The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
0th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
August 16, 2015
The teacher says, “Unless you bring up your grades, you won’t graduate from high school.” And so we work harder. The mechanic says, “Unless you change your tires and fix your breaks, you will not get an inspection sticker.” And so we have the repairs made. The electrical company says, “Unless you make your payments on time, your power will be shut off.” And so we pay up. The oncologist says, “Unless you undergo chemotherapy, you will die.” And so we endure the treatments. Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, says, “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.” And what’s our response?
When we really want something, we’ll go to the ends of the earth to get it. We’ll cram for days in order to pass an important exam. We’ll shell out thousands of dollars to get the spiffy car to take us from place to place. We’ll pay a company hundreds of dollars a year to pump electricity into our homes so that we can power our iPhones and Smart TVs. We’ll even endure some of the most invasive and agonizing forms of medical treatment to ensure that we live longer. Our values directly influence our desires, and our desires directly influence our everyday choices. And when we really want something, when we really value something, nothing can stop us in our determination. But when was the last time you stopped to think about what it is that you value and desire? When was the last time you stopped to consider your priorities and the choices you make? The truth is, most of us are on automatic, and we don’t think about these things often. But today, in our Gospel, Jesus is calling us to more. He’s asking us to take a good honest look at ourselves in order to see where He falls in the midst of all our values and desires.
If you look around, you’ll see a lot of empty spaces in the pews. This wasn’t always the case…once upon a time, there would have been standing room only at Mass. Slowly, over time, people have been leaving, and for any number of reasons. For some, it’s because a priest said something that offended them. For others, it’s because they disagreed with the teachings of the Church or felt unwelcome or the Mass time was changed. And of course, for others it’s because of apathy and indifference on their part – they never planned on I, they just kind of stopped coming. Other things took precedence and Mass ceased to be a priority or something to be valued. Imagine if we did the same thing with school, or the doctor, or the dentist, or work…our bodies and our lives would fall apart. But when we stop coming to Mass, when we stop receiving Holy Communion regularly, we don’t get to see the visible consequences of our choices and so they seem less real to us. Jesus makes it pretty clear today, though, that there is indeed a consequence…and it is the most grave and most serious of consequences: “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.” You could have all the things of this world: physical health and beauty, a loving family, a comfortable home, a great education, a good-paying job, and even a personal sense that you have a relationship with God…you could have all your earthly and temporal desires met and fulfilled, but if you do not have Christ in the Eucharist, you are lifeless.
Now I know very well that I’m preaching to the choir…most of you are here week after week; you go to confession regularly and receive Holy Communion very frequently. And I thank God for your faithfulness! But ask yourselves this question: what separates you from the person who would have been sitting next to you last year who is no longer coming to Mass? The answer is really very basic and simple: it’s a choice – you continue to make the choice to come to Mass whereas they have made the choice to stop coming. And as we know, our choices stem from our values. The problem here, however, is that we can value the wrong things…we can come to Mass for the sense of community, or the celebration, or the music, or the atmosphere. Eventually, however, all of these will fail us, and when they inevitably do, we too will make the choice to stop coming. Every person in this church today is a spoonful of grace and a choice away from walking out the doors and never coming back. So what keeps you here? If the answer to that question is something that could potentially go away – like the charming priest or the beautiful music – then it’s only a matter of time before you make the same choice to go away and never come back. But if the answer to that question is the one thing that cannot go away…if the answer to that question is supremely and ultimately the presence of Christ in the Eucharist that you hunger and thirst for, then you will always be able to make the choice to stay.
To this day, in our so-called modern and progressive world, there are Catholics who are showing us by their lives and even by their deaths what it means to value the Holy Eucharist above all things. In parts of China, Catholicism is so heavily persecuted that Chinese Catholics walk dozens of miles to go Mass, risking imprisonment or even death to do so. In Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East, Catholics face the daily threat of radical Islamic persecution – their churches are continuously bombed and they expose themselves to the threat of assassination simply by being at Mass. And in Uganda, Egypt, and other African countries, Catholics are being dragged from their churches and murdered in the streets. A soccer game or a relaxing vacation is enough to keep the average American Catholic family away from Mass…and yet the real and daily threat of death does not deter our brothers and sisters across the ocean from risking their lives to receive Christ in the Eucharist. They are willing to lose everything in order to gain what is most important, while we so often chose to gain everything and lose it all.
If we are not here in this church today because we have a passionate desire to receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, then sooner or later we will leave. We will leave just like the crowds who left Jesus in His own day. We will slip into lukewarmness and go wherever our earthly values are satisfied. But if we are here because we desire the Bread of Life more than anything…if we are here because we want the true food of Christ’s flesh and the true drink of His blood, then we hold within ourselves the true key to eternal life and happiness.
So, ask yourselves one more question: how much do you value the Holy Eucharist and how much are you willing to sacrifice in order to receive it? Would you be willing to take a bullet in the head like the Catholic man from Uganda? Would you be willing to travel all day on foot like the Catholic woman in China? Would you be willing to face imprisonment like the Catholic girl in Syria? If everybody in this Church today developed even a sliver of that kind of love for the Eucharist, this church would be packed because the witness would be irresistible and infectious.
Our Lord places in our own hands the magnificent freedom to value whatever we want, to desire whatever we want, and to choose whatever we want. What will we do with this freedom? Will we choose the difficult path that leads to life or the easy path that leads to destruction? Today let us pray for the grace to use our freedom to really and ultimately value, desire, and choose Jesus Christ, present in the Holy Eucharist, knowing full well that unless we eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood we will not have life within us.