In preparation for this short talk, I thought it might be good to look at what we've heard so far from John 6 and see what might apply. When I did, I was struck by something. Twice in yesterday's Gospel reading, Jesus says, "whoever eats this bread will live forever." He says it once at the beginning of the passage (vs. 51) and once at the end (vs. 58). By God, an inclusio!
In case you're wondering, an inclusio is a literary device in which the same word, phrase, or sentence appears both at the beginning and the end of a passage. The purpose is to emphasize that whatever is being repeated is in fact the main theme or message of the passage that it is bracketing.
As an apologist, I've often been tasked to defend the Eucharist. On such occasions, I've turned to John 6 more times than I can count. Yet, for some reason, I never noticed this inclusio before. What it means is that, for vs. 51-58, we need to come away with the truth that whoever eats this bread will live forever.
As much as the Bread of Life Discourse is about eating and about the true food that Jesus is, it is also very much about Jesus as the source of eternal life:
- "Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life,* which the Son of Man will give you" (vs. 27).
- "For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (vs. 33).
- "Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst" (vs. 35).
- "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" (vs. 40).
- "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life" (vs. 47)
- "this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die" (vs. 50)
- "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever" (vs. 51)
- "Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you" (vs. 53).
- "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day" (vs. 54).
- "Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me" (vs. 57).
- "This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever" (vs. 58).
As Catholics, we are privileged to receive this amazing food. How can we not want others to receive it, too? We all have people in our lives with the words of the crowd on their lips: "Sir, give us this bread always!" (vs. 34). This is where the RCIA comes in.
When you extend that invitation, when you step out in boldness and challenge someone to consider the Catholic faith, you are inviting them to a supernatural banquet. You are much like Wisdom from yesterday's Old Testament reading:
Wisdom has built her house,Doesn't every person long to come and dine at this table? With your invitation, you can satisfy that longing. You can point them in the direction of Wisdom's table. More than that, you can give them the eternal life that Jesus tells us over and over is firmly rooted in Him and the food that he provides. You can give them "forever"!
she has set up her seven columns;
she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine,
yes, she has spread her table.
She has sent out her maidens; she calls
from the heights out over the city:
"Let whoever is simple turn in here;
To the one who lacks understanding, she says,
Come, eat of my food,
and drink of the wine I have mixed!
Forsake foolishness that you may live;
advance in the way of understanding." (Prov 9:1-6)
Seen in that light, this simple invitation becomes a very important one ... but do not be afraid! You are not asking anyone to convert tomorrow! You are asking him to come to one meeting, to give the Church Her say, to hear Her out, to see if he is not convinced by what She has to offer. If this person says, "No thanks", then at least you know that you have played your part. Then, move on to the next person! If just 10%, or even 1% of all the parishioners in the pews on Sunday asked one person to give the RCIA a try, you'd have a classroom full of inquiring minds!
It is possible. It can be done. It starts with you. Right now, ask yourself: Who might I ask to come and consider the Catholic faith? It could be a co-worker, a neighbor, a friend, a family member, even the person sitting next to you. RCIA does not happen unless everyone takes this invitation seriously. Do you have something special as a Catholic, or do you not? If you do, how could you not want to share it?