The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Dear brothers and sisters,
We have heard these past several weeks the continuing proclamation of the Bread of Life discourse in which the Lord Jesus makes explicitly clear the necessity of eating his Body and drinking his Blood if we wish to have eternal life (see John 6:53). In fact, he could not have been more straightforward about it.
Still, after what seemed to some a bizarre and repeated insistence bordering on the insane, many of his followers abandoned him because, as they said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it” (John 6:60)? But to those who remained with him and did accept his words, Jesus later addressed to them the intimate term of “friends” (John 15:15).
“You are my friends,” he says, “if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). We come to the altar of God again today because of his command to “do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). At the same time, we are mindful of Saint Paul’s words about the Eucharist. He wrote to the faithful in Corinth, saying, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (I Corinthians 11:26). We have come here today to proclaim the death of the Lord in the hope of being counted among his friends.
Saint Thomas Aquinas once said that “there is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” If this is true here on earth, how much more so in heaven? If this is true between one another, how much more so with Jesus?
When husbands and wives “establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life” in marriage, they do so because they have found in one another an intimate friend (Canon 1055 §1). Because they have come to love their intended spouse more than themselves, they pledge their love together to become reflections of the Lord’s love for his bride, the Church (see Ephesians 5:32). This is why the Apostle tells us to “be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Wives are to be subordinate to their husbands because husbands are to love their wives as Jesus loved his bride (see Ephesians 5:22 and 25). Jesus, of course, loved his bride all the way to the Cross; he willingly accepted an excruciating death so that his Bride, the Church, you and I, might know “what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of God (see Ephesians 5:25; Ephesians3:18). If a husband truly loves his wife in this way, whatever he tells her to do will be directed toward her growth in holiness, and such words should never be met with resistance (see Ephesians 5:26).
Just as husbands and wives must remain faithful to each other until death, so must the Bride of Christ remain faithful to the Bridegroom. As so many of his disciples left him, Jesus turned to the Twelve Apostles and asked them, “Do you also want to leave” (John 6:67)? He asked this to show that he will never force anyone to follow him because where there is no freedom there is no love. Desiring to be faithful, Peter answered the Lord, “Master, to whom shall we go” (John 6:68)? These are not simply the words of one at the end of the road; they are instead the words of one friend to another. We, too, must cultivate this same friendship with the Lord Jesus.
We might say that the saying of Saint Thomas, that there is nothing more to prized on earth than true friendship, echoes the wisdom we read in the Book of Sirach: “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter: he that has found one has found a treasure” (Sirach 6:14). This is probably a verse you know well and anyone who has found a true friend – one who stands by your side come thick or thin, one who both challenges you and encourages you, one who praises you and points out your sin – whoever has found such a one knows that he has indeed found a treasure, one not to be valued lightly.
Saint Damien of Molokai found in the Eucharist such a treasure and took up his abode in its sturdy shelter. He said, “Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the most tender of friends with souls who seek to please Him.” Among the many difficulties of his service at Kalaupapa, Father Damien found that “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves” (Psalm 34:19).
Sometimes we may be tempted to think that we are unworthy of friendship with Jesus. This may be true, but Jesus desires our friendship anyway! As Father Damien said, “His goodness knows how to proportion itself to the smallest of His creatures as to the greatest of them.” After Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, Jesus lowered himself to restore his friendship with Peter, asking, “Simon, son of John, do you love me” (John 21:17)? He will do the same with us.
How, then, should we approach the Lord Jesus to enter into a deeper friendship with him, to find in him the most faithful of friends and the greatest of treasures? First, we should confess our sins and strive to serve the Lord with greater fidelity (see Joshua 24:18). Second, we should receive the Eucharist each Sunday and holy day, and more frequently if we can. Third, we should spend time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
It sometimes happens that we seem unsure of what to do when we kneel or sit before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. We wonder what to say and how to say it. Because of his close friendship with the Lord, Father Damien shows us the way forward here. He tells us, “Be not afraid then in your solitary conversations, to tell Him of your miseries, your fears, your worries, of those who are dear to you, of your projects, and of your hopes. Do so with confidence and with an open heart.” It really is that simple.
We know that people who have been friends for a good length of time frequently become like one another, being interested in the same things, knowing each other’s thoughts, and finishing each other’s sentences. We see this not only among spouses but also among all close friends. So should it be with our friendship with Jesus!
What greater honor can there be than to be counted among the Lord’s friends? What keeps us, then, from entering into the fullness of friendship with Jesus? Certainly, it is not him, but us and our pride, stubbornness, or foolishness. Let us cast these attitudes aside to enter into his goodness to know and be known by him and receive the greatest treasure of all. May it please him to deepen our friendship with him, to make us like himself, and to make his love known in us. Amen.