There’s an old t.v. show from the 1960s titled, The Twilight Zone. Each episode was a standalone, its own discrete little story. The episodes were mostly sci-fi and psychological horror; modern fables, parables, tragedies done in 24 minutes.
An episode came to mind when I read today’s gospel, and the connection I made… let’s say its about misunderstanding; perhaps willful or wishful misunderstanding.
The episode was about space aliens who land on earth. They say they come in peace, and they give to humanity technology to end hunger and provide an inexhaustible source of energy, and so on. They just do this as a gift.
They speak to the world telepathically so everyone understands them in their own language, but the aliens’ language is beyond comprehension. After a meeting at the United Nations, one of the aliens absentmindedly leaves a book behind. There’s a linguist who wants to learn their language, but when he and other experts look at the book, they can’t make any sense of it.
Nonetheless he and his assistant set themselves to deciphering the book. Part of his motivation is his suspicion that this is all too good to be true.
In the meantime, the aliens offer to anyone who wants to go, a free trip to their homeworld which they describe as a paradise. People sign up in the millions to travel there.
A year on, after a lot of his friends have gone off on the alien space ships, he cracks the problem enough to translate the book’s title. The title is, “To Serve Man.”
Well, what do you know – they really are nice aliens! He shouldn’t have been so suspicious. Now he figures he should go to their world and learn their language there—he gets his ticket, packs his bags, heads to the airport.
Well, his assistant thinks she can probably work out more of the book. She does some translating, and then suddenly rushes out of the lab. The scene cuts to the linguist happily going up the space ship’s boarding ramp when he hears his assistant yelling from the other side of the boarding gate. He looks at her, “what’s wrong?”
And just as he’s being hustled onboard, she shouts,
“To Serve Man… it’s a cookbook!”
I was reminded of that story because of what Jesus says,
“The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” Do we understand what he is saying? Do we understand it objectively? With the meaning he intended or with the meaning we prefer?
We get that he didn’t come to be waited on, to be pampered and attended to like some fat Roman emperor on a couch munching grapes, being fanned by a slave. He came to us to get something done that would be of incredible service to us.
So, is he our servant? Can we boss him around? Is he to serve whatever we think is worthy of our time and attention? Is he to bless whatever we think is good and righteous? At the end of our days, hold the gates open for us as we saunter into heaven? At the Resurrection, is he to rush around dusting us all off as our bodies rise from the grave? That might strike you as a ridiculous set of questions, but honestly, look around at what has become of the many churches – they’re all about the latest cause. When in scripture we read of James and John looking to be seated next to our Lord, they are seeking the prestige of it which gives them power, authority – what are they planning to do with that? Perhaps they are asking in all innocence, but what temptation would come from being seen as Jesus’ closest lieutenants?
When we consider the great mystical tradition of the Church, of people like St. Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, St. Francis, St. Catherine of Sienna, we don’t find them concerned with the political issues of the day (they were not indifferent), but their concern was with how we can grow closer to God as the first step in knowing what God asks of us. We get this so backward, regarding the causes we see as just and right as the source of our faith and evidence of our righteousness. We look to Christ to serve our cause, not for us to serve Him in the cause of our salvation. Let’s be clear: Jesus came to serve God’s plan; not our plans.
This backwardness needs to be considered, especially in light of the pope’s call to synodality: a global consultation he has initiated that will culminate in a couple of years with some kind of grand summation of the conversations all one billion Catholics are to have.
I would warn everyone that if what is achieved looks more like a political party’s election platform than a deep consideration of our relationship with God, and how to find our way back to Him, then this process will have gone badly wrong. We will have mistaken a human consensus for the divine will, politicking for the work of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s get back to that cookbook, because the theme of food runs throughout scripture. Jesus is famous for feeding people: you know the multiplying fish and loaves. He feeds us spiritually; he gives us the nutrition by which our soul grows, our spirit develops. There’s the idea of spiritual food that is for us.
Then there’s us as food: there’s also the threat of our being devoured!
St. Peter tells us in a letter you can find in your Bibles: “Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5)
I know Jesus said that he did not come to be served, but I think we know he is served… served up to us in the Eucharist. In a few minutes after I finish speaking, I will be laying the altar to consecrate hosts, making of them the sacrament of His most holy body and blood, and then, well, I’ll be serving them to you in the communion rite. We speak of this as the holy sacrifice of the altar, but also as the Lord’s Supper – “take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body…”
So, welcome to the Mass. I will be your server, and I recommend the chef’s speciality: the Eucharist.
Jesus’ service to us is to have himself served to us. Jesus served us by his sacrifice for our sins – he gave himself, offered himself up for our ultimate good, to save us, redeem us, give us a way to live forever together with God; and by that he serves God’s plan.
