19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cathedral of the Good Shepherd,
12th Aug., 2018

1 Kings 19:4-8;
Ephesians 4: 30-5:2;
Gospel of John 6:41-51

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Is Jesus, the Bread of Life and Eternal Life Valueless?! 

Once a year, my siblings and I go for our annual vacation together, as part of our family bonding.  And, my main duty during the vacation is to say Mass every day; the rest are taken care of by them.  Two years ago, we went to South Africa.  I have with me African currencies that most, if not all of you are not aware of and not seen before.  I have in my hands 5 dollar notes from the country of Zimbabwe, that adds up to exactly, $110,000,000,000 ($110 billion dollars).  This is made up of one $50 billion note, one $25 billion, one $20 billion, one $10 billion, and a $5 billion dollar notes.  I also have two other notes: one $50 million and another $25 million dollar notes. 

It is obvious that I am a billionaire . . . but, may not need any security protection after Mass!  Where did I get all these wealth?  Well, it’s called “creative investment” . . . I bought them for USD$5.00!  Actually, there are higher denominations of $100 billion or more, but the seller said, “Sorry sir, I am out of stock!  That evening at dinner, I asked for the bill and told the waiter that the dinner is on me.  When I took out the $110 billion dollars I had, he didn’t think it was very funny and said, “Sir, you can’t even buy an ice-cream with that.”

What is happening to the Zimbabwe currencies even though each dollar note has printed on it, “The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe: I promise to pay the bearer on demand, $50 billion dollars; signed Dr G. Gono, governor; issued in 2008?  The simple answer, without going into the economics and financial state of affairs of the country, is that the currency is valueless; it cannot buy anything . . . not even an ice-cream!

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus in today’s Gospel proclaims very clearly to the Jews and also to us today, “I am the Bread of Life . . . that comes down from heaven.  Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.”  This Bread that Jesus gives to everyone who believes in Him is infinitely valuable.  Indeed, this Bread of the Flesh of Jesus is worth more than Billions of dollars.  This Bread is not just another symbol and not just a memorial of the Last Supper, but Jesus says, “This Bread is MY FLESH, for the life of the world. . . Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.

Sadly, what is happening amongst many of our Catholic Christians is that what is infinitely valuable, like Jesus in the Eucharist is now treated like the Zimbabwe currencies . . . valueless!  In all probability, these people have allowed other concerns and interests in their lives to distract and draw them away from the Truth and Real Food of Jesus that offers eternal life. 

Sadly, what they give greater value to are the material wealth, financial possessions and successes of the secular world, that feeds the earthly and emotional needs, of their self-gratification and glory.  But, as for the spiritual food of the Body and Blood of Jesus that nourishes the soul and feeds one for eternal life, in contrasts, they are treated lightly and valueless, and thus are merely of secondary importance and lower priority in one’s life. 

Archbishop Fulton Sheen shared this true story.  He wrote that there were almost 3,000 priests in Dachau concentration camp near Munich in Germany.  One of the prisoner priests was Fr Engelmar Unzeitig, who was arrested by the Naziz on April 21st in 1941.  When Pope Francis beatified him, he acknowledged that Fr Unzeitig as a martyr who died for his faith.  Most of these prisoner priests were also killed in the most brutal and unimaginable ways.  

When some of them were treated like human horses, where they had to drag wagons down to the nearest railway station.  These prisoner priests planned that when they reached the front of the home of the local priest, they would contrive that some of the wheels of the wagons would fall off.  In the commotion, when the local priest came out, one of the prisoner priests would whisper to him in Latin and said that they were priests and needed bread and wine to say Mass.  

On subsequent trips, and during such planned commotion, the local priest would pass these prisoner priests some bread and wine to smuggle into the camps.  Late at night, during the curfew, and under penalty of instant death if they were caught, these prisoner priests would risk their lives and gather in small groups to celebrate Mass and to receive Holy Communion.  One of the survivors shared, “We got so much out of the Mass . . . It was Christ coming to be with us in our Calvary.”  Archbishop Sheen reflected on the prisoner priests and said, “They got so much out of the Mass because they brought so much into the Mass.  What about us here today as we celebrate the Eucharist?

My sisters and brothers in Christ, in great contrasts to many Catholics, these prisoner priests valued the Eucharist so deeply that they we even willing to be martyred; just so that they could receive Jesus in the Eucharist.  To them, to be nourished by Jesus in the Eucharist, and especially to be able to receive His Body and Blood at Holy Communion is worth dying for. 

However, when we have the Eucharist available to us so freely and easily, in country like ours in Singapore, we can so easily take the infinite Goodness of Jesus in the Eucharist for granted, and treat the precious gift of Jesus who gives Himself to us as His Real Flesh and Real Blood, as valueless.  For many of us, we are so to speak, treating Jesus like the valueless Zimbabwe currencies. 

And so my brothers and sisters in Christ, before I conclude, let us ask ourselves some important questions that we should be asking before we claim that we truly value Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  

First, we need to ask ourselves, “Are the weekly Masses we attend just another routine or an obligation to fulfil, otherwise, we have to go to Confession for missing Mass?”

Second, “Do we really take the Mass seriously and participate fully and reverently?”  Are we truly sorry for our sins during the Penitential Service, when we ask God for the forgiveness of our sins, personally and as a community?  Do we listen with attentiveness and an open our hearts to the Word of God that is proclaimed during the Readings of the Liturgy of the Word, including the homily that is preached?”

Third, “Do we unite our minds and hearts, with the priest who presides at the Mass in persona Christi – in the person of Christ, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, during which Jesus is to be offered as the Sacrifice, to God His Father?  “How important is it for us to receive Jesus during Holy Communion, worthily and with a sincere love for Jesus, even though we are imperfect and sinful in our ways?” 

Finally, for those of us who value the Mass, it is important too for us to ask ourselves, “Do our participation in the Eucharist, and having received Jesus at Holy Communion, helped us become more like Jesus outside Mass: viz. in our homes, at work, relating to people in general, and including the way we treat the poor, aged, needy and the marginalised of our society?  This is because as far as the Eucharist is concern, Jesus is saying to you and to me,

“I tell you solemnly, anyone who believes in Me, has eternal life.
I am the Bread of Life. 
This is the Bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
And the Bread that I shall give is My Flesh,
for the Life of the word.

And so, as Catholic Christians, are we like the martyrs, Fr Unzetig and companions, life-giving like Jesus in our daily living or are our lives not witnessing to the Truth of Jesus, in spite of the gift of the Eucharist? 

Let us then pray for the graces we need to value the divine gift of Jesus in the Eucharist more fully and deeply and not allow this precious divine gift to be devalued into a valueless gift through the tendencies and temptations of the self-centred love of our secular and materialistic living. 

Adapted from:  http://www.frtommylane.com/stories/eucharist/priests_celebrate_Eucharist_secretly_in_dachau.htm; Archbishop Fulton Sheen is the source of this story, disc 3 of Sign of Contradiction:  Good Friday and Beyond

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.

visitors since 15 August 2018