When Jesus names himself as “The Bread of Life” in Todays Gospel (John 6:24-35) and then later at the Last Supper takes the Passover Bread and says “This is my Body”, (Mark 14:22) it is clear that he is saying something very significant about his continuing presence with us in this way. Of course, the bread that the priest blesses is not the only way Jesus is present with us ; for he also tells us that he will be present in the sick and the poor when we help them. We know too that God is present everywhere; so that all of creation from the stars in the Universe to the tiniest flower proclaims God’s power and glory. So why then does Jesus pick out this bread in a special way?
I think that part of the answer is that God knows well what we humans are like. We are physical beings, and so we express ourselves in physical ways. We do not just say ‘Hello’ to someone we love, we give them a hug or kiss. We do not just say “Happy Birthday” to someone, we give them a Card, and maybe a Present too. We may know that these people love and care about us without these outward signs, but the outward signs, the hug or the Card, somehow express something that isn’t there in just words.
This is surely why God comes to us as the man who we know is Our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, God is always invisibly with us in any number of ways, but God knows our need for outward signs; and so deliberately chooses to make himself visible for us as a fellow human being. Jesus then takes this one step further; for when his human life with us is finished, he gives us an outward sign, the bread and wine at the Last Supper, that will always affirm what we hear him say at the end of the Gospel of Matthew. “Remember I am with you always, to the end of time.” (Matt 28:20) This marvellous gift of his special presence is something that those of us who go to Mass regularly get so used to, that if we are not careful, we begin to forget how wonderful this gift is.
What can we do then to wake ourselves up to the wonder of this gift? Last week I mentioned rather forcefully the need for the priest to help all of us with this, by the way he celebrates the Mass; but in the end we have to remember that Christ is present for us whatever the priest is like, and so it is up to each one of you to realise this wonderful presence for yourself in one way or another.
In the old days, as many of you know, Catholics were taught that we had to do certain things to indicate God’s presence in this way. We were taught to genuflect, to go down on one knee, as we came to receive, to make the sign of the cross after we received, and to go back to our seat and kneel in silent prayer when that was over. I’m always glad to see that even if people do not kneel before they come up, worried perhaps that the person behind might fall over them, many bow just before they receive Communion, and many still make the sign of the cross afterwards. These are things that I wish all of us would do, rather than coming up as if we were queuing for a bus, and showing no outward sign that what we are doing is far more important than that.
Note, that doing such things is not just a way for us to more fully realise what we are doing and who we are meeting; we are also doing it for others. People new to churchgoing, as well as children who come to church with us, will only know how important this Presence is if we show it by some outward signs. But beware! If such outward signs become just a habit – something we do without thinking about it – then although it might help visitors, it won’t help us. Unless we accompany our outward actions by inner prayer, unless we admit that sometimes we fail to concentrate as much as we should, much of the point of these outward actions is lost.
Did you notice what St Paul said in our 2nd Reading? He was talking to fresh new enthusiastic Christians, and yet he has to say “Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth.” We too must ask God to help us with this regular renewal of the mind. We may be distracted at Mass, especially if we have little children to look after, (and being distracted happens to the Priest and not just to you) but even then deep down, we have to really KNOW what we are doing. We need to know this even in the midst of distractions, for otherwise we are in danger of becoming hypocrites, saying things with our lips whilst our hearts are somewhere else. And you know what Jesus thought of people like that, don’t you!