Relive Bishop Robert Brennan’s Homily from the Eucharistic Revival

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Inspiration, Media, Queens, NY

Looking out at all of us gathered here this day, I can’t help but think of a prayer in the earlier English translation of the Roman Missal: “How wonderful are the works of the Spirit revealed in so many gifts, yet how marvelous is the unity the Spirit creates from this diversity as he dwells in the hearts of your children filling the world with his presence.” The Holy Spirit is here today! You are here. The world is here! Thank you for your presence. You are VERY VERY welcome.

Allow me to give a special welcome to our neophytes — those who were baptized this Easter. We are not only glad you are here today, but we are thrilled that you are part of the family. We are inspired by your embrace of the faith. You remind us of the precious gift that is ours through faith. We love you, our newest brothers and sisters!

Bread of Life

We just heard one of the saddest lines in the Bible: “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him” (Jn. 6:66). Wow, that hurts. But, you know what is really sad about this statement? We are  not talking about a hostile crowd. These were not people out to trip him up. To a certain extent they were believers, or at least they wanted to know more about Jesus.

These verses come at the end of the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, a portion of the Gospel known as “The Bread of Life Discourse.” You know the story. It begins with the feeding of the multitude. “A large crowd” of people followed him and were hanging on his every word. As he begins to speak of himself as the bread from heaven, the bread of life, they begin to become more and more uncomfortable. “How can he give us his flesh to eat?” they ask. Jesus doubles down, “Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. The man who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn. 6:52-56).

So here we have it; people who are keenly interested in what Jesus is teaching, people who might even want to follow him and his Gospel, but because of the teaching on the Bread of Life decide to walk away. This is sad indeed.

But notice what Jesus doesn’t do. He doesn’t run after them. He doesn’t say, “Wait — I didn’t mean it so literally; wait — I am just using images.” I guess Jesus means what he says.

Now, this saddest of lines, that many walked away from, is followed by one of the most profound exchanges. Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks, “Do you want to leave me too?” And Simon Peter responds for all of them, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (cf. John 6:67-69).

Wow, thank God Peter and the apostles stayed. They hand on to us the gift that Jesus would give to them.

Why did they stay? After all, Peter and the apostles must have been as confused — perhaps even horrified — as everyone else in the crowd.

Well, in the end it is all about a relationship of trust. Peter doesn’t say, “Of course, Jesus we understand completely.” No, I don’t think they understood at all. Rather, he and the others heard Jesus’ teaching not just that day but over a period of time. They had seen Jesus’ works. They encountered him personally. They spent time with him, lots of time. They heard his words, but more than his words; the conviction in them, the authority in them, the tender mercy in them. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” We may not get it, but we know you and we trust you.

Friends, this is our story. There are many mysteries in life. Yes, there are many struggles along the way. We have many questions we might want to ask the Lord. We might have moments of doubt and we can grow discouraged by the doubt of others or by seeing believers walking away. But like Peter, we know that we want to stick with Jesus. We know that we need him. We love him.

You are here today because you love Jesus. Am I right?

And so with Peter we say, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

The encounter with Christ

Here is the first step in Eucharistic Revival. Before we can speak about belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, we must have that real encounter with Jesus. It is necessary to believe he exists, that he lives even today and that he is concerned for me. We need to know him, not simply to know about him but really to know him, to love him, and see him as relevant to our lives.

What do I mean?

The name of Jesus is certainly one of the most well known in all the world. Many know about him. One can know Jesus and reject him. One can know him as a figure in history, perhaps even a great person worthy of imitation. It is even possible to accept him as having risen from the dead, but now in some sort of disinterested, distant state — nice, but irrelevant. On the other hand, there is a big tendency to see Jesus as a figure of my own creation. It sounds harsh but to make him out to be an imaginary friend; there when I need him, silent when I don’t, saying exactly what I want to hear and not saying what I don’t want to hear.

I ask you; how can you believe in the real presence in the Eucharist of someone whom you don’t believe really exists as a living person in his own right?  How do you believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist if he is only a product of your own mind? Friends, this is the real crisis of faith and this is what needs to be addressed. This ultimately is our mission, to know and love the risen Lord Jesus Christ — and to bear witness to him that others may know him — and know him as he truly is. Through our faith and our joy we might bring others to desire to know him, to love him, to be loved by him. Friends, we gather this day really to renew our own encounter with Jesus Christ. It is more prevalent than you might think.

At the beginning of his pontificate Pope Benedict XVI said, “There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him” (Homily from the inauguration of his pontificate, April 24, 2005).

And Pope Francis early on in his pontificate says: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord’” (“Evangelii Gaudium,” 2).

The Last Supper

Back to the apostles. Jesus would eventually give this gift of the Bread of Life to them on the night before he died. “Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my body which will be given up for you. Take this all of you and drink from it for this is the chalice of my blood. The blood of the new and everlasting covenant which will be poured out for you.”

His body would be given up and his blood poured out for them, for us, that very next day on the cross. That same body would be raised up on Easter Sunday. And that same body would be given to them again, and again, and again, when they would obey that command given to them that night, “do this in memory of me.”

We see in the Acts of the Apostles, today’s first reading, that after all this Peter gets it. After his encounter with the risen Jesus, with the power of the Holy Spirit, and sharing regularly in the breaking of the bread, Peter becomes an effective witness of Jesus who is living and present in their midst. Not only does Peter find bold words, but we see that the Lord Jesus heals and even works miracles at Peter’s words and hands. How powerful that Eucharistic presence is.

I believe

Exactly 25 years ago this very month, in the April 1999 edition of Magnificat, I came across a poem by Rita Simmonds. I’ve followed her work over the years. (It turns out that she was living right here in Brooklyn around that time.) Since then, she has published this poem in two books that I know of. One of those is published by Magnificat under the title, “He Called.” Allow me to conclude with her poem. Realize that what happens today is nothing short of heaven coming down to earth. God is so very near.