Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: On Murmuring
Today’s Gospel reading, the third of the five Sundays from the Sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, begins with the Jews murmuring. That’s a great word, murmur. It’s an onomatopoeia, a word that sounds like its meaning, like screech, or bloop, or splash, or grunt, or giggle, etc. Murmur. Mom makes a large meatloaf on Sunday. On Monday it returns to the table with red sauce on it. On Tuesday it’s mixed in with vegetables, and all the family murmurs. Or school starts on a Wednesday, and on Friday the teacher assigns two hours of homework, and among the students there is murmuring.
The Hebrews of the Bible were world class murmurers, especially those who lived in the times of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. These people murmured because the Pharaoh increased their work load. It was all Moses’ fault they said angrily. They murmured when they camped next to the Red Sea and heard that the Pharaoh’s chariots were approaching. They murmured when they had no bread, or no meat, or no water. You would have thought that they would have had faith in God who had cared for their every need, but no, instead of faith there was murmuring.
The murmuring of the Jews of the Exodus was recalled in the murmuring of the Jews in the beginning of today’s Gospel. They complained about Jesus. He had fed them with loaves and fish, but now He said that He was all the bread they needed. He was the Bread of Life that came down from heaven. They were convinced that He did not come down from heaven. They said that they knew his family. And they would have been correct if that was all there was to Jesus. If He were simply human, He could not be the Bread from heaven. He could not give them that which was infinitely greater than the Bread their ancestors ate, the manna.
To accept the gift of the Bread of Life, they had to first accept that Jesus was more than human. He was Divine.
This is the same for us. To understand the miracle and mystery of communion, our starting point must be that Jesus is Divine, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He gives us who He is, Eternal Life. Our Founding Fathers, Washington, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, etc, gave us liberty, but they were not liberty. Abraham Lincoln gave the slaves freedom, but he was not freedom. But Jesus gave the Bread of the Eternal Life because He is the Bread of Life. He is not just a great man. He is Divine. The Bread of Life is Jesus, our Divine Sustenance.
And we take Him into ourselves. When we receive the Eucharist, we are united to Him, to each other and to the whole Body of Christ. It is no wonder that those who wish to destroy the Church begin by attacking the Eucharist. In England of the Sixteenth Century, France of the Eighteenth Century, Mexico of the Twentieth Century, and throughout the world in the Twenty-first century, wherever ISIS or its affiliates rears its head, Christianity is attacked by attacking the Eucharist as well as those who can provide the Eucharist for others. Throughout history and continuing to the present day priests are tortured and killed for saying Mass for the people who long for the Bread of Life.
You can see the hand of the devil here. In the diabolical battle against God’s people, the devil attacks that which binds them to God, the Eucharist. His attacks are not just overt, though. The Father of Lies works subtlety. He tries to convince us that Jesus was a wonderful man, but just that, a man. When Jesus is equated with other great men of history, then the Eucharist has no meaning. It then becomes a pious Catholic practice with no real significance beyond that of holy water. The unbelieving murmur that Catholics are not really receiving the Lord when they go to communion. Some Catholics are swayed by their arguments. And the devil wins a battle in his war on the Kingdom of God.
But the devil loses a battle every time that Mass is celebrated and every time that people receive the Bread of Life. Every Sunday, and for some of us, every day, we enter into the Mystery of the Eucharist. We receive the One who is the Bread of Life.
This is Jesus who unites Himself to Us with His Body and Blood.
This is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Eternal Son of the Father, who humbled Himself to become one of us, to die for us, and then gave the gift of His Life and Death, to us in the form to the Blessed Sacrament.
This is Jesus whom we will take into ourselves today when we receive communion.
We don’t murmur.