You might be familiar with or have read Dante’s classic literature or poem, the “Divine Comedy.” In what might be considered the most beautiful cantos of the Divine Comedy, Dante with his great imaginative sense created a character called Gaddo. For no fault of his, Gaddo had been imprisoned with his father and both were condemned to die of starvation. After enduring hunger for several days, Gaddo spontaneously turns to his father and offers himself as food, saying: “You gave me this miserable flesh, now take and eat it!”
Gaddo’s offering of his flesh was a creation of Dante’s imagination. Christ’s offering of his body as we read today is no imagination but something real. Pew research says that close to 68% of American Catholics do not think so; hence, that they do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But I think they mean any of the other groups of Neo-Catholics: like the “lilies and poinsettias Catholics, the ashes and palms Catholics, the cafeteria, politically correct and new age-Catholics.” Here at St. John’s McAlester, I don’t hide the fact that I’m committed to closing the cafeteria so intentional Catholics can have room to express their faith.
Today’s Gospel is the third in a series of five. Today, I’ll like to focus on the Eucharist as VIA-TI-CUM (with-you-on-the-way/journey). Viaticum presents the Eucharist as food for the journey; spiritual food to feed our heart, mind, and soul as we make our way in this life. We feed our bodies with sandwich and potato-salad, our minds with knowledge, and our souls with the Eucharist as we make our way to heaven. Some in our culture have created an imbalance in their feeding habits by overfeeding the body, underfeeding the mind, and completely starving the soul. When translated to real life, we see the resultant effect of overfeeding the body in obesity; we find brain-drain as the result of underfeeding the mind; and lack of spirituality as the resultant effect of the starvation of the soul. To heal this nutritional imbalance, Jesus offers his body and blood (like Gaddo to his father) as food for a starving world—not because it lacks material food, but because it is starved of God, of spirituality, of love, of true friendship, of trust and confidence, of mercy and forgiveness.
The first reading today speaks about Elijah who lost hope, became tired and weary, ready to give up the fight. An angel brought him food to strengthen him so he might continue his journey. God’s angel gives us the Eucharist today to strengthen us, not because we lack energy—we have nuclear energy, military might and economic power—rather, because we often lack the strength to love, to persevere in love, to forgive, to stand up for the truth, to stand our ground in witnessing to Christ, to pray and remain in prayer.
I want to call our attention to what happened to Elijah right in the middle of the story—something that might be important for us to consider. Elijah was woken by the angel and given food and water. He ate and then goes right back to sleep. Then the angel wakes him a second time giving him food. Elijah ate this second time and sprang up to continue his journey. What happened this second time? His attitude changed, he had a change of heart, a crack in his armor which allowed God to work in him. Sometimes we approach the Eucharist with the mindset of the tired and worn-out Elijah, full of the things that shield us from God’s transforming love—the bitterness, fury, anger, grudges and spitefulness which Paul addresses in the second reading. We erect walls, create barriers and hang on to so much worthless junk that we make it nearly impossible for God to penetrate, empower and motivate us to move on in our journey. It’s as if God is tapping us on the shoulder again today presenting the nourishment of the Eucharist. Oh tired soul, would you wake up, feed your soul, in order to continue your journey to heaven?
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo