Friday May 4, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Easter
Reading (Acts 9:1-20) Gospel (St. John 6:52-59)
Our Lord, in the Gospel reading this morning, says: "solemnly". In other words, this is the highest, clearest teaching we are going to receive from the lips of Our Lord. "I solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you." Then He goes on to tell us that if we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we will have eternal life. It is not natural food, it is supernatural food; it is something that is spiritual. Even though we cannot see the Lord present, we cannot taste Him present, we cannot perceive anything with the senses, we cannot grasp the Lord; nonetheless, he is there. It is not feeding the body, but it is Him feeding the soul. That is the point we need to understand: It is food for the soul.
He tells how their ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died, nonetheless. It does not mean we will not die a physical death, but rather we will live eternally. The people in the desert died and went into Hades. The Lord, after He died, went into Hades in order to rescue those who, in fact, were just and would believe in Him. He preached the Gospel to them so they, too, could have eternal life. But when they died, they did not go immediately to Purgatory or Heaven, either; they went into Hades, the place of the dead. For those who eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood, it is not a guarantee that we will have immediate entrance into Heaven; but rather it is a guarantee of eternal life. By itself, it is not a guarantee; we cannot suggest that it is okay to just take Communion and then go out and commit mortal sin and, therefore, we have eternal life because we received the Lord. But rather, to eat His flesh and drink His blood implies that we are going to become more like Him, we are going to meditate deeply upon what it is and Who it is we have received, and we will strive to conform our lives to Christ.
Look at Saint Paul, who (at this point in the first reading) was still Saul of Tarsus, breathing out murderous threats against the Church, as we heard. Suddenly, when he has an appearance of the Lord and recognizes the truth of who Jesus is, he changes his life. After three days of fasting, he has realized that the Holy Spirit is going to be at work in him and that God is going to turn him around. He could not live his old way anymore, even though he tells us in his own writings (in his letter to the Galatians) that he surpassed all his classmates in his observance of Judaism and that if there was such a thing as "justification by the law" he would be above all the others because he lived it so well. Yet, he could no longer live it. The law would not justify, only Jesus Christ would justify. So too, for us, we cannot justify by ourselves. No matter how well we can live our lives, we cannot get to Heaven on our own, but only by the Lord, only by being united with Him and conforming ourselves to Him, as Saint Paul did. He changed everything, not just that he was no longer breathing threats against the Church, but he changed the way he was going to live. He accepted the fullness of the truth, he turned his life around, and he began to live in a different way, even to the point of going into the synagogues (after being there for a short period of time) and preaching that Jesus Christ was the Messiah.
So, for us, we need to look into our own hearts, into our own lives. We need to ask ourselves, "Where are the areas of sin in our lives? Where are we persecuting Jesus?" He died for us, and yet we hang on tenaciously to sin rather than hanging on tenaciously to Jesus Christ; in that way, we persecute the Lord. It is like putting the Lord through His Passion all over again every time we go out and sin. So maybe we need, like Saint Paul, to do a little fasting and some praying, asking the Holy Spirit to work within our hearts and show us the areas where we need to change our lives; and then to be willing, like Saint Paul, to change. We have to realize what he gave up: Saint Paul was the star pupil of the greatest rabbi who ever lived. He had his life set. There was no problem for Saul of Tarsus in Judaism, it was all set for him and he had to give up everything he had, his whole course of life, in order to say "Yes" to Jesus Christ and to the sufferings that the Lord Himself would show Paul he had to suffer for the Lordís name. He gave up everything for something which was an act of faith.
How about us? We know Jesus Christ. Are we willing to give up sin for the Lord? Are we willing to change our lives? Are we willing to be conformed to the One we receive in Holy Communion? Then, as we eat His flesh and drink His blood, our soul, and therefore, our life, will be conformed to Him. With Him, then, we will have life and we will share with Him eternal life.
Note: Father Altier does not prepare his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.