one hundred years, from World War Two to Desert Storm, giving joy, new heart, and even his blood by transfusions to troops of American soldiers in military camps around the world. Making fun of himself they roared with laughter when he played the biggest chicken of them all saying, “I just got a new rating from my draft board, 4Z. That means coward.” Another time he amused them with this story: “I want to tell you that I’m thrilled to be here. All of you guys have been great, except for one kid who was breaking the rules, trying to go AWOL, running around with women, drinking, and doing drugs. So I confronted him, ‘What’s the big idea? Why are you doing all this stuff?’ He said to me, ‘Mr. Hope, did you give a pint of blood to the Red Cross recently?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ He replied, ‘Well, shake hands with the guy who got it.‘” A natural gift of blood by a donor may prolong life or shorten it, may do good or do harm. But it cannot take away our sins, it cannot give us divine life.
But Christ can. By the outpouring of his blood on the cross he washed away our sins. By the gift of his risen flesh and blood in the Eucharist Christ feeds us with divine life and love. He becomes our daily food and drink, filling us with himself, with eternal gifts. And he loves us so much that even if we do not love him, he will still love us.“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” “Draw me after you, …let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is all beautiful”.