Two men, one Catholic and the other Protestant, were debating about the Eucharist. The Catholic asked, “Chuck, what are the four simplest words in the Bible?” “I don’t know, Tom,” replied the Protestant, “what are they?” “ This is My Body.” “Chuck, those words are so simple, even a four year-old can understand them.” “I know, I know, Tom, but Jesus didn’t want us to take His words literally. He meant us to take them spiritually, symbolically.” “I can understand if you find His words difficult, Chuck. His disciples back then also found them difficult—so difficult, in fact, that most of them left Him that day. The Bible says ‘They walked with Him no more.’ Do you know what verse that is, Chuck? John 6:66, the number of the beast.”
Did you notice in that encounter how the central issue was the human body? One of the two men is very uncomfortable with the claim that God is so in love with us that He wants to give us His Whole Self, including His Real, Sacramental Body.
And did you notice in the encounter in the Gospel (as well as in the First Reading!) the human body is again the central issue?
How important is the body? In his landmark catechesis, Theology of the Body, Pope St. John Paul II says: “the body, and it alone is capable of making visible that which is invisible, the spiritual and divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the invisible mystery hidden in God from time immemorial, and thus to be a sign of it” (Feb 20, 1980). He also speaks of the law of the gift, namely that man only truly finds himself when he makes a sincere gift of himself. After the fall of Adam and Eve (original sin) our passions and motions have become disordered (out of order), we are inclined to use our bodies and minds not to give, but to use and take any one for my sake, instead of loving them for their own sake’s.
We human beings seem to have a lot of problems with our bodies—oddly enough, given that being the substantial union of a soul AND a body is essential to who we are! We are NOT angels, and that is very good! That is our glory, to be not a pure spirit, but an embodied spirit, or a spirit-filled body.
Look at the problems the people in the First Reading are causing, for themselves and for others, by how they are using their bodies. In the midst of a society that is collapsing (implying lots of poor people in want of even basic necessities like food and proper shelter), the prophet speaks of people who are lying around on “beds of ivory”, “eating lambs taken from the flock”, “drinking wine from bowls [not just cups…. bowls ],” engaging in “wanton revelry” (implying sexual impurity). So there is a lot of indulging of bodies going on, while other bodies are being sinfully neglected.
And in the Gospel, the rich man is “dining sumptuously,” pampering his body with food and “purple garments” (indulging his ego by dressing like a king). For whatever reason he simply does not see Larazus and his bodily suffering. God has given the rich man so much and yet he does not share even his scraps with a poor beggar. He does not see the invisible mystery of God being made visible in the bodily presence of another human being, waiting patiently at his door. (There is a saying: “The first duty of love is to listen, or really see, not just look.”) Yet Abraham does see and listen to the rich man now in Hades. He and Lazarus would even help him bodily by dipping the tip of the finger in water and offering it the parched rich man. The only reason they don’t is because they are blocked by the “great chasm” between them and him.
We, on the other hand, are called neither to indulge nor to repress our God-given appetites for food, drink, sleep and sexual intimacy, but rather consciously to control those appetites by focusing our energy on learning how to use our bodies to give to others in whatever need we find them in.
St. Paul talks about how at the end of our lives we will be judged by what we have done, whether good or ill, in the body: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.” (2Cor 4:10)
In medio stat virtu, we say. Virtue lies in the middle between the two extremes of excess and defect. And so we Christians follow Jesus beyond the broad way that leads to the stoic or the addict and into the narrow way that leads to the Promised Land of the mystic. Only the mystic knows the true joy that comes with the habitual (not now-and-then!) harnessing of those good bodily needs and appetites to which God has attached a healthy amount of pleasure (when, after the Fall, they are used in moderation). And the mystic knows, above all, the joy of disciplining those appetites simply out of loving obedience to our Heavenly Bridegroom. When you are in love with someone, your constant thought is how to please the Beloved. And when that becomes the driving motivation of our lives, then we have that lively trust and hope that our Beloved does and will continue to take care of us, no matter what, for rich or for poor, in good times and bad, in sickness and health, until death brings us together face to Face at last!
Allow me to conclude by passing along a little story that captures the law of the gift and how God calls us to use our bodies as a way of making a sincere gift of ourselves, as Christ and St. John Paul II teaches us, for the sake of others. Maybe you have heard it before. It is worth repeating:
THE WEIGHT OF ONE MASS—A True Story
The following true story was related to Sister M. Veronica Murphy by an elderly nun who heard it from the lips of the late Rev. Father Stanislaus SS.CC.
One day many years ago, in a little town in Luxembourg, a Captain of the Forest Guards was in deep conversation with the butcher, when an elderly woman entered the shop. The butcher broke off the conversation to ask the old woman what she wanted. She had come to beg for a little meat, but had no money. The Captain was amused at the conversation which ensued between the poor woman and the butcher: “…only a little meat, but how much are you going to give me?”
“I’m sorry, I have no money, but I’ll hear Mass for you.” Both the butcher and the Captain were good men but very indifferent about religion, so they at once began to scoff at the old woman’s answer.
“All right then,” said the butcher, “you go and hear Mass for me and when you come back I’ll give you as much meat as the Mass is worth.”
The woman left the shop and returned later. She approached the counter and the butcher seeing her said, “All right then, we’ll see.” He took a slip of paper and wrote on it, “I heard a Mass for you.” He then placed the paper on the scales and a tiny bone on the other side, but nothing happened. Next he placed a piece of meat instead of the bone, but still the paper proved heavier. Both men were beginning to feel ashamed of their mockery, but continued their game. A large piece of meat was placed on the balance, but still the paper held its own. The butcher, exasperated, examined the scales, but found they were all right. “What do you want, my good woman? Must I give you a whole leg of lamb?” At this he placed the leg of lamb on the balance, but the paper outweighed the meat. A larger piece of meat was put on, but again the weight remained on the side of the paper. This so impressed the butcher, that he was converted, and promised to give the woman her daily ration of meat.
As for the Captain, he left the shop a changed man, an ardent lover of daily Mass. Two of his sons became priests, one a Jesuit and the other a Father of the Sacred Heart.
Fr. Stanislaus finished by saying, “I am the religious priest of the Sacred Heart, and the Captain was my father.”
From that incident the Captain became a daily Mass participant, and his children were trained to follow his example. Later, when his sons became priests, he advised them to offer Mass well every day and never miss the Sacrifice of the Mass through any fault of their own.
To Download a PDF Version of this Homily, Click Here: 26th Sunday OT Year C
Fr. Thomas Koller, OCD, is a member of the Discalced Carmelite Province of California since 1982. He was ordained in 1990 and in 1999 went back to school to receive a licentiate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. Currently, he teaches Scripture and is a formation director at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon, besides also trying to help the Holy Spirit set off that ticking time bomb of St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body whenever and wherever he can