Thursday, 31 January 2019

St. John 6:60-73


Two very human, and not that surprising reactions to this detailed teaching by Jesus revealing Himself as source of true life and resurrection, what we know as Jesus the Holy Eucharist, are given to us by St. John first in verse 60 and further on in verse 66, the latter reaction even after a further word from Jesus Himself.

Then many of His disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” [v.60]

Indeed, it is a difficult truth-teaching to accept merely with the intellect. Acceptance is an act of faith-trust, both gifts of the Holy Spirit for which we should ask for more and more.

Since Jesus knew that His disciples were murmuring about this, He said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray Him. And He said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by My Father.” [vs. 61-65]

So much of the Gospel, more so of the attentive and gentle, loving heart of Jesus, is contained in these six sentences.

Jesus reveals by His first question His awareness of the impact of His teaching, and then referencing the still to come moment of His Ascension prepares them, as He does so often, not simply for what is to come before He leaves them, but also gifting them something to trust, namely there is more to life than what we assume, for true life occurs within the depths of the human heart and soul, our physical, bodily experiences do not suffice.

That Jesus reminds us of the life-giving power of His words should remind us that while the ultimate experience of His Presence is within the Holy Eucharist, He is also present to us in every word He speaks to us.

Then are the two sentences which point directly past the general struggle to believe, to, without yet his being named, the one who refuses to believe and will betray Jesus.

Jesus does not belabour that point but immediately reassures that the Father grants the grace to come to Jesus for anyone who will accept that gift, for there is no other way to meet Jesus.

We cannot do it on our own.

This truth should be expressed consistently in our prayer for every human being, that everyone might know the grace offered by the Father, accept that grace and go to meet, to welcome, to listen to, to follow Jesus.

As a result of this, many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him. [v.66]

We can draw much from this verse: as a result of this…..The ‘this’ is Jesus has just without any ambiguity stated three essentials of discipleship: 1] faith in the truth Jesus is indeed who He says He is; 2] everlasting life is rooted in acting on this belief through openness to the Eucharistic truth Jesus Himself is the Bread of life; 3] we cannot come to Jesus by our own wits or efforts, being with Jesus is a gift of the Father.

……many of His disciples…….many, but not all!....returned to their former way of life……this is much deeper than say returning to a job. This is returning to the way they used to live in terms of faith, family, and yes sin in all is variables.

……and no longer accompanied Him. We all know the emotional impact of someone leaving us, be it for a time due to travel, be it children as young adults leaving to study, work, pursue their vocation to family life, lay apostolate, religious life, priesthood and the leaving when someone we love dies.

Jesus, being like us in all things but sin, would have like us had emotions, but ours are not pure. We do not, for example, purely grieve with grief focused on the one leaving, because we are sinners and wounded thereby, there is a selfish dimension to our grief for we react that someone/something has been taken/stolen from us.

Not so with Jesus. His emotions are pure and therefore more pain ridden than ours, because His emotions are always other directed, always gift.

All four Gospel accounts are filled with numerous examples of Jesus experiencing hunger, thirst, grief, longing, love from His time in the desert to the death of Lazarus, to the rich young man, and each occasion shows us how Jesus, who because neither His emotions or intellect, that is His perceptive ability, are impeded by the damages ours are through personal sin, the sins of others against us, all are within Jesus at their purest and most intense and all are other directed and we are the beneficiaries: ……….so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. [15:11]

Joy, as we experience it, is a powerful if fleeting emotion because we cannot cling to it; however, because Jesus after His Passion, death, Resurrection, Ascension, gifts, with the Father, the Holy Spirit to us, joy for the baptized becomes a virtue-gift and intensifies to the extent we, in imitation of Jesus, gift our joy to others.

Hence the stark statement: Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” [v.67]

Explicit in this question is Jesus assuring the Twelve of their freedom to choose to stay or leave, what is implicit is the pain Christ will embrace should they choose to leave.