It’s the kind of service we’re called to offer, to serve others by serving out ourselves, giving of ourselves for the good of others. If we’re really, truly devoted to Jesus that could mean giving everything just as he gave everything including his life.
So, as with anyone eating something for the first time, anyone intrigued by the chef’s special, one will ask, “what’s in it?”
Well, we speak of the Eucharist being his body and blood; we’re talking about his substance, his divine substance, to take and eat is to take God within us; and potentially allow God to transform us, to grow us in spirit and in truth.
Eat your greens, finish your porridge, enjoy a nice piece of fish, and those things are the material from which our bodies physically grow and are made healthy and strong.
To grow spiritually, we must take in God first through his holy word: we’ve got to read scripture. At the Mass, it’s like the appetizer. But you know you can snack on the word all week.
Does everyone here have a Bible? Do you read it? You know you can get it on your phone now; on your “devices.” You can even get apps that help you read it, dividing it up into nice bite-sized chunks.
St. Jerome, that great doctor of the Church, wrote that “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” If we don’t know our Bible, we’ll never make sense of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus, we say is the “word incarnate” the word made flesh. If we don’t start with scripture, we’ll never develop our palate, we won’t develop a taste for the goodness of the Eucharist.
This weekend/today is [going to be] special for a lot of children who will receive the Eucharist for the first time.
I pray that they will come to see the Eucharist as the most important meal; more important than breakfast. To make it the most important meal of the week is to get yourself properly set for life, to get your priorities straight. It is to confess by the act of communion that I literally want God in my life, I want him in me, part of me, or rather, me to be a part of him. Christian initiation into the Church is not baptism and confirmation. To be fully a member of the Church is to receive baptism, confirmation and to partake of the Eucharist regularly. You need all three.
In talking about eating, let’s consider the shape we’re all in as a result of our diet.
I think many of you may be aware of what is described as the real health crisis in North America… and no, it’s not that – it’s obesity and its not infrequent result, diabetes.
According to the World Health Organisation (2018), more than one billion people across the world are overweight with most likely to become obese. Obesity remains the greatest health concern in the North American region with more than 50% of the population at risk of developing obesity. Close to three quarters of the population are overweight.
We eat too much, and too much of the wrong thing. We eat too much and do too little; too much time sitting around, bored, or in some cases intoxicated, overstuffed with fast food, junk food.
Spiritually we eat too much of the wrong thing.
I continue to be appalled by what is now popular entertainment, the situation comedies on television networks that, for example, normalize sexual promiscuity by making it all just fun antics, something to laugh at, something to not take seriously. It’s a powerful suggestion to many that they can treat their lives like a soap opera, a lightweight comedy – we all know “drama queens” and clowns who can’t get their act together. Some come to my office (most don’t) asking me why God is punishing them. God’s not punishing them. They’ve become spiritually obese, out of shape, their souls struggle to breath, that’s why they’re in such distress.
The culture that is serving you now, the one that serves all the distractions, all the things to watch, to consume; it makes it so easy to get the junk food of the mind, the empty spiritual calories by having it a click away on your computer, a swipe away on your phone. Think hard on what it is serving you; and what or rather who is really being served up, because it’s you who’s on the menu.
You know what social media is? “Oh, it’s a way to keep up with friends, with trends, with news and views… that’s how it serves us.”
Well, no that’s not its service. How it makes money for the tech billionaires, is that it serves you up to advertisers and marketers. By your clicks it learns how to prepare you for the messaging and marketing to steer you to products, services, and yes, to political parties and candidates, causes and movements. It’s also moulding your desires and appetites, creating fear and inculcating attitudes about the world around you so that you want more and more of the junk they are more than prepared to keep cooking up and pouring into the feeding troughs that are your phones, pads and laptops.
You can’t listen to everyone, you can’t read every book; there’s a lot of food in the world, you can’t taste it all to see if you like it. We all tend to filter out options in terms of our reading, viewing, listening, eating and drinking based on other people’s opinions. Someone you trust will tell you that a writer is terrible, so you never open his book; a friend with whom you like to listen to music tells you a singer is garbage, so you never give her a listen. And then there’s just not knowing because you’ve never tried it, and you don’t know anyone who has.
It’s fair to say that a lot of people don’t know me. So, on the Eucharist, don’t take my word for it.
Whose “review” would you trust?
St. Therese de Lisieux, “the little flower” wrote,
“Receive Communion often, very often. There you have the sole remedy, if you want to be cured.”
Our parish patron, St. Augustine wrote,
“He who is all-knowing knew of nothing more that he could give than the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a Divine storehouse filled with every virtue.”
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, saint of the Church, said,
“Jesus has made Himself the Bread of Life to give us life. Night and day, He is there. If you really want to grow in love, come back to the Eucharist.”