Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's Mass)
Audio for homily
Who doesn’t love focaccia bread?
Maybe you’ve had the focaccia bread
at Paparazzi or another Italian restaurant.
The Italian word focaccia means “hearth bread”
and it’s derived from the Latin word for hearth which is focus.
The hearth, the center of the home, its focus,
is the place where this simple bread was first baked
by placing flattened balls of dough right in the hot ashes.
The outside of these hearth cakes would burn from contact with hot ash
and so the cake, the bread, needed to brushed of its ashen coating
and broken open, to give up its delicious and nourishing center.
In today’s first scripture,
it was a hearth cake Elijah found by his head when he woke up
after collapsing under that tree in the desert.
And that hearth bread and a jug of water gave him the strength he needed
for the journey of 40 days and 40 nights to the mountain of God.
I suppose that sounds impossible – unless and until we consider
some of the small things that keep you and me going
when we’re ready to collapse and pack it all in.
How many times have we trudged and suffered
through really difficult circumstances
on the strength of a promise we made? a word we had given?
How often has a memory, an old photograph,
some keepsake in a jewelry box,
or a favorite song we hear on the radio
– how often have such small things rallied us,
strengthened our resolve, revived our hope
and filled our hearts with just the help we needed to keep going?
How often have we read survival stories in which a lost person
seriously hurt, makes it through the danger
by focusing on images of home (and hearth) and loved ones
and the desire to be restored to them.
Sometimes the smallest of things, even the intangible is, in reality,
larger than life, more than what it appears or seems to be
- and powerful beyond any human limitations or expectations.
Sometimes the smallest, intangible things can re-focus us,
can bring us back to the hearth, back to the center
where the warmth and fire of love burn bright.
And of course, the converse is also true.
St. Paul reminds us of this when he cautions how
bitterness and fury and anger, how shouting and reviling others
- all grieve the very Spirit of God
while kindness and compassion and forgiveness
all invite God’s Spirit to dwell in us, in Christ.
I hope we have all known, more than once,
what a world of difference can be made with one kind word,
with a compassionate glance or with a forgiving embrace.
Again, these are small gestures that offer more than the eye can see.
Sometimes the smallest of gestures can re-focus us,
can call us back to the hearth, to the center of our relationships
where the warmth and fire of love burn bright.
It was just a little bread from heaven, delivered by an angel,
that fed and strengthened and sustained Elijah in the desert.
In the gospel, Jesus tells us that he is the bread come down from heaven,
bread from heaven for us to eat that we might have life,
a life that is forever.
And the bread of which Jesus speaks here, is the Bread of the Eucharist:
the very Bread we offer, bless, break and share at this altar.
But how could such a small morsel of unleavened bread,
even Bread blessed by God’s Spirit and filled with God’s living grace,
how could this be enough to nourish us, to sustain us?
Think of those souvenirs and mementos whose power
reaches into our hearts and touches and heals us.
Think of the hope for restored love and life
that powers us through our most difficult times:
offering us more than we can see, more than meets the eye.
And then let’s ask, in faith, what might be ours in a morsel of bread,
the Bread Jesus blessed and broke and shared
at the Last Supper on the night before he died,
the night before he was broken for us on the Cross
that we might have life, a life that has no end.
Of course, the Eucharist, the Bread of Life,
is not some personal keepsake from our past.
Nor is the Eucharist something spun out of
whatever hope we’re able to summon up
to keep ourselves going.
Rather, the Eucharist is a gift from Jesus who promised us
that when we break this bread in his name,
it is his Body that we share,
it is the Bread of Life.
Every time we celebrate the Eucharist
and have but a taste of the Sacrament,
we receive a reality that is larger than life,
powerful beyond any human expectations,
so much more than what it may appear or seem to be.
As it was with the ancient hearth bread, covered in ashes
we need to see through the appearances of bread in the Eucharist
and break it open
to find the nourishment it offers us.
And what we find in the broken Bread of the Eucharist
is Jesus himself.
What we celebrate in the Eucharist
is so much more than meets the eye,
so much more than we can see.
When we share in the Eucharist, we come back to the hearth,
back to the center of our lives, back to God, in the Spirit,
dwelling within us: Jesus, the Bread of life.
Pray with me that through faith
we will come to find in the Bread and Cup of the altar
more, so much more, than meets the eye.
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