Richard Leonard | May 20 2008 - 11:42am | 1 comment
Many years ago now, Pope John Paul II went to Lima, Peru. There he was met by a massive crowd of two million people. Instead of the usual greetings from the President and the Cardinal, two people from a shantytown stepped forward to the microphone. Their names were Irene and Viktor Charo. As the huge crowd went quiet, they begin to speak to the Pope. "Holy Father, we are hungry, we are sick, we lack work, our children die before their time." "Yet we believe Holy Father, we believe in the God of life. And we hunger for bread." Before a hushed crowd, the Pope replied in his best Spanish. "You tell me you hunger for bread." "Yes, yes", the millions yelled in reply. "You tell me you hunger for God", said the Pope and again the crowd swelled with an emphatic "Yes! Yes!" "I want this hunger for God to remain; I want your hunger for bread to be satisfied." The Pope then turned to the generals and the wealthy politicians gathered there - many of them devout Catholics - and said very starkly, "I won’t simply say share what you have. I will say give it back. Give it back – it belongs to the poor." As extraordinary as the Pope’s words were that day, Jesus words about the Eucharist in today’s Gospel are even more so. In the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel many people were so horrified by the claims Jesus makes for the reality of his presence in the Eucharist, they stopped following him. John clearly links Jesus giving himself for the sake of God’s kingdom and our redemption, with the communion we share with Him in every Mass. When we receive the Risen Christ in communion it’s not a symbol of his presence or a sign of his life to which we say ’Amen.’ It is Christ who hosts us, who gives us himself so that we might be transformed into His image and likeness. In modern language Christ says to us at every Mass, "Here I am, broken and poured out in love for you. Take me. I’m one with you." The danger with all gifts, and most especially with this gift, is that we can think it’s just for us, an intimate moment between each of us and Christ. It is that, but it’s also much more. St Augustine in a sermon on the Eucharist on the 9th August, 413 wrote that the Mass was about three things: goodness, unity and charity. Augustine taught that if we were not better people, working for unity and loving each other away from the Eucharist, it fails to achieve its purpose. Hence, like the Pope in Peru, many people have linked the reception of the Bread of Life here with the giving of bread which sustains life away from here. On average in our world 26,000 die everyday of starvation. John F Kennedy observed in 1961, "The only thing standing between us and the elimination of hunger is our desire to see it." We could feed all the world’s poor. We choose not to. In a talk on the Eucharist, the then Jesuit General, Fr Pedro Arrupe said, "while there is hunger in the world then our Eucharists are incomplete." By that he didn’t mean that when we gather for Mass anything is wrong. Rather he meant that when we gather around this holy table for this sacred meal while people still starve in the world, then something vital is lacking. There’s an emptiness. Yet it’s an emptiness that invites us in. The God who comes to us at every Eucharist as real food is the same God that asks, "when I was hungry did you feed me?" This question says that just as God feeds us, so we too should and can feed each other. May this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ give us the strength of our convictions. May the real food and drink we provide away from this sacred table prove to the world the power of the Eucharist to change us into a people that are good, unifying and loving. And may we not just share with the poor from our excesses, but give them back the food that is rightly theirs. Richard Leonard, S.J.