A few years back, I taught a course at my parish on the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. During one session, I spoke about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist- how bread and wine are changed into the very Body and Blood of Christ. At one point, one of the participants raised her hand, and explained that she felt strongly moved to speak. She told how once she had been attending a daily Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in downtown Washington. The priest who was preaching had just returned from Jerusalem. While he was there, he walked the famous Via Dolorosa- the Way of the Cross- the route tradition says Jesus walked on Good Friday. While she listened to this, the woman thought: “How wonderful to have been so close to Jesus!” Then at that moment, a voice in her heart said, “But not as close as I am to you now.” She knew that voice to be the voice of the Lord, and she has treasured ever since then that reminder that we are never as close to the Lord as when we receive him at Mass, in the Eucharist.
This is something we need to keep in mind as we consider today’s gospel. Jesus’ miracle of loaves and fishes is meant to teach us about the Eucharist. Because just as Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the crowds, so too at Mass a priest does exactly the same thing: He takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to the congregation.
This bread that is broken, however, is no ordinary bread. As the woman in my class reminded us, that bread is the Body of Christ. Jesus is present in that consecrated bread, not in an empty, symbolic way, but in a real, personal way. That’s why we genuflect whenever we pass before a tabernacle- because Jesus himself is there.
When this bread is broken at Mass, it’s a special sign to us that Jesus is able to multiply his presence in the Eucharist just as he multiplied the bread in today’s gospel miracle. In other words, Jesus is present in the same way in the hundreds of millions of consecrated hosts, or wafers of bread, that will be consumed by faithful Catholics at Masses all around the world today.
That’s a pretty amazing thing, if you think about it. However, Jesus is able to multiply his presence in another way too. He does so through you and me. Just like the Eucharistic bread, we too are called the body of Christ. St. Paul says that we are one bread, one body. As individuals, however, we are sent forth at the end of Mass to make Jesus present in our homes and in our communities. In other words, we too are bread that is broken so that Jesus can be present in many places, all at the same time.
I know of a church in a rough part of the Bronx that is under the pastoral care of a group of Franciscan priests and brothers. They’ve made a point of getting to know the people in the neighborhood. When they meet them on the sidewalk in front of the church, they’ll often say, “Jesus is inside. Why don’t you stop in and pray?” And many people do! However, shouldn’t we be able to say that about our own homes too? Shouldn’t people be able to find Jesus under our roof because we are such good witnesses to Jesus? We must always remember that just as Jesus broke the bread to nourish everyone in the crowd, we are bread broken so that the world might be nourished through our witness to Christ.
In another, way however, many of us are already broken. Not broken bread, but broken people. We all have wounds and hurts that we carry with us, and we come to Jesus in the Eucharist, seeking to be made whole again. We come so that the hardships of life won’t crush us, but will instead bring us a little bit closer to Christ- he who was broken on the cross so that we might be healed. We seek broken bread to heal our very brokenness.
Just consider today’s gospel. Great crowds of people had followed Jesus into the wilderness- looking for hope, looking for meaning, looking for healing, looking for love, looking for God. Jesus knew their needs. He had pity on them; he cured their illnesses, and fed them until they were all satisfied.
And isn’t that what Jesus does for us in the Eucharist? Isn’t that what Jesus can do for us, right now? We come to him in our brokenness, and he in turn gives himself to us. He gives us his “eu charis,” which means “good gift” and he nourishes us, forgives us, strengthens us, heals us, and fills us with his own, abundant life. He heals our loneliness through his Real Presence. And he unites us to his sacrifice on the cross, so that we might be made whole, through his having been broken.
If you’re suffering right now- and that’s probably most of us in some way- I encourage you to attend Mass as often as you can. As I priest, I have the privilege of celebrating daily Mass, and through my ministry I’ve come to know the stories of many of those who worship with me. There’s the terminally ill patient; the lonely widower; the young man whose brother is in Iraq; the employee mistreated by her boss; the father with the sick child; the victim struggling to forgive; the addict looking for freedom; the husband with the strained marriage; the mother of the rebellious teen. We stand around the altar in our brokenness, asking Jesus to put the broken pieces back together.
And he does, because he loves us. That’s why he have us the Eucharist: To feed us as broken bread; to be present to us as broken bread; to send us forth to others as broken bread; and then, through that bread, to make us whole, once again.
Readings for today’s Mass:http://www.usccb.org/nab/073111.shtml