Because I did not preach at all the Masses last week, I’m offering a summary of my homily from then:
In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus’ teaching about the need to eat his flesh and drink his blood created scandal among his Jewish listeners. The Greek word scandalon means a “stumbling block” perhaps to someone’s understanding or faith. The Latin scandalum means a cause for offense. Jesus’ teaching proved a stumbling block for his listeners because Jewish dietary law prohibited the drinking of any animal’s blood or the eating of any animal meat that still had blood in it. This is because the blood of the animal was seen to be its “life-force,” if you will. To take the animal’s blood was to take its life. For Jesus to suggest to his listeners that they eat his flesh and drink his blood proved even more scandalous as he was suggesting, to their hearing, the consumption of human flesh and blood.
Yet Jesus’ request that we eat his flesh and drink his blood is exactly what we do when we receive the Eucharist. Jesus desires to give us his very life….most especially eternal life. And it is by eating his flesh and drinking his blood that we receive his very life. The Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ given and poured out on the Cross and gloriously risen for us, under the appearances of bread and wine. It strengthens us during our journey through this life and gives us, here and now, a foretaste of the banquet of heaven. In giving us His very self in the Eucharist, Jesus has shown how much he desires to remain with us even “to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). Pope Benedict XVI, in writing his Encyclical on the Eucharist, titled it Sacramentum caritatis, or “Sacrament of Love,” because it reveals to us the depths of Jesus’ love for us in withholding nothing of Himself from us.
It was in the Middle Ages that the English word “scandal” came to mean a discredit to religion. There is so much going on today that exemplifies that word. In the past few weeks we have seen the release of the special grand jury report in Pennsylvania regarding the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and the lack of oversight by bishops. We have seen Cardinal Seán open an investigation into possible inappropriate behavior at our own seminary. We have seen allegations of sexual misconduct against now-Archbishop McCarrick. There are the on-going world-wide issues in Chile, Honduras and Australia. At times like this it is easy to become overwhelmed and to allow the sins of those whom we are supposed to trust most, as well as the poor response by bishops to become a “stumbling block” to our faith. We might find ourselves asking, “Where is God in all of this?” Yet that is exactly what the Evil One would like. He would like to drive a wedge between us and Jesus, most especially in his presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus, however, calls us to remain in intimate communion with him in the Eucharist. While some might be tempted, at a time like this, to leave the Church, we need to remember that it is only in the Church that we can find Jesus – Body, Blood, soul and divinity – present in the Eucharist. It is here that he gives us strength to weather our trials. It is here that he gives us his very self, his very life. It is here that he leads us to everlasting life.