The Readings for Today
A few weeks ago, I was in Rome. I was taking a class, at Loyola University, at their Rome Center in Monte Mario. During the orientation, we were advised that being in Italy was really a time where we would experience an assault on the senses. The phrase was meant to imply that all of our senses would be engaged during our time in Rome. There would be beautiful art, powerful architecture, fantastic smells of food cooking in the cafés, we would hear sounds of music and conversation and laughing. Specifically, each one of our senses would be engaged.
In particular, we were given specific instructions about understanding how different the culture was in Rome. Of particular importance, was the different understanding the Italian people have about meals. Meals are not simply an occasion for pushing food into our bodies. They are events. It is expected the meal will be savored and enjoyed. It is not the practice, to “turn tables”, that is to say, getting as many people into a restaurant in one evening as possible. Rather in the Italian understanding of food, the practice is simply to make sure that every patron enjoys their meal for as long as it takes.
Even with this understanding, one cannot go far in the city of Rome, without seeing a McDonald’s. There are signs which direct people to McDonald’s everywhere. (A little aside – I can only imagine that if I was in Rome more than three weeks, there might be times where a McDonald’s burger would hit the spot.
The class I attended at Loyola, was one where we examined the foundations of our educational curriculum. As part of the class, we were at various famous locations throughout Rome, to show how many of our educational beliefs today, have their foundations and roots in previous ages.
At the Spanish Steps, the presentation involved the coming together of cultures. That is because at the Spanish steps there is the home of an English poet, Spanish architecture, and a French church at the top of the steps, all of which is set in Rome. Of particular note, was the challenge when McDonald’s indicated it wished to locate a fast food franchise close to the Spanish Steps. The protest against this McDonalds, came from a movement known as the “slow food” movement. It is a group of people who are concerned that the leisurely event like pace of meals, is giving way to the much faster pace of American life. It continues today.
You might be asking what this reminiscing about a trip to Rome has to do with today’s readings. But it is this attitude of “slow food” that I think can help each of us to understand what referring to the Eucharist as a meal really means. Think of the people in the gospel. These individuals have followed Jesus to an out-of-the-way place because the words he has spoken helped the people to find meaning in their lives. They come to listen, not hoping that Jesus will be done in a hurry, but rather that they will here in his words a life changing reality.
How would things have been different, if the people who heard Jesus were pressed for time? Would they have seen in his actions and in his words, as we here at the end of the gospel, a sign that convinced them that he was the prophet who was to come. So attracted were they by the words of Jesus, they trudged to the middle of nowhere to hear him speak. One would expect that such a journey was not undertaken with the expectation that it would be over soon.
The people had seen the signs that Jesus had performed for the sick. And in seeing how Jesus gave hope to those who were sick, they found that hope might just be possible in their own lives. It was a time where they could examine the quality of their life, their relationship with God, and perhaps embrace a new direction for their lives.
This analogy of a meal, particularly when compared to the Eucharist, can give us pause. What is our attitude toward the meal of the Eucharist? Do we find ourselves with a “fast food” approach to Eucharist or “slow food” approach to Eucharist? That is to say, do we take the time in our own lives to pray, to reflect, to seek in new and dramatic ways that presence of Christ which constantly pours out new life to those with open hearts? Or, are we more concerned about fulfilling an obligation in getting to the parking lot so that we are not trapped for a long period of time at church?
This question is an important one for us to consider. We are challenged to examine our attitudes toward the Eucharist. It is about the quality of our relationship with God, and the connection between the worship that we engage in here at church, and the lives we live when we leave. More completely, do we strive to find at least some times in our lives, where we engage in a slow food attitude when it comes to prayer and our relationship with God?
If we so do, we might just discover these experiences of our lives can help us to see purpose and direction much more clearly. We can become more intentional about the way we live our lives. We can find, with appropriate reflection, we might just be more able to see the presence of Christ in those people with whom we have difficulty getting along. We can find, with appropriate reflection, we might just be able to see the presence of Christ in those people who are in need. We can find, with appropriate reflection that God is calling each one of us to be a sign that points to a deeper reality in the world in which we live.
For when the people saw the sign that Jesus had performed they were able to see him not simply as a human being but is that profit began to offer them this tremendous new life as the Messiah. His very life pointed to something else. His very life pointed to the divine reality which had always been present to them. But the sign he performed, made it much more clear to those individuals who witnessed this great sign that God was tremendously present in their lives.
And think of the disciples. Imagine Philip’s surprise when Jesus turned to him and said “Where can we buy enough food for these people to eat?” Jesus knew it was not possible the disciples would have 200 days wages to buy food for everyone who was gathered. But he also knew, when people are attentive to the call of God, their hearts are filled with generosity. The miraculous multiplication of the loaves is made real with the generosity that imitates Christ.
In a world where there are still people without food, people who can’t afford to see a doctor, people who do not have adequate shelter, people whose lives are riddled with violence and war and strife, this generosity of the followers of Christ is needed more than ever.
But, recognizing the sign, and more importantly being the sign, cannot be done in a fast food environment. Such is the challenge of our age. Notice how news organizations evaluate immediately, without reflection, every little word is said and every event that happens. This is not after deep reflection, understanding and documentation, but in a rush to do so as quickly as possible, even if the information is not accurate. Examine for example the way in which the phrase uttered by Pres. Obama, “you didn’t build that”, has taken on a life of its own. Examine the quick response of a news reporter who connected the name James Holmes, the alleged shooter in the Aurora Colorado massacre, with a man of the same name who was a member of the tea party.
Imagine, too, in our own lives, how quickly we do the same. Drawing inaccurate conclusions, not listening to one another, not hearing in our own lives and in our own hearts the very voice of God. We are called to the silence that enables us to become deeply aware of the abiding presence of Jesus Christ in our hearts. Such becomes the challenge of people committed to “slow food” liturgy.
Imagine what our lives would be like if we took a few moments each day to pray. Imagine what our lives would be like if we took a few moments each day to read the word of God. Imagine how our lives might change, if we spent a few moments in deep prayer with our God in thanksgiving and gratitude for all God does in our lives and the lives of others.
If we were able to do this, we too would become the signs to help our world to recognize the tremendously pervasive presence of Jesus Christ. They would see by the way in which we live our lives, the power of our love for God made manifest in our actions to help others, a deep imitation of Christ that has the power for eternal change.
And so as we leave here today, we too seek to go to that out-of-the-way place, where we too can encounter the Christ. With the many deeds of God’s generosity are multiplied, or the tremendous power of God’s grace is made manifest not only in our own lives but in our world, and most especially, where the loving presence of Christ becomes abundantly clear to all.