Tuesday April 12, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Easter
Reading (Acts 7:51-8:1a) Gospel (St. John 6:30-35)
In the first reading today, we hear Saint Stephen speaking to all of the members of the Sanhedrin, and he says to them that they are stiff-necked, uncircumcised in heart and ears, and always opposing the Holy Spirit. He goes on in speaking to them about how they had received the law that had been transmitted by angels but they have not obeyed it. Now if we look at our own selves, we can say, “We don’t have a law that was transmitted by angels; we have a covenant that was made by the Son of God Himself, and how much have we disobeyed it?” If we look at what we have done and we ask ourselves, “If Saint Stephen were standing here before us right now, what would he say to us?” Stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears might be rather kind for what he might say to us because we have rejected so often the covenant made by the Son of God, the covenant, in fact, who is the Son of God.
It is exactly that which we see in the Gospel reading today. Yesterday, we heard in the reading that He said, It is not because you saw a sign but because you had your fill of bread. So the people then say to Jesus, “Well, what sign are you going to work?” He had just fed five thousand people with a couple of loaves, but they are wondering what sign He is going to work. Then they told Him that they had manna in the desert, therefore, what is He going to do? And He tells them exactly the sign that they had missed, that He Himself is the bread come down from heaven, the true bread which His Father will give to the world, and that this bread will give life to the world so that whoever believes in Him will never thirst and anyone who comes to Him will never be hungry. The reason for that is because we are completely filled with Christ.
But remember that the word manna means “What is it?” It is a question rather than a statement. The people walked out of their tents and said, “Manna?” – “What is it?” That is how it got its name. And how often do Catholics look at the Blessed Sacrament and say, “What is it?” They do not believe. They do not want to believe because they cannot see, because they cannot feel, and because they cannot hear with their senses, and so they reject the covenant itself because the Eucharist is the covenant. This, again, is the point: Our law – our covenant – is not transmitted by angels, but our covenant is the Son of God, and He has given Himself to us in the Eucharist. If we do not recognize Him there, then, in essence, in our stiff-necked nature we have rejected Him. Uncircumcised in heart, we cannot open the heart to be able to receive Him.
So we need to pray that we do not oppose the Holy Spirit because it was the Holy Spirit Who overshadowed Our Lady to conceive Our Lord and it is the Holy Spirit whom we call down upon the bread and wine to change them into the very Body and Blood – indeed, the very Person – of Our Lord Jesus Christ. If we do not recognize Him there, if we do not worship Him there, if we do not love Him there, then we are the ones who are opposing the Holy Spirit. And if the people of the Old Testament were in trouble because they rejected the law transmitted by angels, what will be the judgment upon us if we reject the Son of God Himself? if we do not recognize the gift that He has given, the true bread come down from heaven, which is He Himself, which He gives to us so that we can have life, so that we will never hunger again, so that we will never be thirsty? Not physically hungry or thirsty, but rather filled with the Son of God, united with the Son of God, and transformed into the Son of God, how will we ever be hungry for anything more because we will be united perfectly with Him. That is what He is offering us in the Eucharist, so that just as the bread and wine are completely changed to become Christ, so too, we who receive Him are changed into the One we receive. We, then, become the Son of God. We are so perfectly united to Him (if we can get to that point) that we are transformed to become one with Jesus Christ. That is what this gift is all about. That is the gift He is giving us. And that is the sign of the covenant. The Eucharist is the sign of our covenant, and the Eucharist is the covenant itself. If we refuse to recognize Him there, then it is we who are opposing the Holy Spirit.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.