Homily for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2009
The impressive 150th Archdiocese Anniversary Celebration Mass on Thursday certainly emphasised that the Eucharist is the heart of our Church. (Perhaps not quite as impressive as St John's College musical 'Oliver' last night!) With most of the Bishops of Australia present and most of the priests of the Archdiocese as well as representatives from the parishes and religious congregations it was a glimpse of the Church today. A glimpse of the Church, however, that judging by the many grey heads visible and quite a few empty seats, is far from it's glory days in-spite of appearances in the modern venue in the Brisbane Convention centre.
The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, was a special guest. He gave a very interesting homily speaking of the connection between his diocese and our own through the first Archbishop of Brisbane, James Quinn. He spoke of the rigorous spirituality of the Irish Church as re-established by Archbishop Paul Cullen in the years following Catholic emancipation in Ireland in the 19th century. Many of us will remember that we inherited that rigorous Roman Catholicism through the Irish clergy who followed James Quinn. Through all those 150 years and all its turmoil the Eucharist remains at the centre and is what keeps us together and firmly on the journey.
Last Sunday we began reading from chapter six of John's Gospel which deals with Jesus as the bread of life. We heard the account of the feeding of the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. Next week we would have heard the first of two sermons of Jesus. However, the Feast of Mary McKillop takes over next Sunday so the readings are different. In that first sermon John's Gospel presents the 'bread of life' as primarily the revelation of God in Jesus. We 'do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God' (Deuteronomy 8:3). The second sermon the week after speaks of the 'bread of life' as the Eucharist. Jesus' gift of himself to us. Today, however, the reading is a kind of introduction to those two sermons in which Jesus responds to the questions of the crowds who had eaten. They ask for a sign by which they would be prepared to believe in him. Would he provide manna to eat as Moses provided for the Hebrew people in the wilderness? Ironically, Jesus had just done that but they did not recognise it.
So Jesus attempts to lead the people from following him for what they can get out of it, namely, food. He wants them to follow him not because he can feed them but because in coming to know him they come to know God. The signs he gives are not so that he could be a welfare agent handing out food parcels. The signs were meant to point beyond themselves to God. The manna given to the people during the Exodus as we heard in the first reading, Jesus says, was not Moses doing but God's doing. God had hoped that in feeding them they would turn back to God. They had, by a curious self deception, said that they would have been better off back in Egypt as slaves rather than go hungry in the desert. They forgot how desperate they had been in slavery. The true bread for which we all yearn comes from God. He declares that he is that bread sent by God. "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst" (John 6:35).
This is the time of the Church. The time between the Resurrection and the Last Days. It is the time of the Sacraments. There are no Sacraments in heaven as we will meet God face to face. So the Sacraments themselves point beyond themselves and their appearance to God through Jesus. We do not seek them as ends in themselves. They keep us pointed in the right direction in faith. As Sacraments they are sign posts to the Kingdom of God. But signposts which also bring it about in our midst.
Up until fifty or so years ago in the secularized Western world in which we live, the prevailing culture helped carry the faith. We lived in cultures within which faith and religion were part of the very institutions of public life. We even called ourselves a Christian country. Faith and church were embedded in the social make up of Australia. At that time it took someone with a strong will not to go to church on Sunday. Today, as we know, the opposite if more true, it takes a strong committed person to go to church on Sunday against the incomprehension and often rejection by the majority. It has been said that we now live in a moral and ecclesial diaspora and experience a special loneliness that comes with that. Even many within our own families and circle of friends do not share our commitment. We have few external supports in the culture for our life of faith and its practice. Sunday is no longer the Lord's Day for most Australians.
The letter to the Ephesians from which we read today addresses Christians who were in a very similar situation to ourselves. They were a small minority in an overwhelming Greek-Roman culture and religion. The letter encourages them to leave behind their pagan ways and not be led astray by illusory desires. The should keep to the ways they learnt from Christ.
It is in just that kind of circumstance that we need to return to the Eucharist each week to hear God's word of love spoken to us. Let us seal our response in faith to that word through Holy Communion.