The Spirit of Cooperation
Reflections and Actions for the 19th Week in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:30-5:2;John 6:41-51
Beginning this week, Immersed in Christ will post a weekly Gospel Reflection by Father David Knight. At the end of each Reflection, you will find a daily prayer-reflection and suggested actions to consider in light of your Baptismal Promises as Christian, Disciple, Prophet, Priest, and King.
Wisdom is the gift that gives appreciation for spiritual, divine things. It is nourished by Eucharist. But one part of the Eucharistic celebration proclaims in a special way the value of what is created and human. And surprisingly this, too, is wisdom. To see the ability of the human to be made divine is to appreciate the divine value of what is human.
The basic principle for understanding Jesus is "fully human, fully divine." And this gives us the basic rule for understanding the Church, our own reality as people who share in the life of God by grace, and for evaluating Christian behavior. In everything we see or say about ourselves or the Church, and in every judgment we make about the way we should act as Christians, we must be careful to fully accept and fully respect what is human in us and what is divine.
The prayer during the preparation of the gifts of bread and wine (Offertory) during Mass expresses strikingly our belief in the value of all that is created, of everything human: "God of all creation...this bread... which earth has given and human hands have made...this wine, fruit of the vine and work of human hands " We believe that these created things, produced by human labor, can actually become for us "spiritual drink" and "bread of [divine] life," and that we can "share in the divinity of Christ" who took flesh to "share in our humanity."
Jesus' own people could not believe that someone so human could be divine: "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" The sinfulness of the clergy and hierarchy in the sixteenth century led many Christians to take the protesting (or "protestant") stance that God could not endow flawed human beings with the divine power we associate with priestly ministry or the teaching authority of pope and bishops. The protestant rejection of the Church was actually a rejection of human nature's capacity to be the instrument of divine action by grace. Whatever affirmed the value of human beings as real cooperators with God in the work of redemption was looked on with suspicion. The first victim was the Church herself, and then the sacraments (especially Eucharist and Reconciliation) and veneration of human saints, especially Mary, the human mother of God.
All of us get discouraged at times with human nature in general and our own in particular. We feel like Elijah: "It is enough; now, 0 LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." But to give in to this discouragement would be to "grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption." Saint Paul urges us instead to believe that we can "be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us."
We do not just believe this; we express our belief by an action, a choice, which would not make sense without it. Believing that Baptism has made us truly one with Jesus who "handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God," we offer ourselves to God together with him to be used to give divine life to others. In Christ and with Christ we "offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God," our "flesh for the life of the world." We commit ourselves to giving flesh to his words in life-giving acts of witness.
This is the Catholic "altar call." At the Presentation of Gifts we place bread and wine on the altar as symbols of ourselves. During the readings we offered our minds to be transformed by God's word. Now, as we offer the bread and wine to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, we offer ourselves to be so transformed into the perfect likeness of Christ, whose body we became at Baptism, that everything we say and do will bear witness to the Gospel. To appreciate in faith the value of this offering is to experience the gift of wisdom.
Reflecting Daily on This Week's Gospels Pray daily: Lord, as many grains of wheat are ground together, mixed with water and baked with fire to become one bread, we ask you to form your Church by the water of Baptism and the fire of the Holy Spirit, that we might give life to the world. Monday: Matthew 17:22-27. "You will find [in its mouth] a coin; take that and give it to them for you and for me." In how many ways has Jesus associated himself with you? How does the Offertory express your association with him in his mission?
Tuesday: Matthew 18:1-5,10,12-14. "Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." How does the offering of yourself with the bread and wine make you like a child?
Wednesday: Matthew 18:15-20. "Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." How do the bread and wine express our unity with each other? What do you think about when they are presented at the Offertory?
Thursday: Matthew18:21-19:1. "I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?" How at the Offertory do we show mercy to others as God has to us?
Friday: Matthew 19:3-12. "[W]hat God has joined together, let no one separate." How do bread and wine symbolize the way God has joined us to each other in the Church?
Saturday: Matthew 19:13-15. "Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray." How and how often do you explicitly bring children (or adult children of God) to Jesus? Do you present them as the bread and wine? For what?
Living This Week's Gospels
As Christian: At the Offertory of the Mass, consciously offer yourself to be transformed into the perfect image of Christ, to find all your fulfillment in being his Body
As Disciple: During the readings at Mass, offer your mind-all your attitudes and values-to be transformed by God's word.
As Prophet: At the Offertory of the Mass, offer your body as a "living sacrifice to God" to bear witness to the truth and values of Christ in every word, choice and action. (Read Romans 12:1-2.)
As Priest: At the Offertory, explicitly "die" to being a single grain of wheat in order to be one bread with others in a community of shared life, ministry and mission.
As King: At the Offertory of the Mass, offer your flesh for the life of the world, asking God to use you to bring about changes in your environment: in your family, social, professional and civic life.