Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

In the late 19th Century, a complete text of an ancient church document commonly called The Didache was discovered in a monastic library. The following prayer, almost certainly recited during their Eucharist, was contained in the text. "We give you thanks, Father, for the life and knowledge which you have revealed to us through Jesus your servant. To you be glory forever. As this broken bread scattered on the mountains was gathered and became one, so too, may your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. For glory and power are yours through Jesus Christ for ever."[1]

When the earliest Christians gathered for the Eucharist, men and women worshipped in the same space. Jews and gentiles worshipped together without obliging gentiles to first become Jewish. Free and slave worshipped together, rich and poor worshipped together, young and old worshipped together, healthy and disabled worshipped together.

The earliest Christians realized that the way they gathered for the Eucharist was the way God intended all humanity to live. The power of the Lord's death and resurrection had removed all walls separating humanity from God, and opened the way for the healing of all divisions within the human community.

At Eucharist, like scattered, broken bread now gathered as one, Christians offered the world a creative and transformative vision for all humanity. While much of the wider pagan society brought their social divisions into their religious worship, the earliest Christians were called to bring their worship back into the wider society.Eventually as the Gospel was proclaimed in word and deed, cultural values and norms were slowly transformed.

The early Church used many images to express this reality of humanity gathered as one family. But often, this divine work was imaged as "marriage." In the second reading this weekend, St. Paul states to the Ephesians and to us that Christian marriage is a great mystery that speaks of Christ's love for the Church. In addition to Ephesians, Jesus imaged the Kingdom of God as a wedding banquet (Mt. 22:1-14, 25:1-13), and the Book of Revelation describes the New Jerusalem descending from heaven like a bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:2).

St. Peter, speaking on behalf of all disciples in St. John's Gospel responds to Jesus, "You have the words of eternal life." In our Catholic faith, if salvation is depicted in marital imagery, then marriage realizes its identity in The Eucharist. If Jesus has the words of eternal life, perhaps his words most descriptive of married life were spoken at The Last Supper, "This is my body which will be given for you" (Luke 22:19). While the offering of the body certainly includes the more intimate and passionate moments of marriage, it also extends beyond those moments.

The Catholic Church proclaims that Jesus raised marriage to the dignity of a "sacrament." That is, their married relationship participates in the Lord's paschal mystery, is strengthened by it, and is called to proclaim it through their espoused love. As spouses sacrifice for each other, and together sacrifice for others, they participate in the dying and rising of the Lord Jesus Christ. The spouse visiting the beloved in the nursing home every day for meals when he or she is no longer recognized is also saying, "This is my body given for you."

The Church often refers to the Christian family as a "domestic church." In his many teachings on faithful married life, Saint John Paul II taught that parents passing on the faith to their daughters and sons are "true domestic churches." This handing on of the faith includes time for family prayer, faithful commitment to the sacramental life, and witnessing Gospel values to the wider society.

In particular, the holy father encouraged Christian families to be immersed in the Catholic Church's social teachings and to live and express these teachings through various social ministries, and civic organizations, always based on a virtue of fundamental hospitality. [2]

In his own words, Pope John Paul II taught, "The Christian family is thus called upon to offer everyone a witness of generous and disinterested dedication to social matters, through a 'preferential option' for the poor and disadvantaged. Therefore, advancing in its following of the Lord by special love for all the poor, it must have special concern for the hungry, the poor, the old, the sick, drug victims and those who have no family" (Familiaris Consortio, no. 44).

Parents witness their deep faith by their conjugal and sacrificial love, their public commitment to the sacraments, and the integrity of their public and private lives. From their parents' example, sons and daughters can discover the meaning and purpose of their lives and develop their own intimate relationship with Christ. They recognize their daily calling to grow in God's love for them through their service to others and care for all life.

Peter and others were drawn to Jesus' words because his words took them beyond their own self-interest and self-survival and opened them to an even greater meaning and purpose for their lives. The words "This is my body given up for you" are words that save us, when we grow in the likeness of the one who spoke them.

Parents living these same words instill a sense of personal vocation, responsibility and generous service in their children's conscience formation. This also includes single parents, divorced and widowed parents, and all other family members capable of influencing young people.

There is a strong need for parents to express faith in times when counter cultural attitudes are needed to evangelize society. If Jesus has the words of eternal life, other words are more deadly. Remarking on the good and dark values of American society, Pope John Paul recognized the forces of competition, aggressiveness, unbridled consumerism and corruption. He called for transforming these dark forces with the virtues of mercy, forgiveness, transparency of heart and honesty.[3]

A society calling a business corporation for legal matters "a person," but denying that distinction to an infant in the womb, is losing the words of life. Perhaps the five deadliest words in our culture are "What's in it for me?" These words reduce all choices to self-interest, casting aside any sense of service to others, and leading to further divisions and break downs in the human community.

Families steeped in the love of Christ and immersed in Catholic social teachings become cells of compassion and schools of justice within their communities, workplaces and schools. Their faithful love transforms society and culture, healing divisions and opening awareness of transcendent truths revealing a meaning and purpose for everyone's life.

Sons and daughters defending the underdog, forgoing the need for every materialistic possession, focusing their life as a gift of sacrificial service, and centered on an intimate personal relationship with God can become great evangelizers by simply living lives of faith. Their passion for the common good, human rights and responsibilities will inspire others. They too will hear the words "This is my body given up for you." With St. Peter, they will respond, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."



[1] The Liturgy of the Hours, Volume III, Catholic Book Publishing Company, New York, 1975. p 465

[2] Ecclesia in America, 1999, #44

[3] Ibid, #44