20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – August 19, 2018
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:2-7; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” -Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 49.
In our day and age, in our culture and in our world, and yes, even in the Church, a great temptation faces us. It is that age old temptation; the very first temptation, really. It is the temptation faced by Adam and Eve and the temptation faced by Jesus himself. It is the temptation of self-reliance: to reject our need for Another and instead to proclaim that we can do it ourselves. For instance, Adam and Eve rejected the simple and gentle care of the Lord who told them not to grasp for or “eat” what they could not yet handle. In the desert, Satan tempted Jesus three times to reject his dependence on the Father, and instead to use his divine power to care for himself. In our lives too, we face this temptation: to reject our need for Another and instead to proclaim and live as if we can do it all ourselves. The only issue is that we can’t. Sure, we can take care of some of our needs. But when it comes down to it, we cannot ultimately provide for ourselves. In our loneliness, in our solitude, in our sorrow, we humans cannot provide the solution, “because it is precisely [our human] needs that must be resolved” (1). We need Someone to do it for us.
What do I mean? If you followed the news, you remember that back in June and early July twelve boys and their coach went exploring a cave in Thailand, and due to flooding got trapped in the cave (2). It was almost a week before rescue crews even found them, and a total of seventeen days before they were rescued. The boys and their coach were trapped; there was nothing they could do. They lacked the ability to save themselves. All they could do was hope and pray that someone would save them. In this situation, they were acutely aware of their need for another and their inability to save themselves. They knew someone else would have to provide the solution, that someone would have to do it for them.
But also, think about it from the rescuers point of view. For a while, because rescuing them was such a dangerous option, there was an idea that they could just send supplies into the cave until the water levels went down; they would just feed the boys, leave them in that situation. But no! They crews entered into the condition themselves. In the midst of that rescue, one of the divers died; in an effort to restore the boys and the coach to their families and to the community, in entering into that condition, one man gave his life. And many others gave of their lives through their time and resources: expert divers, military crews, international aid. Great sacrifices were made to restore the communion.
When we can see this reality in our own lives, when we can see that we too are in need of Another, Someone who can provide for us and save us, it is then that the message and joy of the Gospel will begin to make sense. It is when we can see and acknowledge that, ultimately, we cannot provide for ourselves, that the person and work of Jesus Christ begins to make sense.
The Lord did not just send us help. He did not just give us food and leave us in our condition. No, the Lord entered into our condition (c.f., John 1:14, Phil. 2:7). The Lord became one of us when he simply could have helped us. And it was by becoming man, by entering into our condition, that the Lord is able to resolve all of our greatest needs, to provide us with what we are unable to provide for ourselves, to give us the “bread” that our humanity is in need of.
When our Lord tells us in today’s Gospel that he is the “living bread,” that his flesh is “true food” and his blood is “true drink,” he is making a bold claim. He is claiming that it is through his flesh and blood that all of our needs will be provided for; through his flesh and blood that we will be saved and given the life that we so desperately want; it is through his flesh and blood that the “fullness of life” (c.f., John 10:10) that he promises will be ours, that communion with the Lord will be ours. But it is also a claim that it will come only through sacrifice. Just like the divers had to sacrifice much in order to restore communion, in order to restore the boys and their coach to life outside the cave, so too, sacrifice is involved in the work of Jesus Christ. And he didn’t just sacrifice money or time, but he sacrificed himself, he gave himself. Through his sacrificial death on the cross, he gives us what we are unable to give ourselves: he gives us everything, he gives us life, the fullness of life. And so, when we come to mass and receive the Eucharist, we are not just receiving some reward for being perfect, but rather we are receiving a powerful remedy for our weakness and our need.
The Eucharist is not magic! Because “unless we can [first] acknowledge our concrete and limited situation,” what is being offered to us in the Eucharist will never make sense and will not help us (3). If we cannot admit our own weakness, if we cannot kneel before the Lord and truly say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,” if we cannot beg the Lord to heal and save our heavydirtysouls (4)—the Eucharist is just a mere symbol, it does us no good.
