17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

     There is an old adage in business called the rule of 7 which says a potential customer needs to hear about a product at least 7 times before buying it. While I’m not sure I need to hear something 7 times to be convinced of its importance, it is certainly true that the more I learn about something, the easier it is for me to buy into it. This is why for the next 5 weeks, the Church turns Her attention to the 6th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, where Jesus teaches us about the source and summit of our Christian faith, the Eucharist.

     Jesus begins His teaching on the Eucharist with the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Right away He shows us that nothing is impossible for God. After all, if He can feed 5,000 men with only 5 loaves and 2 fish, He is certainly able to transform simple bread and wine into His own, Body and Blood. But Jesus doesn’t just show us of His power, no He shows us of His desire to satisfy our needs. Just as He satisfied the physical needs of the thousands who were following after Him, He continues to satisfy those who follow Him with the Eucharist.

     All of us know that food is essential to our human flourishing. Yet when we stop to think about it, food contributes to our physical, social and our mental health. We all know that food nourishes, repairs and refreshes our bodies. About a year ago, I was called to consult on an 80-year-old obese pneumonia patient. While his pneumonia was getting better his mental status had regressed to a point where he was barely alert. Reading through his medical chart, I realized that for nearly a week he was only being given an intravenous sugar and saline solution. While he could have potentially lived for weeks off of his own weight, after just a few days, with no substantive nutrition he had grown too weak to have any meaningful cognitive function. Once I called the doctor out for, in my opinion, trying to kill the patient, he received more substantive nutrition and was discharged from the hospital 3 days later. While food is essential for our physical health, it is also good for us socially. Studies show that children who eat with their family have a lower risk of developing alcohol and substance abuse and tend to perform better in school.[1] While family dinners can certainly be stressful, it is true that food is also good for our mental health. In fact, studies show that eating a meal as a family relieves stress.[2]

     As Catholics, we believe Jesus offers us true food in the Eucharist. If physical food repairs, nourishes and refuels our bodies while bringing social benefits and joy to our lives, then our spiritual food, the Eucharist, must also repair, replenish, nourish and refresh our souls while bringing social benefits and joy to our lives. Did you know that going to church boosts your immune system, lowers blood pressure, and helps you live longer?[3] Additionally, frequent churchgoers are significantly less likely to be depressed,[4] and students who attend church have a higher GPA.[5]

     It’s the beautiful lesson from today’s Gospel. Jesus asks the people to give what little they have and provides more than they could ever use. Isn’t this also true today? Will not Jesus take simple bread and wine and in just a few moments, offer us spiritual food and drink that will give us the strength to forgive, to love, to hope, to pray and to serve? Will we not, like the boy in today’s Gospel, take a seemingly insignificant food and drink and offer it to God who will then take it and transform it into Himself and use it to repair, refresh and refuel our soul while uniting us together and bringing us joy?

     For these five weeks, we will have the opportunity to reflect on what it means when Jesus tells us that He is the Bread of Life. It begs us to stop and ask ourselves what we truly believe about the Eucharist. In just a few moments when we approach the altar to receive Holy Communion, what will see, what will we be thinking, what will we hold in our heart? How we answer these questions will depend on what, or should I say who, we believe the Eucharist truly is.

      These five weeks then invite us to once again recognize that our true nourishment rests in the Eucharist and to turn back to the Eucharist with greater devotion. So Jesus starts His teaching on the Eucharist by showing us that His food truly nourishes us. Have you stopped to ask what specific blessings the Eucharist brings into your life? Why not spend some time this week reflecting on why concretely the Eucharist is important in your life?

[1] Miller, Daniel P., Jane Waldfogel, and Wen-Jui Han. “Family Meals and Child Academic and Behavioral Outcomes.” Child Development 83, no. 6 (2012): 2104-120. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01825.x.

[2] Jacob, J. I., S. Allen, E. J. Hill, N. L. Mead, and M. Ferris. “Work Interference with Dinnertime as a Mediator and Moderator Between Work Hours and Work and Family Outcomes.” Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal 36, no. 4 (2008): 310-27. doi:10.1177/1077727×08316025.

[3] VanderWeele, T.J. Religion and health: a synthesis. In: Peteet, J.R. and Balboni, M.J. (eds.). Spirituality and Religion within the Culture of Medicine: From Evidence to Practice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[4] Vanderweele, Tyler J., Shanshan Li, Alexander C. Tsai, and Ichiro Kawachi. “Association Between Religious Service Attendance and Lower Suicide Rates Among US Women.” JAMA Psychiatry 73, no. 8 (2016): 845. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.1243.

[5] Glanville, Jennifer L., David Sikkink, and Edwin I. Hernández. “Religious Involvement and Educational Outcomes: The Role of Social Capital and Extracurricular Participation.” The Sociological Quarterly 49, no. 1 (2008): 105-37. doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.2007.00108.x.

One thought on “17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

  1. Love that you do this. You’re a wonderful homilist! This way I can rehear, rethink and rejoice! Thank you for adding your research notes also!

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