4.18.18 Wed.. 3rd wk of Easter (II)
Acts of Apostles 8: 1b – 8
Gospel of John 6: 35 – 40
†Jesus said to the crowds, “I am the bread of life; whoever cones to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. But I told you that although you have seen me, you do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should raise it on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.” The Gospel of the Lord.
Homily: Fr. Mike Murphy Eucharist: Real Reality
I recently read a story (Deacon Chris Anderson, Light When It Comes; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016, pp.33-34) about two famous 20th century authors – C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Now as you know, both men wrote science fiction and fantasy stories. C. S. Lewis wrote “Mere Christianity’, “The Screw Tape Letters”, “The Chronicles of Narnia”, among other stories. J. R. R. Tolkien wrote “The Hobbit”, and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. (Tolkien was an expert in ancient languages, in fact he was one of the translators to the Jerusalem Bible.)
In 1931 both authors were teaching at Oxford. J. R. R. Tolkien was a Roman Catholic and C. S. Lewis was struggling with converting to Christianity; he wasn’t sure whether or not he wanted to do this. And so his friend, Tolkien, had some advice for him. So, as Lewis struggled with his conversion, Tolkien made an interesting observation to his friend. He told Lewis: he needed to use his imagination more. Whenever Lewis would read stories or write fiction, he would always use his imagination and heart and just imagine what things were like and he would come up with these wonderful characters and his story. But whenever he came to reading the Gospels, he read them very analytically, very cold. He just couldn’t get past his head – when in the other areas of his life – his imagination just went wild. So Tolkien’s advice to Lewis was to see the Gospels as something beautiful, not just words on paper. Tolkien suggested that he read the Gospels from the heart and to allow the story to affectively move him – to move his heart – using his imagination.
This is what St. Ignatius of Loyola recommended four centuries earlier – when he talked about “application of the senses” – to put our whole self into the Gospel story and place our self in the story. So this was Tolkien’s advice to C. S. Lewis and it worked. C. S. Lewis eventually converted to Christianity, and as I said, he wrote many classic Christian works. Much of his literature was shot through with Christian images.
- R. R. Tolkien’s Catholic faith influenced much of his writing. We find this in his two greatest works: “The Hobbit”, and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. They are classic stories between good and evil, and virtue and vice. In fact in – “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, we find reference to the Eucharist. You may not remember this – the word called ‘lembas’. ‘Lembas’ was the food that the Elves would eat, the Elves of Middle Earth. They were very thin cakes and they were such a powerful food that it would sustain the Elves for a very long time. This food was shaped like little cakes, like the hosts.
So Tolkien used the idea of “lembas’ (modeled after the Eucharist) in the story of “The Lord of the Rings” – which was used by the Elves for sustenance on long journeys. Gradually you begin to understand the similarity to the Eucharist; the wafer-like bread (as the Body of Christ, sustains us on our spiritual journey). Now on rare occasions in –“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, ‘lembas’ was given to non-Elves (unless your are Roman Catholic in full communion with the Church you don’t receive Communion) – so it is the same idea. (Of course – this is back in the 1940’s and 50’s when he wrote this.)
Now this ‘lembas’, was very offensive to evil creatures. Remember Gollum, (I don’t know if you ever saw the trilogy on TV or in the movies) Gollum was this evil creature and he used to talk about this ring being: “His precious”; he was very evil. Well, Gollum wouldn’t get near this ‘lembas’ bread even though he was starving for food. He would not eat this bread because evil things could not survive because ‘lembas’ bread kept evil away. Well, ‘Froddo Baggins and ‘Samwise’ subsisted on this ‘lembas’. It was given to them by the Elves to sustain them on that journey to ‘Mordor’; to give them strength and courage.
So we understand as well, the Eucharist is the Bread of Life for us. Eucharist, when administered to the sick or dying, is call Viaticum – which literally means: “Food for the way” – for the journey – and so Tolkien, the Catholic, used that idea in the journey to ‘Mordor’ and the ‘lembas’ helped ‘Froddo’ and ‘Samwise’ on their journey. (Later on in a private letter, Tolkien actually admitted that ‘lembas’ had religious significance in the story.) He really integrated his Catholic Faith into his literature.
In the Eucharist, we read today in the Gospel: “†Jesus gives Himself to us as ‘The Bread of Life’”. †Jesus says: “I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst”. (Jn.6:35) The Eucharist sustained St. Stephen in his ministry in preaching the Gospel and even strengthened him at the moment of his death. Later it helped Philip in his journey, as we heard in the Acts of the Apostles – his ministry to proclaim the Good News and to heal the sick. It was the Eucharist that these two Deacons and the apostles ate to sustain them. It was the center of the life of the Church in the first century.
Pope Francis teaches this: “What St. Thomas asked of the Lord – is what we all need – to see Jesus, to touch Him, so that we maybe able to know Him. The Sacraments meet this human need…The Eucharistic celebration in a particular way, is a sign of God’s love, the privileged way for us to encounter Him.” (General Audience, 8 Nov. 2017) In the Eucharist we touch the Body of Christ, the Blood of Christ, soul and divinity. What does God want for us? We read in the Scriptures: “†Jesus says: ‘Everyone who sees the Son of God and believes in Him may have eternal life’”. (Jn.6:40) We are on the way – to eternal life.
So as we approach the altar this morning with reverence, approach it with love in our hearts, and look beyond just the physical nature of this wafer of bread and this wine. The advice of J. R. R. Tolkien – to his friend C. S. Lewis: use your imagination and see it for what it really is – it is the Body of Christ – it is the Blood of Christ. It is not just some unimportant thing when you come here to Church – and you walk out of Church – and it really has no effect in your life. It is truly – truly powerful bread, the Bread of Life.
The Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ is no fantasy – it is no fairy tale –
it is real reality – it is †Jesus who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (Jn.14:6)
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.