Dear friends. Our readings this weekend are all about the Eucharist as they have been for the past few weeks and will be for the next two. In the first week we had the miracle of the loaves and fish that began with the theme of hunger. Last week, Jesus identifies himself as spiritual food that sustains us and this week he continues with that theme of living bread that has come down from heaven. This living bread Jesus identifies as himself.
The problem with this extraordinary claim is that many of us struggle to believe it or take it seriously. Let’s look at the reality a little closer. In our parish, about 75% of baptised Catholics stay away from the Eucharist each week. In other parishes, the figure is even higher. This is indeed a tragedy. What should be the highlight of the week for us, ‘the source and summit of the whole Christian life’ (Vatican II) is just not part of the lives of many of our brothers and sisters. There are many and varied reasons for this. Certainly, one reason is the widely held assumption that weekly participation in the Eucharist is an optional extra and that we don’t have to go to be a good person or a good Christian.
This is a challenge for us who participate in the Eucharist and those of us who don’t. For those who don’t you might well be a better person that many who attend Eucharist, despite this being very difficult to measure. You are right in thinking that what matters most is being a person of love, justice, peace and that the Eucharist must be at the service of that. Yet, we cannot get away from the fact that it is Jesus himself who asked us to come and ‘Do this in Memory of Me’ and it is Jesus himself who asks us to consume him ‘the living bread come down from heaven’. When we ignore these words we effectively say to Christ’s gift: ‘Thanks but no thanks’. There is something unique at the Eucharist. No where else can we receive in faith a gift that is truly extraordinary - gift that Christ himself wishes us to have. It is worth reminding ourselves here that to participate in the Sunday Eucharist is one of the five precepts of the Church – the basic commitments required to call ourselves Catholic Christians. In this light, it sees impossible to be a committed Christian and to opt out of Eucharist for no good reason.
For those of us who do participate weekly, or daily, the challenge is equally important. The Gospel today affirms your commitment to the Mass and highlights the gift of God that is ours when we participate in the Eucharist. Yet, we must never judge ourselves as better than our brothers and sisters who don’t participate in Mass or point to our commitment to the Mass as a self-righteous badge of honour. Collectively, all of us who participate in the Eucharist must ask ourselves not only why so many stay away but how can we help things improve. All of us are co-responsible for the quality of the prayer experience in our Churches each week and the welcome that visitors and guests do or do not feel. If you read these words and love the Mass then share that love with someone. Tell them why you love it and invite them to come along to the next one.
Friends, together we are a missionary Church who don’t partake of the Mass for our own sake only. Each of us are called to have a fire burning within us to make Christ known and loved and lead others to taste the living bread come down from heaven – the bread that satisfies our hunger and leads us deeper into the wonderful and life changing love of God present in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
If you have been away from the Mass, please come back. If Sunday Eucharist is part of your life then treasure it even more and invite someone to return. ‘All of you who are thirsty, come to the water! Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat! Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk! (Is. 55:1).