18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

I am sure that we all know fallen away Catholics.  Every single one of us probably knows someone who has quit practicing his or her faith: whether it is a friend or a family member.  Many of you have likely heard the excuse: “I can worship God just as well at home.  I don’t need to go to Church.”

There is an element of truth in those statements.  God is everywhere.  We can pray to Him no matter where we are and He does hear us.  That being said, those who say those types of things cannot possibly understand what happens at Mass.  They do not realize the great gift that God wants to give to them in the Holy Eucharist.  If they did, they would never say that they don’t need to go to Church.

When one doesn’t understand the Catholic Faith, it can seem like a list of rules: “Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal; go to Church on Sunday, etc.”  When one isn’t practicing the Faith, the rules can feel like a cage: restricting what one can do and cannot do.  God does not give rules to restrict us; He loves us.  He wants us to be happy and He knows what will make us happy and He knows what will make us miserable.  He created us.  He knows how He made us and He knows best how to fulfill us.  Through the Church we have rules, but these rules aren’t to restrict or control us; they are to help us grow closer to God and avoid what draws us away from Him.  Yes, the Church asks us to keep holy the Lord’s Day, but when we understand what the Mass is, and all the graces available to us through it, why would we willingly stay away?  We wouldn’t.

Next time you hear someone say that they don’t need to go to Church, ask them if they understand what they are missing by not going to Mass.  Mass is not just some obligation: Mass is an opportunity for an intimate encounter with Almighty God.  Jesus, Who Is God, says in today’s Gospel: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  Mass should not be a miserable experience I endure because I have to.  It is meant to connect us to God in a far more exalted way than we can attain to on our own.

In next week’s Gospel, we will hear about how the Israelites misunderstand what Jesus is saying when He talks about the “bread of life”: they are looking for earthly food that will fill their stomachs, but Jesus wants to do more for them than just give them earthly food; He wants to satisfy their souls.  Our hearts were made for God.  Nothing but God can ever satisfy us: “Our hearts are restless,” Saint Augustine says, “until they rest in God.”  All the money and possessions in the world will never make us happy; the only thing that will ever fulfill us is belonging entirely to Jesus Christ.  Many people have a misconception of the Saints.  There is often a stereotype that the Saints were unhappy people.  The truth is just the opposite.  The Saints are the only people who were ever truly happy and content.

There is a spiritual hunger that every single human being experiences.  Some people think that they are unhappy because they are not married; some people think that they are not happy because they are married.  Some think that they would be happy if they had the right job or more money or a bigger house.  The desires of our hearts are infinite; actually, our hearts desire the Infinite.  It is not that if we have more, we will be happy; our hearts actually desire God, Who Is Infinite.  Oftentimes people try to substitute things for God, thinking that material things will fulfill them.  This type of desire is precisely the hunger and thirst that Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel.  We all desire happiness.  We all have restless hearts, which ultimately are seeking a deeper union with the Lord; whether we realize that is what we are thirsting for or not is another question.  What Jesus is really saying, when He says that He is the bread of life is: “Without me, you will never be happy.”

We were made in the image and likeness of God, and God is love.  We were made for love.  No one loves you as much as God loves you.  He wants to satisfy your hearts.  He wants you to love Him more than you love anything else in this world.  He wants to communicate Himself to you and He does just that in Holy Communion.  In the Eucharist, we receive Jesus Christ whole and entire: body, blood, soul and divinity.

Yes, we can pray anywhere and everywhere, but only in Holy Communion can we be so perfectly united to our God.  At Mass, the sacrifice that Our Lord Jesus made of Himself upon Calvary is re-presented to the Father.  The Mass is the most perfect prayer that can be offered, because it is the offering that the Son made of Himself to the Father on behalf of all of us.  There cannot be a more pleasing prayer.

Besides participating in the most efficacious prayer possible, we are also given the greatest gift that the Father could possibly give: the gift of His only Begotten Son.  St. Augustine once said of the Eucharist that “Although God is all-powerful, He is unable to give more; though supremely wise, He knows not how to give more; though vastly rich, He has not more to give.”  How could someone be aware of this great gift that God wants to bestow and say: “I don’t need that.  I’ll just say some prayers at home.  It’s just as good”?

It is important to pray for those who have left the practice of their Faith.  Let us keep them in prayer and also ask the Lord to enlighten our minds and our hearts, that we may ever more fully appreciate the great gift of the Mass.

Lord Jesus, we entrust to Your care all those who have fallen away from the practice of the Faith and from Your Church; we ask You to inspire them to come home.  Lord, help us to ever more deeply appreciate the great gift that You give to us at Mass: the gift of Yourself.  Amen.

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