On this Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, we conclude the Bread of Life discourses, which the Church around the world has heard the past five weeks, albeit interrupted last week for the Solemnity of the Assumption. Jesus is the Bread of Life, and He promises that if we eat His Flesh and drink His Blood we will live forever. The Eucharist is the “source and summit” of all life in the Church, and the Church as the Family of God gathers each Sunday to worship God.
The image of the Church as a family is ancient, and the idea of a family as a “domestic church” has re-emerged recently. Parishes are communities of families, gathered under a pastor in communion with the Bishop, to worship God and build the Kingdom. The family is a place of belonging, a privileged place to experience love and growth, an original sign, given by God the Father. In the family, we are introduced into a decisive relationship with God, with truth, beauty, and goodness.
Of course, Christ and the Church, the Family of God, propose many teachings and lifestyle choices that are challenging – the teachings on marriage; responsible parenthood; human life; social justice, etc. Even belief in the mystery of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is difficult for some. They say, “This is a hard saying. Who can stand it?” The crowds in today’s Gospel walked away from Jesus. Jesus turned to His disciples and asked, “Will you also walk away?” Peter speaks for the first time in John’s Gospel, replying, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”
Whenever some doubt of faith comes about; some change in practice; or some hurtful experience occurs and we are tempted to walk away from Christ or His Church, we should remember Peter’s words. When we see another thinking about walking away, we must accompany them back, assuring them that they have a place in God’s family. Sometimes what is truly needed is companionship and a sense of belonging – belonging to a family. We need perspective.
In the Family of God, in our companionship as believers, we continually meet and encounter the Person who “gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” In the family, we behold the Mystery of Christ present as a face. One learns to confront one’s difficulties and to face the realities of life, enlightened by His Presence. In family life, we encounter Christ in each other. In the family and in our parish family, our companionship comes together in a space, in our daily living and working together, on a common journey with a common goal: our destiny with God.
Most of these encounters happen outside the walls of the church building. They happen in homes, neighborhoods, and work places where the lay faithful are called to be a “leaven” in the world. This weekend we will hold our parish festival. We will have the opportunity to be together as a parish family. Many people volunteer and contribute what they can so that the whole parish and many guests can have a good time. I want to thank our Festival Chairman, Bob Buchman, all the Booth Chairs, and all the volunteers, for making the festival possible for everyone. I also thank our patrons and benefactors for their support and generosity.
The festival isn’t just about fundraising. It is about engagement in the life of the parish. Some people who are involved with the festival aren’t regular church-goers, but as an expression of their faith, they volunteer and contribute from their time, talents, and treasures – for the Lord and for all of us. Others are more actively engaged in church activities, but they see involvement at the festival as a means of service. Others get involved to meet new people and to move out of their comfort zone.
The festival is a means for our whole parish and beyond to have fun!!! St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote: “Habet mundus iste noctes suas et non paucas.” The world has its nights, and they are not few. The pandemic and the polarization in our society have robbed us of our joy. There is a sadness that pervades today’s culture, a mortal sickness in which bitterness dominates people’s private, social, political, and cultural life.
Many are no longer disposed to joy. The push toward an ever-more technical and efficient society is leading away from the roots of ancient cultures which were more concerned about being and beauty than usefulness and efficiency. The joy of simply being together and enjoying one another’s company is diminishing.
What is the solution? One way is recovering a sense of feasts and festivals – to celebrate. In his book, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, Joseph Pieper writes: “The meaning of celebration is man’s affirmation of the universe and his experiencing the world in aspect than its every day one … The most festive festival it is possible to celebrate is divine worship. And there is no festival that does not draw its vitality from worship and that has not become a festival by virtue of its origin in worship. There is no such thing as a festival ‘without gods’ – whether it be a carnival or a marriage.”
Our parish festival would not exist without our parish, which exists for the worship of God and to make the presence of Christ known in the human reality. We take this occasion to celebrate in extraordinary way, the many things God is doing in our midst and to give thanks and praise accordingly. During our 75th anniversary celebrations, we pause to acknowledge the action of Divine Grace in our lives, in our homes, and in our parish family.
However, to overcome our true sadness, we need to return to the Lord and especially to Mass. We gather for the Eucharist, the sacrament which nourishes Christian joy. It is the strongest sacramental sign of the Paschal Lordship of Christ, recalling his Victory over sin and death. In the Eucharist, the joy that He has won is preserved and shared.
Mary, whose Assumption we celebrated last week and whose Queenship we remember today, teaches Christians that joy is a gift. As an archetype of the Church, at the Wedding Feast of Cana, she says: They have no more wine; it is wine that brings joy to the heart of man (Ps 104:15). She reminds the Church that joy is possible and that believers are to be servants of joy. May each of you be a missionary of joy!
Have a great time at the festival! Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in being together as a family!