Not long ago I visited the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration down in Mishawaka. Their adoration chapel is open to the public and if you haven’t visited them I highly recommend that you do. While I was there I spent some time talking with one of the older sisters, Sr. Dorothy, and she was telling me about their foundress Blessed Maria Theresia Bonzel. Mother Maria was born in Germany back in 1830 and by the time she died in 1905 her order was 1500 strong. There were 1500 sisters spread across Europe, the United States, and South America.
Mother Maria had a strong devotion to St. Joseph and she credited St. Joseph for many miracles in her life. And if you visit the sisters’ chapel in Mishawaka you’ll notice that all the windows depict some aspect of St. Joseph’s life. At one time Mother Maria was paying a visit to all of her sisters spread out across the United States. At the first convent she visited, however, things weren’t going so well, there was very little food to eat. So she asked the sisters, “Where is your shrine to St. Joseph?” “Oh he’s in the closet” they answered. Mother Maria didn’t like that answer. So she said, “Let’s fix that.” So they quickly made a shrine to St. Joseph and dragged him out of the closet and began to pray to God through his intercession. They soon heard a knock on the door and when they opened the door there was a man loaded down with groceries. He gave them the food and after bringing the bags into the house they went to the door to thank him but he was gone. There was no sign of him. There wasn’t even anyone walking down the street. They never went hungry again.
Our Lord satisfies our hunger. He will sometimes satisfy a physical hunger, sometimes in a miraculous way. But how much more; does our Lord always want to feed us spiritually, to satisfy, and fill us with contentment.
When was the last time you walked out of Mass feeling really well fed, satisfied and content? Is it an every week occurrence (or every day for those of us who go everyday)? If not something is wrong.
This is not about the homily or the music. Homilies and worship and music are crucial parts of the Mass. We should do the best we can with the homily and the music, they should help us to enter into the courts of Heaven, so that we can join in the worship of the angels and saints around God’s throne. But we don’t go to Mass, or at least we shouldn’t go to Mass, for the homily or the music.
The Gospel this Sunday tells us that the crowds were pressing in around Jesus. They were men and women just like you and me here at Mass. They had cares and fears and anxieties. They
had jobs that they were concerned about and family members who were sick; they were dealing with the loss of loved ones they missed greatly and some had a sense of meaninglessness in their lives; they were men and women, like you and me, who could get stuck in a rut and they wanted more out of life.
And so they pressed in around Jesus, eager to hear Him, to see Him, and to meet Him. They came to Him expectant and hungry, not just for food but for meaning in their lives, for a sense of purpose. And Jesus breaks open the bread, feeds them, and they are stuffed, they are well fed. And there’s lots left over.
That scene in the Gospel is supposed to be happening at Mass. The miracles that we hear about all through the Gospels continue to happen in our midst today through the sacraments. The sacraments aren’t empty rituals; they’re powerful encounters with our Lord, the One who created us and wants us to find happiness.
But if we come to Mass primarily for what God wants to give us, and what He wants to and does give to us is Himself, so then if we are not leaving full, the burden must be on me and you to change that. Our Lord does His part, we have to do ours.
For the next few weeks at Mass we’re going to be hearing from the Gospel of John. In these weeks ahead we’re only going to hear from John chapter 6. John chapter 6 is a key part of the Gospel. It’s the chapter often referred to as the “Bread of Life discourse.” It’s where Jesus speaks to the crowds and to us now, about the extraordinary gift of the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the center of our life. Objectively speaking, there is nothing that we can ever do in this life that can compare with what happens when we receive Communion. That’s because, by the power of the Holy Spirit, ordinary bread and wine are changed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus, so when we receive the Eucharist, we feed on God, we feed on His divine life, we feed on His power, and we feed on His love. That’s why we don’t chew gum when we come to communion, that’s why we wear nice cloths when we come to Mass, because nothing can compare with this. And yet often times for many of us we don’t leave full and feeling well fed, amazed and transformed. How can we change that?
Since we are going to be reading from John chapter 6 for five weeks, hearing over and over again about the Eucharist let me suggest we try an experiment. Let me suggest we all make an effort to do three things and see if Mass changes for us. First, let’s try to get here a few minutes early. And when we get here, let’s take time to pray, to ask God to help us understand the Mass; let’s ask Him to help us to encounter Him; let’s ask Him to reveal Himself to us with all of our cares and our concerns. Second, don’t leave Mass before I do. What could possibly be more important than saying “Thank You” to the One who made you, loves you, and has just given Himself to you to eat? Take a minute or two to say thanks, and to reflect on what has happened and Who has just entered into you. And third, make an effort to read the Gospel before you come to Mass. Come prepared, come both hungry and expecting to be fed. Our Lord heard the prayer for food of those Franciscan sisters. How much more does He want to satisfy our spiritual hunger? Ask for it. Our Lord is saying to you right now, “Draw from my Body and Blood given to you all the graces of which you stand in need. So many receive little from their daily communion at My altars because they expect so little. Ask and you shall receive. Consult the saints. Learn from them what it is to ask great things of Me, to ask boldly, confidently, and joyfully. And thank Me for the effect of my and Body and Blood in your body and blood, in your soul, in your mind, in your heart of hearts. The Eucharist is transforming for all who receive Me with faith and with confident devotion.”
God has so much more for us than what many of us are settling for. He always does His part. Let’s try in the weeks ahead to work more on our part.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley