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Before we proceed to what we hope will be a fruitful reflection upon the third form of our eucharistic proclamation, we must pause to reflect upon the second part of the invitation issued by the priest. We are called to “proclaim” the mystery.
At this point, we might recall the words (generally but incorrectly) attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “We must be continually preaching. And on occasion, we may even have to use words.” His point was that “our sermons” are preached by our lives. Of course, this demands that we make the mystery a living part of our life. But there is more.
I believe any true proclamation must begin by listing a few characteristics which must be a part of every disciple’s life. First, we must be conscious that we are proclaiming the “good news.” Thus we must enflesh joy. In his play “Lazarus Laughed,” Eugene O’Neil has Lazarus shouting:
Laugh with me!
Death is dead!
Fear is no more!
There is only life!
Truly Christ has conquered death. And in a very real way, we are called to life.
I would list contentment as another virtue which we must be enfleshing. The present Holy Father gives an adequate commentary on this when he wrote:
Each of us
is a result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed.
Each of us is loved.
Each of us is necessary.
I would add two other characteristics as necessary for proclaiming the mystery of faith. The first is hope. There is so much darkness and discouragement in our world. Secondly, we must become icons of care and compassion.
“When we eat this bread...”
I do not believe that we can begin to decode the meaning of this proclamation without prayerfully reading the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. The chapter contains John’s eucharistic theology. Thus, for example, though his account of the Last Supper extends for four chapters, there is no mention of the institution of the Eucharist. His insights into the mystery are to be found elsewhere. But we would be mistaken if we thought that the evangelist was trying to minimize the meaning of this sacrament.
It is a simple fact that bread is a source of nourishment. And building upon this fact, John begins to detail how Christ nourishes us-- by responding to our deepest hungers and needs. In one small but significant way, John includes an important detail in his account of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.
While Matthew, Mark and Luke have the apostles and disciples distributing the bread to the multitude, John would lead us to believe that Jesus Himself reached out and fed each individual personally. When dealing with over 5,000, such would have been a Herculean task. But John’s emphasis is more spiritual than factual. He is trying to lead us to see how Jesus, as Bread of Life, responds to our deepest hungers.
We all have a hunger for life. One merely has to be present with someone dying of a terminal illness to see their grasping for life. Jesus in the Eucharist has promised that we who eat this bread will live forever. And as we share in this bread, we also become bearers of life for others--proclaiming the good news that we are all beloved sons and daughters of the Father.
We all have a hunger for love. And the Eucharist, as the living memorial of the sacrifice of the cross, is the sign of God’s love for us. In Pope Paul VI’s insistence on silence in those few minutes after we receive the Eucharist, I believe that he was encouraging us to cultivate that inner stillness wherein we can listen to God’s continual whispers of His personal love for us.
We are all in need of words of encouragement and affirmation. And in the heart to heart dialogue into which we are inserted in the Eucharist, we glimpse the Lord’s affectionate feelings toward us.
Because the approach to God to each of us is by way of attachment (He is Emmanuel), we realize that through the Eucharist we are yoked to the Lord. Thus in His strength, we are able to bear the burdens of life.
Msgr. McDonnell is a senior priest of the archdiocese and is residence at St. Mary, Dedham.