In our Church herself, one area where this healing and need for salvation is most critical is in Her leadership. As you may know if you have been reading the news, our Church is undergoing a major crisis due to the crimes and sins of many bishops who have covered-up the abuse of children by priests. This situation has become far worse than we could have imagined as the crimes and sins of the former Cardinal and archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, have come to light, and also with the release of the Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania, which detailed the abuse of thousands of children and young people in that state by priests over a period of seven decades.
Bishop Kemme has been one of the first to condemn the crimes of these bishops, and to acknowledge the right we have to be angry with the leadership of the Church. This behavior on their part is inexcusable, and we as a diocese resolutely express and offer our prayers and support for any victims of abuse from clergy. Bishop Kemme has also asked me to assure you that “all credible allegations of sexual abuse of children and youth in the Diocese of Wichita have been, and will be, thoroughly, fairly, and transparently addressed following the norms of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth with the oversight of the Diocesan Charter Review Board.” Furthermore, he wants to assure you that neither he nor any of the priests currently serving in ministry today have any credible allegations of abuse of minors, and that “the diocese is thoroughly committed to providing a safe environment for everyone, especially those who are minors and in vulnerable circumstances” (5).
In these sins of the leadership of the Church, we see men who fell into that primordial temptation. When situations got tough, when difficult decisions had to be made, when their own reputation, the reputation of the Church, and the reputation of the clergy was threatened—when they were tempted to take matters into their own hands and to give into self-reliance and self-sustenance, the greatest and most unfathomable sins were committed. “Rather than letting themselves be led by the Spirit in the way of love, rather than being passionate about communicating the beauty and the joy of the Gospel and seeking out the lost among the immense crowds that thirst for Christ,” these bishops decided, instead, to try to save themselves and their own reputation (6). The problem? Like the boys and the coach stuck in the cave, this was a situation from which they could not save themselves. They needed to humbly place it in the hands of Another. But instead, they gave into the temptation to rely only on themselves.
My dear brothers and sisters: these are grave sins that have caused damage far beyond the Church herself. Communion has been broken, relationships have been shattered, lives have been destroyed. And the only way that communion can be restored is through sacrifice.
In order to restore our communion and relationship to Himself, the Father sent his only Son, God became man, he entered into our broken humanity to save us. In this crisis in the Church, we must allow the Lord to enter in. In this great drama that will continue to play out, we as Christians must not hide His presence nor forget his Incarnation (7). We must beg him to be gracious in mercy, to be more merciful to us and our Church than we deserve. But most of all, we must feed on his flesh and blood, we must beg him to give us the food and the grace that will save us in our need. The broken communion we are now experiencing will be restored only through sacrifice, and the perfect sacrifice is the one we celebrate here and now on this altar: the sacrifice of Love himself, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
From Bishop Kemme:
- Bishop Kemme intends to pray and fast on First Fridays in reparation for the sins of priests and bishops and invites the priests, religious and faithful to join him if they so desire.
- Bishop Kemme also invites all the faithful to attend a special Mass at the Cathedral on October 28. The mass will be offered for anyone who has in any way been victimized in their lives, including the victims of abortion, sexual abuse, or any other form of abuse.
- Furthermore, Bishop Kemme wants to encourage all victims who have not yet come forward to courageously identify themselves and notify the Diocese of any allegation of harm by a bishop, priest, religious or anyone representing the Church. To do so, please contact the Victim’s Assistance Coordinator, Mrs. Therese Seiler at (316) 269-3900.
1) Giussani, The Journey to Truth Is an Experience, 55.
3) Francis, Gaudete et Exultate, 50.
4) Twenty One Pilots, “Heavydirtysoul,” from their album Blurryface.
5) Most Reverend Carl A. Kemme, Letter to the Priests (August 16, 2018).
6) Francis, Gaudete et Exultate, 57.
7) Song: Hoy Arriesgaré