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August 12, 2018
[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu; St. Francis Church, Kalaupapa]
I have great admiration for caregivers. They take care of sick or disabled people day in and day out, sometimes for years. We know that sick people are not always in the best mood and feel great frustrations that they cannot take care of themselves, so they may easily take out their frustrations on the care giver, which adds even more stress to the caregiver. How can a caregiver continue on this long and arduous journey without the proper nourishment of body and soul?
There are many other people who carry great burdens for many years. A youth who is emotionally abused at home or simply neglected will suffer much and may, like the prophet Elijah, pray for a quick death. A person who wants to care for her family but has lost a job and a home can find one obstacle after another to overcome, and that journey toward sustainability can be very arduous and frustrating. I must admit that dealing with the clergy sex abuse crisis has been a very painful and arduous journey for me and many bishops, and just when it seems things may be turning around, a prominent cardinal resigns as a cardinal because his own scandalous behavior over many years is brought to light, while others in authority looked the other way. It just never seems to end.
One can relate to Elijah, the one prophetic voice of the true and living God in a land filled with false and lying prophets and with the corrupt king’s wife issuing a death threat against him. He just wanted die, begging the Lord to take him. The Lord heard his cry, but responded not in the way he thought but in a more life-giving manner. Instead of death, the Lord sent him an angel to provide him with food and drink. At first he thought this was just a repast to enjoy before returning to his long nap, but the angel woke him up and reminded him that it was food he needed for a journey. Once he ate and drank he walked forty days and forty nights to Horeb, where he would experience an intimate encounter with God.
We all have weariness and can sometimes be overwhelmed with the woes of the world and especially with the problems that are closer to home for each of us. Whether a difficult relationship, an addiction of some kind, a financial crisis, or a deep depression, these things can lead us to wish that the Lord would just take us sooner than later. But in the midst of all this woe, an angel taps us on the shoulder to come and be nourished by the food that is set before us, not just bread and water, but the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ himself. Maybe we don’t recognize the importance of this food, just as Elijah at first thought it was just a temporary respite from his troubles. But perhaps an angel taps us on the shoulder to say, “Take and eat,” because the journey is not over, and with this living bread come down from heaven, we can continue on our journeys with renewed strength and vigor, no matter how difficult or arduous they may be. Maybe this angel needs to tap us on the shoulder a thousand times before we realize that this great gift of love that is set before us is the very person who gave his life for us, who struggled with hard work, rejection, and persecution to the end so that we could arrive out our destination of an intimate encounter with God in the whispering sound of a tiny morsel of the most sacred bread and a tiny sip of the most precious blood in the world. This is the food that can keep us on the arduous journey, turning our tired limbs to offerings of love, our weary spirits to joyful self-giving. This is the scandalous intimacy of God with his beloved people that enables us to join the long and arduous journey through death and all its manifestations to life in all its beauty.
This food we receive in the Eucharist changes everything. It may not take away the burdens we carry, but it enables us to carry them with grace. It may not take away the frustrations of life, but it enables us to accept them with hope for a better future. It may not eliminate our addictions to sin and other self-destructive behaviors, but it allows us to be masters over them rather than to be mastered by them. All this because this is a sacrifice that was first made for us on the cross, that seemed to lead to the shameful death goodness itself, but that ended in the most glorious bursting forth of life. It is effective because it is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, in which we raise our voices to worship and praise God and to thank him for all our blessings. When we do this, it has a way of melting away the misery so that we can make our long and difficult journeys with joy.
But this is not just for us. The bread that Jesus gives us is his flesh for the life of the world. He feeds us with himself, so that we can be “imitators of God, as his beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.” No matter how onerous our problems may be, they can be lightened by this sweet aroma of God’s love, which we are invited to taste and see.