The answer may have been given immediately or after some moments of reflection or discussion amongst the Twelve. St. John does not say. Certainly, from the text it appears the response was spontaneous, immediate, sincere and filled with love and a clear statement of faith and trust: Simon Peter answered Him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that You are the Holy One of God.” [68,69]

Then, with the last two verses of this crucial chapter on the forthcoming sacramental Self-Gift of Jesus to us at the Last Supper and through His Priesthood within each priest across the millennia, the revelation of a persistent pain Jesus lovingly carries in His Heart, for the great tragedy for human beings is not knowing, or knowing and doubting, worse rejecting, the love which Christs gives as gift, but never takes back: Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray Him, one of the Twelve. [70,71]

© 2019 Fr. Arthur Joseph

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

ST. JOHN 6:54-59


When You, O Lord, were baptized in the Jordan, worship of the Trinity was made manifest; for the voice of the Father bore witness to You, calling You His beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of His word. O Christ our God, Who has appeared and enlightened the world, glory to You. [Troparion] This is a hymn from the Byzantine Liturgy of the Theophany, the manifestation of the Holy Trinity.

The Roman Liturgy refers to the Epiphany and, as the antiphon for Second Vespers in the Roman rite notes: Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.

As St. Maximus of Turin teaches: …Christ is baptized not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy, and by His cleansing to purify the waters which He touched…the consecration of Christ involves a more significant consecration of the water. For when the Saviour is washed all water for our baptism is made clean, purified at its source for the dispensing of baptismal grace to the people of future ages.

The above is another example of how Christ touches matter and transforms matter into sacrament, such as He will do at the last supper with the matter of bread and wine, which by His touch and prayer become Him, and touches the matter of men, the Apostles, and they become Him, that is in persona Christi, as handed on by the Apostles do all bishops and priests.

This gifting of Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist and in the Priesthood continues to be an ever present reality through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier.

When contemplating these passages from St. John we need to see them as words spoken in the here and now and not read/hear the Holy Gospel as some reportage of things past.

Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. [v.54]

This ‘has’ is the now, the immediate, an assertion of what happens when we receive Holy Communion and there is also in this immediateness a promise that we shall be granted resurrection.

Sacraments, and the sanctifying grace imparted by reception of sacraments, are not something we earn. They are gift. The lavishness of Divine Love!

For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. [v.55]

Even though the external appearances, texture, colour, of the consecrated bread and wine appear unchanged, the actual reality remains invisible to the senses, for the actual reality IS Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity: The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend." In the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained….." It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament….. Thus St. John Chrysostom declares: It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but He who was crucified for us, Christ Himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God's. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered. [cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church #’s 1374/1375]

Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will have life because of Me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  [v.56-58]

There is a teaching principle: tell the students what you are going to tell them, tell it to them, tell them what you have told them.

From verse 26 to verse 58 this is precisely what Jesus does. It is worth slowly re-reading them and it becomes clear that Jesus is so intent on this proclamation of Himself as the source and summit of faith in the Holy Eucharist He, as in the verses immediately above, repeats the same teaching in various phrases.

These things He said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. [v.59]

Jesus is not a designated rabbi, as yet no one knows He is our High Priest, deliberately He chooses to give this central teaching about His self-gift in a synagogue, a place like a parish church in our day, therefore the Holy One teaches about His self-gift in a sacred place, this teaching is that important.

Soon we will enter the week of Prayer for Christian Unity and perhaps the greatest wound in Christianity is how over the centuries, because of the break in Apostolic Succession, millions of our brothers and sisters have been, are, deprived of the Holy Eucharistic.

This should be a focal point when we pray for Christian Unity, that we pray for such a hunger in our brothers and sisters that they return to the fullness of sacramental life to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.

