The Power of Eucharistic Preaching

Homily for the Eucharistic Gospel Sequence, Year B

The Jews gossiped about Jesus because he said,
“I am the bread that came down from heaven, “
and they said,
“Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?
Do we not know his father and mother?
Then how can he say,
‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Stop gossiping among yourselves.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him,
and I will raise him on the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They shall all be taught by God.
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.
Not that anyone has seen the Father
except the one who is from God;
he has seen the Father.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever has faith has eternal life.
I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

-John 6:51-58

Jesus said to the crowds:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.”
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

-John 6:41-51

Many of Jesus’ disciples who were hearing him said,
“This saying is hard; who can adhere to it?”
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were gossiping about this,
he said to them, “Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending
to where he was before?
It is the spirit that gives life,
while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.”
Jesus knew from the start the ones who would not believe
and the one who would betray him.
And he said,
“For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me
unless it is granted him by my Father.”
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer followed him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter replied him, “Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe
and are made to believe that you are the Holy One of God.”

-John 6:60-69

Who is the best preacher of the faith? Various people have different thoughts about the homiletic style and content of various priests. But one thing is certain: our Savior must have been the best preacher ever. After all, he asserted without hesitation, “I am the Truth.” That would have to mean, if nothing else, that his preaching was as impeccable as he was!

Of course, there are those among the clergy and the laity who are able to find fault even with a homily given by Truth himself. Go figure. But what is the variation between Our Lord’s perfect preaching and his hearers’ very imperfect reply to his preaching? We can see the answer in the model homily and dialogue given here.

The power of preaching is in attraction to the person of the preacher and his message. If his hearers are badly disposed to him or suspect him or, even more, are simply afraid of him, they will not accept his teaching. As any seasoned preacher will tell you, you cannot make people like you or made to believe  them by verbal persuasion alone. Something else has to happen first. We have been told by psychologists over and over again that most of human communication is nonverbal. The good preacher keeps this in mind and accepts from the outset that his words alone will not suffice to do the good he intends in preaching. Something else has occur.

We are drawn by things that give us joy. Attraction is based on the expectation of a delight or a pleasure or a peace in coming close to the one to whom one is attracted. So when Our Lord tells the Jews to stop gossiping among themselves about his well known and humble origins and lack of power, he does not stop them; rather, he simply says both the beginning and the end of his work. First, that no one comes to him unless the Father draw him (that’s the beginning and encouragement of the work) and once he is effectively drawn, he will be raised up on the last day (that’s to enjoy eternal bliss, the bliss the Son sent by the Father came to give us).

This is the difficult truth: openness to the message of salvation is a sign of God’s effective grace to save us. Hardened, murmuring hearts are a sign that the hearers are not at all— or at least not yet—on the way to heaven. These Gospel passages we have been hearing in the last few weeks teach us this clearly: for this discourse on the Bread of Life is the point at which the Savior starts to lose some disciples, who follow him no more because they cannot accept his teaching.

If the bread from heaven “containing in itself all sweetness” does not attract and delight you, then you will not accept the Lord’s teaching. The only way to overcome such a spiritual dullness is by a powerful grace whereby the Father draws us to the Son. Twice now in his Eucharistic discourse in this sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Our Lord has told us that without the Father’s drawing we cannot come to him.

This is a very touching truth, for if we want the bread of life, if we are attracted to the Blessed Sacrament, then it means that the eternal Father is drawing us through love for his Son. This goes for all the truths of the Faith that have been showed to us through Christ: we acknowledge them because we love him, because we are drawn to him by a faith informed by charity, a faith that, as St. Paul says, works through love.

Can’t we hear the accents of love in the words of St. Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go [you who are so loveable, attractive, magnificent, beautiful, powerful!]? You have the words of everlasting life [which I accept because I have been drawn to you so as to be raised up on the last day]!

And this truth have another consoling truth: if we know someone who is not attracted to the Savior and his gifts, our job is to pray for him and show him love. We can leave the verbal persuasion to that happy day when he starts to be drawn to Jesus by the working of grace. Prayer and loving presence first, and then the words will follow.

Is this not particularly the technique of the Savior, the greatest of preachers, who day and night lives in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, loving us and “ever living to intercede for us” without speaking a word. The silence of the sacrament is the greatest homily of all, the most loving and everlasting “non-verbal” communication of the Truth himself.


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