PS: 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Each week, a Dominican member of the Provincial Preaching Advisory board prepares this Preacher’s Sketchbook in anticipation of the upcoming Sunday Mass. The idea of the Preacher’s Sketchbook is to take quotations from the authority of the Church–the Pope, the Fathers of the Church, documents of the Councils, the saints–that can help spark ideas for the Sunday homily. Just as an artist’s sketchbook preserves ideas for later elaboration, so we hope the Preacher’s Sketchbook will provide some ideas for homiletical elaboration.

Sketchbook

Pope Benedict XVI, Mass for the Closing of the 25th Italian National Eucharistic Congress, September 11, 2011

“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (Jn 6,60). The reaction of the disciples – many of whom abandoned Jesus – to his discourse on the Bread of Life in the Synagogue of Capernaum is not very different from our own resistance to the total gift he makes of himself. For truly accepting this gift means losing oneself, letting oneself be involved and transformed, as the Apostle Paul reminded us in the Second Reading: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rm 14,8).

“This is a hard saying”; it is hard because we often confuse freedom with the absence of bonds, in the conviction that we can manage by ourselves, without God who is seen as a restriction of freedom. This is an illusion that does not take long to become a delusion, giving rise to anxiety and fear and, paradoxically, leading to nostalgia for the bonds of the past: “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt…”, the Jews in the wilderness said, as we heard (Ex 16,3). In fact, only in openness to God, in receiving his gift, do we become truly free, free from the slavery of sin that disfigures man’s face, and capable of serving the true good of our brethren.

“This is a hard saying”; it is hard because man often succumbs to the illusion that he can “make stones become bread”. After setting God aside, or after having tolerated him as a private choice that must not interfere with public life, some ideologies have aimed to organize society with the force of power and of the economy. History shows us, dramatically, that the objective of guaranteeing everyone development, material well-being and peace, by leaving out God and his revelation, has been resolved by giving people stones instead of bread.

St. Ambrose

There is, then, in pain a virtue that can display the sweetness of a good conscience, and therefore it serves as a proof that pain does not lessen the pleasure of virtue. As, then, there is no loss of blessedness to virtue through pain, so also the pleasures of the body and the enjoyment that benefits give add nothing to it. On this the Apostle says well: “What things to me were gain, those I counted loss for Christ,” and he added: “Wherefore I count all things but loss, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

Moses, too, thought the treasures of Egypt to be his loss, and thus showed forth in his life the reproach of the Cross of the Lord. He was not rich when he had abundance of money, nor was he afterwards poor when he was in want of food, unless, perchance, there is any one who thinks he was less happy when daily food was wanting to him and his people in the wilderness. But yet manna, that is, angels’ food, which surely none will dare deny to be a mark of the greatest good and of blessedness, was given him from heaven; also the daily shower of meat was sufficient to feed the whole multitude.

Pope Paul VI, Declaration on Christian Education

A Christian education does not merely strive for the maturing of a human person as just now described, but has as its principal purpose this goal: that the baptized, while they are gradually introduced the knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of Faith they have received, and that they learn in addition how to worship God the Father in spirit and truth especially in liturgical action, and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth (Ep 4,22-24); also that they develop into perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ and strive for the growth of the Mystical Body; moreover, that aware of their calling, they learn not only how to bear witness to the hope that is in them but also how to help in the Christian formation of the world that takes place when natural powers viewed in the full consideration of man redeemed by Christ contribute to the good of the whole society. Wherefore this sacred synod recalls to pastors of souls their most serious obligation to see to it that all the faithful, but especially the youth who are the hope of the Church, enjoy this Christian education.

St. Thomas Aquinas, OP, Summa Theologiae, I-II, Q93, A6

The Apostle says: “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man.” Whence we are given to understand that our renewal which consists in putting on the new man, belongs to the mind. Now, he says: “Putting on the new” man; “him who is renewed unto knowledge” of God, “according to the image of Him that created him,” where the renewal which consists in putting on the new man is ascribed to the image of God. Therefore to be to the image of God belongs to the mind only.

Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

Jesus gave this act of oblation an enduring presence through his institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. He anticipated his death and resurrection by giving his disciples, in the bread and wine, his very self, his body and blood as the new manna. The ancient world had dimly perceived that man’s real food—what truly nourishes him as man—is ultimately the Logos, eternal wisdom: this same Logos now truly becomes food for us—as love. The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving. The imagery of marriage between God and Israel is now realized in a way previously inconceivable: it had meant standing in God’s presence, but now it becomes union with God through sharing in Jesus’ self-gift, sharing in his body and blood. The sacramental “mysticism”, grounded in God’s condescension towards us, operates at a radically different level and lifts us to far greater heights than anything that any human mystical elevation could ever accomplish.

St. Theophilus of Antioch

He does not say, I am the bread of nourishment, but of life, for, whereas all things brought death, Christ has quickened us by Himself. But the life here, is not our common life, but that which is not cut short by death: He that comes to Me shall never hunger; and, He that believes in Me shall never thirst.

St. John Chrysostom

The mild and gentle is not always useful, but there are times when the teacher needs sharper language. For if the disciple be dull and gross, then, in order to touch his dullness to the quick, we must rouse him with a goad. And this the Son of God hath done in the present as well as in many other cases. For when the crowds had come and found Jesus, and were flattering Him, and saying, “Master, when did you come here?” to show that He desired not honor from men, but looked to one thing only, their salvation, He answered them sharply, wishing to correct them not in this way only, but also by revealing and exposing their thoughts. For what did He say? “Amen, Amen, I say unto you,” (speaking positively and with a confirmation,) “You seek Me, not because you saw miracles, but because you did eat of the loaves and were filled.” He chided and reproved them by these words, yet does not so abruptly or violently, but very sparingly. For He said not, “O you gluttons and belly-slaves, I have wrought so many wonders, and you never have either followed Me, or marveled at My doings”; but mildly and gently somewhat in this manner; “You seek Me, not because you saw miracles, but because you did eat of the loaves and were filled”; speaking not only of the past, but also of the present miracle. “It was not,” He said, “the miracle of the loaves that astonished you, but the being filled.” And that He said not this of them by conjecture they straightway showed, for on this account they came the second time, as being about to enjoy the same (food) as before. For this reason they said, “Our fathers did eat manna in the wilderness.” Again they draw Him to (the subject of) carnal food, which was the chief accusation and charge against them. But He stopped not at rebukes, but added instruction also, saying, “Labor not for the meat which perishes, but for that meat which endures unto everlasting life.”

Bl. Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae

The life which the Son of God came to give to human beings cannot be reduced to mere existence in time. The life which was always “in him” and which is the “light of men” (John 1,4) consists in being begotten of God and sharing in the fullness of his love: “To all who received him, who believed in his name,he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1,12-13).

Sometimes Jesus refers to this life which he came togive simply as “life”, and he presents being born of God as anecessary condition if man is to attain the end for which God has created him: “Unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3,3).To give this life is the real object of Jesus’ mission: he is the one who”comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world” (John 6,33). Thus can hetruly say: “He who follows me … will have the light of life” (John 8,12).

At other times, Jesus speaks of “eternal life”. Here the adjective does more than merely evoke a perspective which is beyond time. The life which Jesus promises and gives is “eternal” because it is a full participation in the life of the “Eternal One”.  Whoever believes in Jesus and enters into communion with him has eternal life (cf. John 3,15 John 6,40) because he hears from Jesus the only words which reveal and communicate to his existence the fullness of life. These are the “words of eternal life” which Peter acknowledges in his confession of faith: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6,68-69). Jesus himself, addressing the Father in the great priestly prayer, declares what eternal life consists in: “This is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17,3). To know God and his Son is to accept the mystery of the loving communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit into one’s own life, which even now is open to eternal life because it shares in the life of God.

Fr Pius Pietrzyk, OP