You Are What You Eat (19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2021-08-08)


Homily for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time


Year B: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Ps 34; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)


Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

“You are what you eat”, is an old expression of wisdom, and with today’s readings the Church provides us with a diet. In the gospel passage we heard God, the Son in the Divine Trinity, assuring that he is not an anonymous, distanced force, but rather the one who actually reaches out, and gives himself up for us, so that we might share in his eternal life. But we also heard how this teaching is difficult to receive. The knowledge about Jesus, which the people in the gospel passage have through their sensory impressions, i.e. a knowledge, which the world gives, does not suffice for a full understanding of his being and teaching. It finally takes faith; an assurance about what we do not see.

Even a solid faith, however, can need strengthening. I the first reading from the First book of Kings, we heard the prophet Elijah despair about his whole mission. After his faith had defeated the prophets of the pagan idols on Mount Carmel, in front of Israel’s powerful who under influence of the pagan queen Jezebel had turned away from God, Elijah now finds himself persecuted by the queen’s troops.

And sure, as Christians today we can identify with Elijah’s situation. Perhaps we have sometimes openly questioned, or just refused to worship, the pagan gods of our time – the money fixation, consumerism and hunt for material wealth, the pursuit for individual pleasures, honour and popularity paired with an indifference to suffering of different kinds, utility calculations of relationships, the turning of science into religion, the relativization of weak and unprotected human life, the idea that true human identity can be built upon coincidences like ethnicity, sexuality, political views etc., or the delusion that human nature is constructed by the self. And doing so, perhaps we have been criticized, also by other Christians for “going too far”, “being too dogmatic”, using a “wrong tone”, and treated scornfully, even becoming socially excluded. Or we can feel as total failures when that, which we say or do does not matter or succeed to express our good intentions.

But we heard how God takes the initiative so that Elijah miraculously is provided with food and drink, just as he is giving up. God nourishes Elijah to manage his walk of faith to meet God. Elijah’s food, as well as the manna that Israel ate in the desert and to which Jesus referred in the gospel passage, however is physical food supporting a physical journey. Indeed, our Christian journey happens in this physical world, but it also transcends this world, as we are on our way beyond all the now visible realities to God who is outside of them and exceeds space and time. For our strength on that journey we consequently, just like Elijah in our experiences of hardships of all kinds, need nourishment that is spiritual; food for the soul.

The soul is neither opposite to, nor inside of the body. With St. Thomas Aquinas we can rather say that the body is in the soul. The soul is the holistic principle, the drawing as it were, of the person, which reaches out for the eternal; for that, which exists but can neither be weighed nor measured; for that, which shapes our whole physical existence. The food of the soul is therefore not natural, but supernatural: God’s free gift of himself, also known to us as grace.

“Supernatural” does not refer to fairy-tales, science fiction or something that is unnatural. Instead, it means that the natural, i.e. that, which we perceive through our senses, know through empirical science and affect by our achievements, is exceeded by something greater; yes, by nature’s very cause. Speaking with St. Aquinas, supernatural grace builds upon nature and fulfils it; i.e. turns nature into what it was supposed to be but cannot become on its own, due to original sin.

The fact that the invisible grace “comes down from heaven” as Jesus says, means that it comes to us in natural form, in matter, makes itself accessible, through God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ. Jesus could be seen by his contemporaries. His Church has visible forms, above all the Petrine office, throughout the ages, and confers, in the seven sacraments, in matter, chosen by our Lord himself, grace to our souls through our material bodies. Jesus says that he gives himself as bread, hence is truly presence in the Holy Eucharist. Something only faith helps us to see.

Why then like bread? Bread in itself contains something of the secret of the Passion, and explains it. Bread presupposes that a seed, a wheat grain, is sown in the soil and dies. From this destruction the new spike sprouts. So, earthly bread can carry Christ’s presence because it, just like him, unites death and resurrection to new life. Thus, at his command and through the power of the Holy Spirit it turns into his risen body in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

The world, i.e. all that, which does not strive for the supernatural, provides a lot of spiritual junk food: power, money, pleasures, popularity. The Eucharist, Christ himself as bread, however is our true “fine dining”, the nutritious, totally balanced but also delicious diet to go on. If we do, and allow faith to carry this divine nutrition into more and more cells of our body, we become what we eat – that, which the Apostle Paul in our second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians describes as true love: an “offering and a sacrifice to God”. I.e. not a feeling that comes and goes, not a “right” we demand from someone else. But the will to give of oneself without counting costs, to sacrifice the ego’s need for satisfaction and recognition, for truth: God and his will, proclaimed by the Church on Christ’s behalf at all times.

Such a love is only enabled by the delivery from “all my fears”, i.e. ultimately of death, as mentioned by our responsorial psalm; a delivery fully accomplished by Christ. This turns our intellectual faith into deeds here and now, stepwise in more and more areas, also where it first can chafe and arouse resistance from the value scale of the world tempting with the faster and more short-term comfortable junk food. But the Holy Spirit speaking through the Council of Trent assures that God provides supernatural grace in the extent needed to live just like Christ through his Church teaches us. The crucial question is always if we want to receive, to cooperate.

When the consecrated host of the Eucharist is presented to us with the words “The body of Christ”, we are offered to be drawn into Christ’s own sacrifice, to be strengthened in our supernatural life with God in the eternity starting already here in time. It is no symbol but the most important food of our lives. Therefore, our answer is a short but vigorous creed that in the ordinary form of our Latin rite is to be heard loudly: “Amen” – i.e.: “Yes, really, truly I do believe this; let me become more like you whom I now gratefully receive!”.



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