August 5, 2018
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi
In John’s “Bread of Life” discourse, which we will hear during these 4 Sundays in August, Jesus presents a symbol which functions on multiple levels. The word “bread” comes up over and over again in Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, and it has several different meanings.
At its root, the “bread” Jesus speaks of is the life he shares with the Father. In this bond of love, Jesus finds everything that sustains him. When the devil tempts him in the desert, after 40 days of fasting, to turn stones into loaves of bread, “One does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Or when Jesus is engaged in a conversation with the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s well, and his disciples show up with food from the nearby town and urge him to eat something, he replies: “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” (John 4:32)
He offers this bread to his disciples through his teaching: those who follow his commandments will encounter the same all-sustaining love from the Father. Those who put what he teaches into practice will open themselves to receive the love of the Father. God the Father’s love is constant, but we allow ourselves to receive it completely when we live as the Son did. Those who follow Jesus’ example—who love as he loves— will be drawn into this life-giving love.
This bread of which Jesus speaks in this Bread of Life discourse is also Jesus’ physical body, which Jesus offers completely to the Father on the cross for our redemption. As we will hear Jesus say next Sunday, “The bread that I will give you is my flesh for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)
Finally, the bread of which Jesus speaks in John 6 is his continuing presence in the Eucharist, which we his disciples continue to celebrate today.
The life-giving bread of Jesus’ teaching, the remembrance of his broken body on Calvary, and his continuing presence with us today are all captured in the Sign of the Cross. The sign of the cross is one of the symbols of the celebration of the Eucharist, what many Catholics call “the Mass.”
When we gather to be nourished by the teachings of Jesus at the table of the Word and to be strengthened by his body and blood from the table of the altar, we experience the power of his redeeming love for us flowing from the cross. One of the acclamations sung during the Eucharistic Prayer speaks of this mystery: “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death until you come again in glory.”
We are only here because of the saving death of the Son of God. This gift of his life, drawing us into the mighty mystery of the Father’s love for us all, is central to our faith, is foundational to belief. The cross is the key unlocking the door into the home of the Trinity, into dance of love between Father and Son and Spirit, to which we are invited.
We begin the Mass with sign of the cross: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We end Mass with the same sign: “May Almighty God Bless you in name of Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
There are other times in the celebration of the Mass when we make the “sign of the cross,” such as before the proclamation of the Gospel. The minister says, “A reading from holy gospel according to John” and the people respond, “Glory to you, O Lord.” Then we all make a small sign of the cross on our forehead, lips, and heart, saying quietly: “May the word be in my mind, may the word be on my lips, and may the word be in my heart.” Making the sign of the cross in this way reminds us to listen with an open mind and an open heart to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel, so these saving words become like food on our lips.
In the reforms made to the celebration of the Mass some 50 years ago at the 2nd Vatican Council, the sign of the cross was limited to these basic times, because before it was being used too much and this sign had lost its power. It was like a baseball player before stepping into the batter’s box making the sign of the cross and not even thinking of what he is doing nor what he is saying or what it means. So, the sign of the cross is no longer required during the consecration of the bread and wine during the Eucharistic Prayer nor after one receives Holy Communion.
The sign of the cross reminds us why we are here—because of the love of God shown to us through the saving death of His Only Son.
We are signed with the cross before our baptism, and then joined to this saving action of Jesus in the waters of baptism. Dying with Jesus in the waters of baptism and rising with him to new life, we are joined forever to the living Body of Christ, the Church. This living body is often called the “Mystical Body of Christ.” By baptism, we become members of a people saved by the blood of Christ poured out on the cross. True Christian faith is never about “Jesus and me” but always flows from “Jesus & we.” We only come to know the love of the Lord in a community of faith, never alone or on our own.
God saves a people, not disparate individuals. Look at how God does this in his relationship with the people from whom will come His Son. The gift of manna is given to them all in the desert, so that they all might be fed and strengthened. This gift of bread from heaven is given not just to Moses. Not just to Aaron. Not just to Miriam, but to the entire people of Israel.
The Last Supper was not a private affair between Jesus & the beloved disciple, John, but a communal celebration between Jesus and all the apostles.
In the celebration of the Eucharist we remember we are saved as a member of God’s people by leaving the destructive practice of individualism at the door of the church. You know, the kind of individualism which says I can do what I want, when I want, and forget the rest of you. We leave our own private piety at the door of the church. In here, it’s not about me doing whatever I want to do, but always about us doing things together.
Someone is not going to be saying the “Hail Mary” while the rest are praying the “Our Father.” Someone is not going to stand while others kneeling, though some may have to sit when others kneel because of bad knees or advancing age. A person who genuflects immediately before receiving Communion draws attention to themself and appears to be saying by genuflecting, “Look how holy I am.” Instead, we all pay homage to the living Lord we are about to receive in Communion with the same action, by a slight bow of the head.
We even sing together, and that includes the men, too, especially those men who are fathers whose children are watching for an example of how to worship. We give back to God the praise that is God’s due in song, and as we do so, according to St. Augustine, we pray twice.
What we do in worship at the Mass, we do together, as the People of God.
The response of the beloved, the response of we who are so greatly loved by God, is to love God in return with everything we have and are. We do that in a very special way at the celebration of the Eucharist, as we offer to the Father, with the Son, our lives in a grateful sacrifice of praise.
When we actively and fully participate in singing, responding, and listening, we are open to receive the Lord as he comes to us. When we consciously do so instead of mechanically going through the motions, then we become aware of the Lord’s saving presence in our midst.
We are not spectators. We are not here to watch and be entertained. Rather we give everything we are to the Lord—the attention of our mind, the devotion of our heart, the movement of our body, the focus of our soul, and tongues that speak and sing.
We come here not to “get” something, but to “give” our lives to the Father through His Son in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in doing so to receive more fully the love and life of God.