Painting and a sermon

For the last ten days we have been spending a lot of time decorating our new presbytery in Plymouth. I have nothing particularly profound to say about that, it is a mundane task but needs to be done.  We are grateful for all the help we have received so far. I think we are probably almost half way there, so we push on!


Here is the sermon I preached yesterday:






Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (yr A)

Listen, listen to me and you will have good things to eat. Is 55

That verse in our readings caught my attention. The promise of good things to eat always attracts my attention!

From God comes bread and the Word we need. Man was not created just to survive – we need more than calories, we need more than proteins, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. The food we need is not just to keep our bodies alive, but to keep our bodies and souls alive to eternity.

There could be a danger however of separating diet into two: food for our bodies, and food for our souls. That would not be a Christian approach, rather a Gnostic approach. (Gnosticism was an early heresy that the church had to contend with that blended Christianity with dualistic Greek philosophy. It recurs from time to time and is found today in some New Age teachings. But one of its characteristics was to eschew pleasures of the here and now and focus on the pleasures to come – they rejected pleasure in food, drink and sex, for example). The opposite approach is found in various forms of paganism where a pagan seeks to wallow deeply in the pleasure of excessive food or wine or sex and see in that excess a connection with the divine. Christianity steers a course between the two, avoiding both errors.

Food for our bodies is good but there is more. The Bible puts together food to keep bodies alive and that which we need for eternal life (divine food). In Deuteronomy we read:

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. (Dt 8:3)

One of the great sins of our current age is that we take food for granted. Food is taken for granted for the simple fact that we do not see food as coming from God – it comes from a supermarket. All food is a gift of God in creation.

Blessed are you Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have this bread to offer...

And so I think it should be the practice of all Christians to pray before eating meals. The food that nourishes us, comes from God – it is His gift to us, and we should receive it as such.

During Mass the priest takes food, bread and wine, and offers this food to God uniting it with Christ's own gift of Himself to the Father. And in that uniting with Christ, supremely at the words “This is my body.” “This is my blood”, this food of the earth becomes so united with Christ that it becomes Christ's precious body and blood. We receive bread for our bodies and our souls. This is truly food. We ingest and digest the food, and the food becomes part of us, and we become part of Christ for eternity.

This much all Catholics know. But I want to draw your attention to the other aspect of this – because the Mass is always done in the context of the sharing of God's Word. So let us remind ourselves again of the two verses I quoted:

            Listen, listen to me and you will have good things to eat. Is 55

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, ...; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. (Dt 8:3)

Listening to the words of the LORD is intimately connected with being fed by the LORD. So taking in the words we hear at Mass and digesting them is every bit as important to receiving the sacrament itself – in fact the two are united. It is said that when St Francis of Assisi came across a fragment of scripture on the floor he lifted and cradled it in his hands like he would have done if it were the precious body. And that is the way we should approach the Scriptures – for they are divine. And just as it is abhorrent to receive the sacrament inattentively, should we not also think it abhorrent to give little or no attention to God's word?

If we come to Mass without ever having read through the readings beforehand – can we be surprised if we find it difficult to take it in when it is presented to us at Mass? The more time we can spend thinking about the readings beforehand, the more likely we shall hear God speak to us by His Holy Spirit during Mass. It is like going to dinner which has been prepared by someone who cares for us, should we eat it hurriedly, or savour it slowly? Or again, is fast-food more nourishing than food made slowly and lovingly? It is not as if we do not know what is going to be read. One of the glorious gifts of the lectionary is that we know what is going to be read at every Sunday mass in every Catholic Church in the world. So let us use this gift wisely and rightly.

When you come to Mass believe that God is waiting to bestow on you the gift of His Word both through the words of Scripture and the grace of the Sacrament. As we rightly genuflect in the presence of the precious body and blood, so let us genuflect in our minds by attending to God's Word in sacred Scripture. St Mark tells us in his version of today's gospel that before the miraculous feeding of the multitude Christ taught the people – He spoke God's word. With the same compassion Christ had for the people then, so He looks on us as we come to Mass. And just as He taught the people who came to Him, so He teaches us through His word at mass. Just as He fed the multitude with miraculous bread, so a miracle occurs for us at every mass, for we share in His precious body and blood.

            Listen, listen to me and you will have good things to eat. Is 55