Sunday, August 19, 2012

Chew on This

   Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

Have you ever watched 
a dog chewing on a bone?
It’s a slow, 
drawn out process,
as if there’s nothing else 
going on in the world.

Have you ever watched
 a teenage boy eat supper?
(I mean no offense—
I used to be one!)
The food goes down so fast 
you’d think he’d inhaled it.
It’s simply a matter 
of refueling the machine.

Jesus has talked a lot about eating lately.
Following the multiplication of loaves and fishes,
this is the third Sunday in a row
that we hear from his sermon on the bread of life.

In the original Greek of this Sunday’s passage
from Saint John’s Gospel,
we find two different words for eating.
Four times, Jesus uses the verb phagein,
which indicates the way humans eat:
chewing with your mouth closed.
Whoever “eats” this bread will live forever.
But four other times, Jesus uses the verb trogein,
which indicates the way animals eat:
gnawing on something…taking us back to that dog with a bone.
Whoever “gnaws on” my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.

No wonder Jesus provoked
such a strong reaction among his Jewish listeners!
On the surface, his language is—quite frankly—pretty disturbing.

This little lesson in New Testament Greek
prompts an important reflection:
How do we approach the Eucharist—
as fast food…or slow?
The best way for me
to guarantee a compliment on my homily
is to keep it short.
And that also goes for the whole Mass.
A few times this summer,
when the temperature rose above 90 degrees,
I was right there with you!
No one comes more overdressed to this dinner party than me.
But—in general—what’s the big hurry?
Why this rush to eat and run?

I think some of it has to do
with our Catholic sense of obligation.
We Catholics are obligated to attend Mass
on all Sundays and certain holy days.
That’s how we interpret the third commandment.
It’s the Church’s longstanding teaching
that for us to intentionally skip Sunday Mass
without a serious reason is gravely sinful. (cf. Catechism 2177, 2180-2183)

For centuries, this precept has helped to fill the pews.
But—if not properly understood—
it can mess up our thinking quite a bit.
We’re not obliged to come to church
in the same way we’re obliged to show up for work
if we expect to receive our paycheck.
If we’ve come to think of the Mass as something
we need to check off our religious to do list,
a way to punch our spiritual timecards and so avoid the fires of hell,
then it’s little wonder we’d just want to get it over with
as quickly as possible.
There…I’ve fulfilled my obligation!

It’s getting pretty rare these days,
but occasionally I’ve run into families
who’ve maintained a custom of eating a big Sunday dinner.
Mom—maybe Dad—goes all out in cooking the weekly feast,
and everybody comes together
to share a long, leisurely meal.
The good food is a big part of it.
But even more:
it’s chance for the whole family to come together
to talk about the week; to talk about old times;
to talk about the future and their dreams for it.
It isn’t written as a law,
but there is clearly an obligation to come and eat Sunday dinner.
One has a duty to the family…
…but it isn’t fulfilled merely to stay out of trouble.
It’s about love.
It’s about belonging.
It’s about—pardon the expression—eating like that dog:
slowly, intentionally,
as if there’s nothing else going on in the world.

That—my friends—is our obligation to the Mass!

The Lord has built his house for company
and set his table for feasting.
He sends out messengers with the invitation:
Come, eat of my food and drink of my wine!
Leave behind foolishness; progress in wisdom;
here learn the secret to life!
If you want to fill yourselves,
let it not be on the worldly bread
which generations have eaten and still died.
Fill up on me.
Draw your sustenance from me.
The food I give has the power to make you live forever.
And if you want to drink up,
don’t get drunk on wine.
Instead, become intoxicated with my Spirit,
for I have the ability to not merely lift your feelings,
but to raise you up on the last day.

In the Eucharist,
God is giving you something to chew on.
Even during the dog days of summer,
be sure to take your time.

1 comment:

Ann Spazz said...

I have often wondered why Mass is soooo short..45mins in some cases..then out the door...chatting to your friends on the way out, ignoring the 2 or three people who get back down on their knees to do some more praying.

When I was back home visiting my mom, I had a chance to attend a Tridentine Mass..1 hr 15 mins (and that was a Low Mass!). Being raised with the "new" Mass, what struck me most was the last Gospel and the prayers after Mass. A very different experience than what I am used to.