Not everyone can participate in daily Mass and receive Jesus in Holy Communion for reasons as varied as are life’s situations and challenges. Not just daily but throughout the day we can all make a spiritual communion: … it is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist. This was the origin of the practice of “spiritual communion”, which has happily been established in the Church for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life. Saint Teresa of Jesus wrote: “When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you”. [St. John Paul II, encyclical on the Holy Eucharist and the Church: ECCLESIA DE EUCHARISTIA, ch.4; para 34]

My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.

© 2019 Fr. Arthur Joseph

Thursday, 3 January 2019

ST. JOHN 6:52-53


St. John, alone of the Evangelists, does not give us a description of the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood at the last supper.

St. John does give us Christ’s great Priestly Prayer and shows Jesus, our High Priest, as servant, washing the feet of His disciples, an action every parish priest, every bishop and the Pope himself, repeats on Holy Thursday, a reminder of the servant dimension of Holy Orders.

Here as St. John continues to give us Jesus’ revelation of Himself as our Eucharistic food, which is Jesus Himself in all His glory, Jesus encounters resistance something frequent throughout His teaching life, indeed even during His suffering on the Cross.

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” [v.52]

Be it our ancestors in the faith who begged for bread in the desert, and then complained about having to eat so much of the manna, or those complaining here, or anyone who complains about the food placed before us, it is therein to commit sin: rejection of God’s gift; an implicit arrogance which convicts us every time we pray the Our Father and ask for daily bread, because our attitude is: just give us the food we like to eat. It is a form both of spiritual and physical gluttony!

Satan, the liar, the charlatan, the enemy of God and of us, is the absolute opposite of the one True God in that God is Light, satan is darkness; God is love, satan is hate; God is Divine Fire, satan is cold in the reality of his existence; Jesus, Our Lord God and Saviour, gives Himself to us as Bread and Drink for eternal life. Satan, who is a taker and incapable of giving, is the devourer: Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. [1Pt.5:89]

It is interesting that while in Vs. 25, 28, 30, 31, 34, 41, 42, 52, the people address questions, or argument, directly to Jesus, yet at this critical moment: The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” [v.52]

Certainly, Jesus would have seen the people’s agitation, heard their quarreling and the question they were asking among themselves.

Most of us, if challenged by someone about how we can, or plan, to do something, will give an explanatory answer. Jesus here, does not.

The immensity of the gift He is revealing to them, to us:  Himself as Holy Eucharist, a mystery tangible in its reception, in the reality of His Presence in the tabernacle, yet the ‘how’ it happens that bread and wine become Him, remains invisible.

True we can observe the gestures, hear the words of the priest bringing, by the invocation of and power of the Holy Spirit transubstantion, but that is accessible to faith alone, not to scientific observation.

Receiving Jesus in Holy Communion is also an act of trust that what Jesus offers is Jesus Himself.

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.” v.53.

This is the immensity of the gift, as it were, within the gift of Jesus giving us Himself: The Eucharist is the centre and summit of the whole of sacramental life, through which each Christian receives the saving power of the Redemption, beginning with the mystery of Baptism, in which we are buried into the death of Christ, in order to become sharers in His Resurrection, as the Apostle teaches. In the light of this teaching, we see still more clearly the reason why the entire sacramental life of the Church and of each Christian reaches its summit and fullness in the Eucharist. For by Christ's will there is in this Sacrament a continual renewing of the mystery of the Sacrifice of Himself that Christ offered to the Father on the altar of the Cross, a Sacrifice that the Father accepted, giving, in return for this total self-giving by his Son, who "became obedient unto death", His own paternal gift, that is to say the grant of new immortal life in the resurrection, since the Father is the first source and the giver of life from the beginning. [St. John Paul II, encyclical Redemptor Hominis, Part IV, para. 20.1]

Word made Flesh, by word He makes

Very bread His Flesh to be;

Man in wine Christ's Blood partakes:

And if senses fail to see,

Faith alone the true heart wakes

To behold the mystery. [Pange Lingua, St. Thomas Aquinas]

© 2019 Fr. Arthur Joseph