19th Sunday of Ordinary Time (1 Kgs 19:4-8; Jn 6:41-51) “The Eucharist: Food for the Journey” PDF Version
Homily for 19thSunday of OT, Year B (2018): 1 Kg 19:4-8; Jn 6:41-51
Over the past two Sundays, we discovered how Jesus Christ and His People relived and brought to fulfillment two events from their sacred history, the feeding of the People by the Prophet Elisha and the gift of the Manna during the Exodus from Egypt. However, it was not only events from the past the Our Lord relived and brought to fulfillment during His 33 years upon the earth.
We discover that Jesus also relived and brought to fulfillment all of the words and actions of the Prophets of the Old Testament. Jesus is the great prophet foretold by Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy, the one who would lead God’s people to the fullness of truth and righteousness. All of the words and actions of the prophets of old will be proclaimed once again by Jesus Christ, and He, like the ancient sages, will be persecuted and put to death for being the voice of God to a world that was dull and hostile to these words of truth.
This is not to say that Jesus is somehow the reincarnation of the ancient prophets, akin to how the Tibetan Buddhists believe their Dalai Lama to be the reincarnation of the Dalai Lamas’ that came before them. No, each of the prophets were their own person, who lived only one life and after death had their souls go down into the underworld to await the day the Son of God would bring them to paradise.
Of all the Old Testament Prophets, the one whom Jesus most resembled was the Prophet Elijah. Many people in the time of Christ believed that a sigh the Messiah had come into the world was that Elijah would return, coming down from heaven with greater splendour that resembled that day he was taken in a fiery chariot to stand before the Throne of God, being alongside the patriarch Enoch one of two men who were permitted to enter into heaven before Jesus Christ descended into hell and set free all righteous men and women who awaited the salvation that was won in Christ’s Sacred Blood.
It was for this reason that the People were particularly attentive in observing how the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth would resemble the life and actions of the Prophet Elijah as a sign that Jesus was in fact the Promised Messiah and would perform wonders and miracles that were even greater than those of Elijah the Tishbite.
Our first reading today marks one of the most trying moments in the life of Elijah. He has become despondent and void of hope after being persecuted and rejected for being the Lord’s prophet. He desires death, and while unwilling to offend the Lord in taking his own life, he prays that God will set Him free from his heavy yoke. However, God is not yet finished with Elijah and gives him bread to restore him in both body and spirit, affirming Elijah that he has done well but that more is required of him until the chosen moment God would bring him body and soul into his heavenly reward.
So too will Jesus Christ like Elijah undergo profound persecution and suffering for being the Lord’s prophet, to the point of asking His Heavenly Father to set Him free of His bitter chalice, but unlike Elijah, Jesus never lost hope and totally surrendered Himself to the Will of His Heavenly Father. In doing so, He revealed that He is truly the Bread of Life that gives hope and life to the world, and that to eat of His Flesh is to receive that food for the journey, a food similar to what Elijah ate long ago to strengthen him in his desperation.
Thus, the bread that Elijah ate was the first foreshadowing of the Heavenly Bread, the Eucharist, that Christians receive as food for the journey, in both the joys and sorrows of earthly life and as a means to help one pass into eternity.
This is why the Church calls the Eucharist by the name Viaticum, or food for the journey. We may not have considered how the Eucharist acts as food for the journey in each of our lives, but if we pause and reflects on this truth of faith, we can likely think of many times the Eucharist sustained in when we were filled with despair and sadness.
Many Catholic Christians have proclaimed that when they were at rock bottom, the ability to receive the Eucharist encouraged them not to give up, but continue along the journey of life knowing that Christ was strengthening them with His very Body and Blood.
Each and every time we receive the bread that Christ gives for the life of the world in His flesh is an opportunity to open our hearts to Jesus and ask Him to be with us on the journey, bringing healing to the wounds we incur and courage when we are afraid to follow in His ways.
It has also been the long standing tradition of our Church that the Holy Eucharist be brought as viaticum to those who are coming to the end of their life. It is often in these final days that the Evil One is at work, filling hearts with despair and lies that Heaven is not real and that it is futile to suffer to the end, and better to simply end one’s life, forsaking the journey that God is guiding one along.
Every Catholic Christian should feel confident in calling upon their priests to bring the Holy Eucharist to someone who is soon to pass away from this world. Alongside receiving the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick, the ability to receive the Eucharist at those final moments of life is a grace filled means to bring hope where despair might be present, to help someone reject the temptation to commit euthanasia but instead choose to receive loving palliative care to help them pass away with true dignity, and to affirm someone they have come to the end of their journey and God is here to nourish them once again with the Bread that brings eternal life.
May we not hesitate to bring this precious gift to those we love.