19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached August 12, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Why was Elijah, the prophet, going out into the desert? Why was he so discouraged that he prayed for death? Only a short time before he had won a great victory over the prophets of the false god, Baal, but the corruption in Israel, the people of God, was so great that despite his victory the wicked queen, Jezebel, still reigned supreme.
Elijah fled into the desert in order to escape the wrath of Jezebel, but he was so discouraged by the corruption of the people that, having saved his life, he was ready to give up and die. He did not go into the desert to meet God; he did not go into the desert intending to make a journey to the mountain of God. Nevertheless, God did not give up on him. God sent his angel to wake him, to feed him, to strengthen him, so he could make the journey to the mountain of God.
The journey of Elijah tells us that the first, most important response on our part to the corruption we find among the people of God, the corruption we find in the life of the Church, the corruption we find among the bishops of the Church, is to make the journey to the ‘mountain of God’, to seek union with God. The journey is indeed a difficult one. We need food for the journey, the food that God himself gives to us, the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Without the Holy Eucharist we will not have strength for the journey.
Jesus calls us; the Father draws us and teaches us. We must respond with faith.
Jesus says, I am the living bread come down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.
Jesus, the Son of God in eternity, is the bread of life; he comes down from heaven by becoming man, born of the Virgin Mary. He gives his flesh for the life of the world by offering himself to the Father upon the Cross as a sacrificial offering, a fragrant aroma; he gives to us the same flesh offered upon the Cross, he gives himself to us as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, beneath the appearance of bread in the Holy Eucharist.
St. Paul writes to us about what it means to be fed by the Body and Blood of Christ, offered in sacrifice. If we are to draw near to the altar of the Lord in spirit and truth, then we must set aside all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling, together with all malice; these are all the obstacles, rooted in our own pride and egoism, that separate us from Christ; they must be replaced by kindness, compassion, and forgiveness after the example of Christ.
After the example of Christ we must become imitators of God; we must love one another as he loved us, not with any old love, but with a sacrificial love. That means we must first offer ourselves to God, with gladness and joy, through Christ, as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. (Rm 12:1)
Last Sunday, following St. Paul, I spoke about the Christian journey, the journey to God, as a process of transformation in Christ, putting off the old man, the inheritance of Adam, and clothing ourselves with the new man, Jesus Christ.
St. Paul writes about this in another way, more concretely, when he writes, Sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires. And do not present the parts of your bodies to sin as weapons for wickedness, but present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons of righteousness. (Rm 6:12-13)
Sacrifice, the supreme act of worship, means slaying, as it were, our sinful desires and laying those ‘dead’ desires on the altar with the Body of Christ; it also means offering to him the interior faculties by which we direct and use our bodies (our mind, our will, our memory, our imagination, and our emotional capacity) in a state of readiness to do his bidding, to employ the members of our bodies as ‘weapons of righteousness’ in his service. We present the members of our body to Christ so that being incorporated into his Body, he the Head may direct us and make use of us as the members of his Body; all our life and action should take its origin from Christ the Head.
We offer to him our mind when we apply ourselves to the study of the word of God and our Catholic faith; we offer to him our memory when we treasure the memory of all that Jesus did for our salvation; we put our imagination at his service when we dream up creative ways to put his teaching into practice in the service of our brethren; we offer our emotional capacity when we learn to rejoice in all that is true, good, and beautiful, while rejecting the false, the bad, and the ugly; we also offer our emotional capacity when we learn to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rm 12:15).
We offer to him our eyes when we direct them to what is pure and beautiful, while being perceptive of the needs of those around us, when we learn truly to ‘see’ and respect our brothers and sisters in Christ; we offer our ears when we listen to the word of God, to beautiful and uplifting music, or to the needs, sorrows, and concerns of our brothers and sisters in Christ; we offer our tongue when we hold back from wicked gossip and rumor and all evil speech, and give ourselves to the praise of God, to bearing witness to his word, by speaking words of kindness and compassion, but also by offering gentle correction; we offer our hands and feet whenever we do something according to the will of God, to worship him, or to serve our brothers and sisters.
In this way we follow the example of Jesus Christ who offered himself to the Father as a sacrificial offering, a fragrant aroma. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read: When Jesus came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts and sin offering you took no delight in. Then I said, ‘As it is written in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God … By this ‘will’ we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb 10:5-7;12)
This is the flesh, his own flesh, that Jesus gives for the life of the world; this is the flesh that he gives to us beneath the appearance of bread in the Holy Eucharist; this is the food that gives us the strength to make the journey through the desert of this life to reach the ‘mountain of God’, union with God himself, the Most High.