Aug. 23, 2015: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Click to hear Audio Homily
It was another hot day in downtown Savannah, Georgia. A hostess was standing outside a restaurant, waiting for the customers to arrive. A lady and her 6-yr. old boy approached her. Eager to to invite both to the restaurant, the hostess grabbed a menu. But the little boy said, “I want you to have this,” and handed her a small plastic toy dinosaur. He then shook her hand. She was puzzled; nevertheless, thanked the little boy. The boy and the lady then walked away.
What a puzzling gift that little boy gave her? What is she ever going to do with a plastic dinosaur? The reaction of the people in the Gospel was no different to Jesus’ suggestion that they need to eat his flesh and drink his blood. “This saying is hard. Who can accept it?” Worse, many took offense at such a suggestion and simply stopped following him and returned to their former way of life. We, too, may have difficulty following Jesus; our initial enthusiasm and fervor for Jesus may have waned over time.
Earlier this week in our parish, we had a sharing session for our cluster parishes, facilitated by a team representing the Diocesan pastoral planning committee. They questioned us on the vitality of our parishes and listened as we shared the strengths and the challenges of our parishes. Several parishioners mentioned that we are losing young people and young families; the young are leaving the area, and more importantly the ones who are in our community do not participate in the life of the church. One of the reasons, someone said, is because our way of worship is not attractive or exciting. I agree that our Sunday worship is nothing like that of some of the other Christian churches. We do not have an exciting contemporary band like other churches, pumping out heart pounding music. We do not have dynamic or entertaining speakers to draw people week after week. However, we do have something that no other Christian church has -- body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist in the appearance of an ordinary bread and wine. ‘That’s nice, but that’s not going to draw masses of people,’ some may say. Certainly, if we want to increase numbers in our pews, we should improve our marketing and customer retention programs, right?
Let’s go back to the story of the little boy and the hostess. After the boy left the hostess, the news cameraman who was nearby explained to the hostess that little boy lost his mom recently. Two years before that, when he was 4 years old, he lost his dad. He is now an orphan with his aunt as his guardian. The cameraman explained that the little boy was sick and tired of being sad and seeing sad people around him. So he asked his aunt to purchase for him plastic rubber duckies, dinosaurs, and other trinkets. He resolved to go out to the streets and make people smile. After hearing the story, the hostess began to well up with tears. She walked over and thanked the little boy who is on a mission not to let sadness take over people’s lives. Once that hostess realized the extraordinary love behind the ordinary gift, she was transformed. The little boy made his suffering a gift of love for others; then, joy sprang up in the hearts of his receivers.
Eucharist is an extraordinary gift of God hidden in the ordinary appearance of bread. In the Eucharist, Jesus makes a total of gift of himself--his entire body and soul--to us. How should we respond to such generosity? We know we can’t possibly give back to Jesus in the same way He gives himself to us. He is infinite; we are finite. The only thing we can possibly give that’s of any worth to God is our willingness to love him. God knows perfectly well that everything we have, even the power of loving Him, is already His prior gift to us. No matter. Like a loving parent who is very pleased with the gift the child presents, bought with money the parent gave, God is pleased, immensely pleased, with our desire. He is pleased with our willingness to return His gifts to Him, to give back to the Lord what the Lord has first given to us. Yet, are there not times we withhold our willingness to love him? Are there not times we show our lack of appreciation for his immense gift of himself in the Eucharist?
If we believe in and love the Eucharist, we would long for the mass and not complain about the inconvenient times of the masses that do not fit our already full weekend schedule. As someone said in the Diocesan sharing session, if people recognized the love Jesus is giving to us at mass, our two churches would be jam-packed with people on weekends. But in reality, our churches are not full -- even after decreasing our weekend mass schedule down to three from four, they are not full.
Jesus invites us, his disciples, to offer something beautiful for God--our willingness to love him. Mother Teresa said, "If God who owes nothing to us is ready to impart to us no less than Himself, shall we answer with just a fraction of ourselves? To give ourselves fully to God is a means of receiving God Himself.” Today when we receive the entire Jesus during communion, may we also offer our entire selves,
Take, Lord, receive all I have and possess.
You have given all to me, now I return it.
Give me only Your love and Your grace, that's enough for me.
Your love and Your grace, are enough for me.
-Fr. Paul Yi