JANUARY 21, 2004- FUNERAL OF MY MOTHER: HOMILY: JOHN 6:51-58.
I AM THE LIVING BREAD THAT HAS COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN, SO THAT IF ANYONE EATS OF THIS BREAD SHE WILL NOT DIE’. When St. John wrote these words in his Gospel, he was aware that they would strike many of his readers as beyond belief. By the time he wrote them any number of the faithful had already died. Surely, he could not believe our Lord meant to be taken literally. This must be some form of poetic image meant to inspire but not to be taken literally, the skeptics would think. To make it evident that he did intend to be taken literally he repeats this promise, this time in positive language. Instead of ‘IF ANYONE EATS OF THIS BREAD SHE WILL NOT DIE’ he tells us that Jesus had added that ‘IF ANYONE EATS OF THIS BREAD SHE WILL LIVE FOREVER.’ Because we believe these words of our Lord in their literal sense we have come here this morning to offer this Eucharist as we celebrate the entry into eternal life, of Dorothy Ruth Bamberger. That she herself believed them in their most literal sense no one who knew her could doubt. This belief in our Lord as the resurrection and life gave meaning to her life. The Eucharist, which she received daily for many years, became her strong support. She was fully convinced that in this sacrament she already possessed a pledge of eternal life- this was the deepest source of that inner courage and that unfailing patience that sustained her in the last years.
Jesus had spoken to his circle of closest disciples of the bread and wine as his body and blood at the last upper, on the night before he died, the three other Evangelists inform us. By the time St. John wrote his Gospel some decades after theirs, the Church had lived through difficult times of aggressive persecution in which the faithful had been able to hold firm sustained by the grace of their belief that the Lord Jesus was risen. He continued to live at the right hand of the Father in heaven. But he remained intensely concerned for them. He expressed this concern through the action of his Holy Spirit and through the sacred meal that made his present to them and gave them a share already in his divine life. The experience in faith of his presence was the source of their conviction that they belonged already more to him than to themselves. This, they realized, meant that, by the very fact of being united with him, they were united among themselves. They belonged to one another just as the various members of our body belong to the body as a whole and not only to the separate organs. Thus the Eucharist proved to be at the center of the Church and the source of growth and fidelity even while enduring the hostile attacks of powerful enemies.
The proper expression of this unity of Christ’s Church is love. Christ puts this love in our heart by his Spirit whom he continues to impart to us in the Eucharist. John further declared in a letter he sent to his faithful, to make this very point. “In this we have come to know his love, that he laid down his life for us, and we likewise ought to lay down our life for our brothers and sisters. (1John 4: 16)” We show this love by benevolence and concern for our brothers and sisters. However, to be authentic it must be dedicated to the truth that Christ revealed by his acts and words, as the Evangelist goes on to state. “Let us not love alone in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and in truth. In this we know that we are of the truth… that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another.”
Love and knowledge of the truth are inseparable. Only love that reaches out beyond selfish interest can enable us to know that truth which makes life worth loving. Love and life are so yoked together in God’s own self that they are but two aspects of his own Being. Love alone is the key to knowledge of God; only a loving faith give access to the heart of the Father. In today’s second reading we heard John affirm this fundamental verity. He put it this way: “He who does not love does not know God, for God is Love.” If we would be fully alive then we must learn by experience to love in spirit and in truth, for such is the pattern according to which we are created. This is the only love worthy of the name. The main task of life in this world is to grow into a love that is genuine, concerned for the fullness of life that God alone imparts to those who are fashioned anew by the Spirit. Only those who enter upon this great and noble undertaking have understood the message that Jesus teaches as he speaks of the Eucharist.
Rightly to understand the true nature of love and to live from it wherever it leads defines the immediate aim of our existence. Enter into yourself and ask how you love and what you love in those who mean most to you in your daily life and you will know who you are. We are what we love. What then is love? Thomas Merton on one occasion has given one of the most satisfying answers to this question when he affirmed that love is nothing other than life itself. Life in its freshness and purity, elevated to a higher level, rendered noble and intensified, given significance and purpose by the inherent dignity and worth of the beloved. Only the one who loves in truth lives fully. For pure love alone can unlock the hidden depths of the heart where we experience our life as most personal and intimate. There we discover a love that is not ours to control but offered to us by God who is more intimate to me than I am to my own self.
This is the love that bestows meaning and purpose to life. It is the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise of eternal life that we celebrate in this Eucharist today. It was this sacrament of the Eucharist that assured my mother, Dorothy, that her days, however burdensome to the flesh, were not to terminate in death, but would rather open up to the light of God’s eternal glory. For she believed to the end with unwavering faith in the risen Lord Jesus. She placed her hope in the promise that he renews to each of us here today as we hear the other words of the Gospel. “I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in me, even if she should die, shall live (John 11:24).” This is our prayer for her as we take our farewell: May she experience, even now, the light that is life eternal in the presence of God the loving Father of mercy. Come, Lord Jesus!&
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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