HOMILY for the 18th Sunday per annum (B)
The people ask for a sign that they might believe in Christ, a work that they might know who he is. In response Jesus gives us his entire self, so that the miracle of the Eucharist, in which he is really present, is the sign, the great work he does for us. And this sign points to Christ’s humility, to his total self-gift; it points to who Christ is, that is, our God of Love in the flesh.
We often call the Eucharist the Host, which comes from the Latin, Hostia meaning Victim. And Christ in the Eucharist is a ‘victim’ of love, given to us as the divine sign of God’s sacrificial love for us. Because here, in the Mass, Christ’s sacrifice of Calvary is perpetuated for us, so that you and I, who could not be at the historical Calvary, may be present with him on the Cross and receive the saving effects of the redemption he won for us at Calvary.
However, in so far as the Eucharist is a sacred meal, a foretaste of the Banquet of the Lamb, we can also say that Christ is our host, the one who welcomes us and offers us hospitality. As George Herbert says: “Love bade me welcome… ‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’ So I did sit and eat”.
On the other hand, Christ entrusts himself in the holy Eucharist to his Church. He humble entrusts himself to us, so that, we become his hosts. We welcome him among us through the hospitality we give to his Word and to the Blessed Sacrament. This is why we need to prepare for the Mass, ensuring that we offer him our very best. For centuries we have built beautiful churches as a sign of our hospitality, our welcome to our divine Guest, the Stranger who remains with us as he remained with his disciples at Emmaus. These churches stand as signs to the world of who we believe to be present in our midst. But even more important than this is the way we prepare ourselves to welcome the Lord. We prepare our hearts and minds, our very lives, to welcome him, and an excellent way of doing this is through prayer and Confession.
So, how we prepare to receive him, both materially and spiritually, speaks eloquently of who we believe this Eucharistic sign to be. For here, Jesus is so close to us, and desires so much to be part of our lives that he gives us his own Body and Blood. And he gives the Eucharist as this sign of his love and intimacy in response to the people’s request for a sign that they may believe in Him. Hence the Eucharist is the sign, the test, even, of our faith in Christ. Do we believe his Word so deeply that we believe, as he says, that he is the bread of heaven and this Eucharist is him entirely, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity? That faith has challenged many, right from the time Christ first said it. But we Catholics cling to Christ’s Word, we trust him, and because he is God, we know he can and does become really present in the Eucharist for us. For ours is a faithful, truthful, loving God who desires so much to be united to us that he gives himself to us repeatedly in each Eucharist, working in his priest, in his Church. As St Thomas said, “Truth himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true”.
Hence, the Eucharist is also the sign of our faith, of who we believe Jesus to be, and of the miraculous works of love that God does for us. The Eucharist is Christ’s own self, his grace, strength and life given for us, given to transform us in holiness, to make us like him. For when we become hosts to the Lord, when we consume the Eucharist, we become assimilated by God and are made partakers in his divine nature. So, we are taken into the hospitality, the spaciousness of God; He is our heavenly host.
In this way, if we are truly assimilated by the Eucharist, becoming Eucharistic people, then Christ’s holy Church becomes a sign to the world. We, his mystical Body on earth, stand as a sign to the nations of the work of sanctification that the Holy Spirit effects in human lives. As St Paul says, we are not aimless like those who have no faith, like the “pagans”. Rather, through our lives which are distinct from those around us, we become signs of God among us, of his transforming grace at work to renew creation. Our distinctiveness comes from how we have become like Christ: humble, self-giving, loving. Indeed, we have become victims of love, Hosts, as he is. And what our loving Eucharistic lives point to is that we have our sights set on our heavenly homeland where we, the sons and daughters of God, belong; that eternal marriage feast of heaven where God is our host, and we are united to him in love.