20 August 2015

'Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.' Sunday Reflections, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B


Saint Peter, El Greco, 1610-13 [Web Gallery of Art]
Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial, Madrid 

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)


When many of Jesus’ disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Pope Francis in Palo, Leyte, Philippines, 17 January 2015 [Wikipedia

This Sunday's gospel concludes the Eucharistic Discourse of Chapter 6 of St John's Gospel. The teaching of Jesus that many of his disciples could not accept was what we heard last Sunday: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood. 

St Peter today speaks on behalf of those who stay with Jesus: Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.

In his Angelus audience last Sunday Pope Francis spoke these words which are very relevant to today's gospel. I have highlighted parts of the text.

In these Sundays, the Liturgy proposes to us, from the Gospel of John, Jesus' discourse on the Bread of Life, that is He Himself and that is also the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Today's passage (Jn. 6, 51-58) presents the last part of that discourse, and refers to some of those among the people who are scandalized because Jesus said: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day" (Jn. 6,54).
The astonishment of those listening is understandable; in fact, Jesus uses the typical style of the prophets to provoke in the people – and also in us – questions and, in the end, to make a decision. The first of the questions is: What does "eat Jesus' flesh and drink his blood" mean? Is it only an image, a way of saying, a symbol, or does it indicate something real? To answer this, one needs to guess what is happening in Jesus' heart while he breaks the bread for the hungry crowd. Knowing that He must die on the cross for us, Jesus identifies Himself with that broken and shared bread, and that becomes for Him the "sign" of the Sacrifice that awaits Him. This process culminates in the Last Supper, where the bread and wine truly become His Body and His Blood.
It is the Eucharist where Jesus leaves us a precise purpose: that we can become one with Him. In fact, he says: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (v.56). To remain: Jesus in us and us in Him. Communion is assimilation: eating Him, we become Him. But this requires our "yes", our adherence to the faith.
At times, during the Holy Mass, it may happen to feel this objection: "What is the purpose of the Mass? I go in Church when I feel like it, and I pray better alone." But the Eucharist is not a private prayer or a beautiful spiritual experience, it is not a simple commemoration of what Jesus has done in the Last Supper: we say, to understand well, that the Eucharist is a "memorial", that is, an act that actualizes and makes present the event of the death and resurrection of Jesus: the bread is truly His Body given to us; the wine is truly His Blood that has been shed.
The Eucharist is Jesus who gives Himself entirely to us. By nourishing ourselves from Him and remaining in Him through the Eucharistic Communion, if we do it with faith, it transforms our life; it transforms it into a gift to God and a gift to our brothers. To nourish ourselves from that "bread of life" means being in tune with the heart of Christ, to assimilate His choices, His thoughts, His behavior. It means entering into a dynamic of sacrificial love and become a person of peace, of forgiveness, of reconciliation of sharing in solidarity. It is the same as Jesus has done.
Jesus concludes his discourse with these words; "Whoever eats this bread will live forever" (Jn. 6,58). Yes, living in a concrete, real communion with Jesus on this earth makes us pass from death to life. The heavens begin precisely in this communion with Jesus.
In Heaven, Mary our Mother awaits us – yesterday we celebrated this mystery. May She obtain for us the grace of nourishing ourselves always with faith in Jesus, the Bread of Life.
Servant of God Fr Emil Kapaun celebrating Mass during the Korean War [Wikipedia]

I came to know of Fr Emil Kapaun in my teenage years when I read a biography I came across in a public library in Dublin. I was inspired by his heroism as a chaplain in the US forces during the Korean War. I was delighted to discover that this heroic priest shared a birthday with me, 20 April, and 'cancelled out' another born on that date - Adolf Hitler. (St Rose of Lima, a secondary patroness of the Philippines whose feast coincides with this Sunday, is another on the 'plus' side!)

In the video below it is clear how Father Kapaun, who is being considered for beatification, lived the words of Pope Francis about the Eucharist: To nourish ourselves from that "bread of life" means being in tune with the heart of Christ, to assimilate His choices, His thoughts, His behavior. It means entering into a dynamic of sacrificial love and become a person of peace, of forgiveness, of reconciliation of sharing in solidarity. It is the same as Jesus has done.

In the video [5:38 - 5:56] we hear Fr Kapaun's own voice echoing the words of St Peter in today's gospel: We can be sure to expect that in our own lives there will come a time when we must make a choice that between being loyal to the true faith or of giving allegiance to something else which is either opposed to or not in alliance with our faith.

One cannot but be moved by the description of how Fr Kapaun saved Herbert Miller, a wounded American soldier [2:53 - 3:51]. 'He picked me up and carried me' . . . 'So he carried him for 30 miles.' It means entering into a dynamic of sacrificial love, as Pope Francis said last Sunday.


In the video below it is clear that Chaplain Kapaun utterly believed that in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass Jesus the Risen Lord becomes truly present among us and not just symbolically. He put thousands of miles on his jeep to bring the presence of Christ in the Eucharist to the front lines. He often celebrated Mass for them on the hood of his jeep [0:59 - 1:06]. 

In the prison of war camp Fr Kapaun was like a mother to all the soldiers . . . He'd help keep them clean. He'd wash their clothes. He'd lead them in prayer services. He'd celebrate Mass in secret when he could [2:27 - 2:53].

The last thing they saw him do in this life was bless the men who were taking him to his death and pray out loud, 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do'  [3:33 - 3:44].

The crucifix in the background to those words of Jesus that Fr Kapaun repeated was carved later in his memory by one of his companions in the camp - a Jew.

Surely this heroic priest lived the words of Pope Francis: It means entering into a dynamic of sacrificial love and become a person of peace, of forgiveness, of reconciliation of sharing in solidarity. It is the same as Jesus has done.

The life and death of Fr Emil Joseph Kapaun expressed fully the response of Simon Peter to Jesus, Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.


A footnote about Fr Kapaun

Fr Kapaun has a Columban connection. He wrote to the Columbans in Omaha, Nebraska, inquiring about the possibility of becoming one. However, his vocation was to be a diocesan priest. In the chapel of the central house of the Columbans in Seoul is a plaque with the names of priests who died during the Korean War as chaplains in the US forces, some of whom used to visit our house. And some of them surely knew some of the seven Columban priests who died in the Korean War and who are being proposed for beatification by the Catholic Church in Korea.

In the two videos above Fr Kapaun's surname is pronounced in different ways: 'capAWN', 'CAPE-un', 'cape-AWN'. As far as I know, the first is correct. 

3 comments:

gemma j. paras said...

How inspiring is this story of Fr. Kapaun. Thank you for sharing Fr. Sean.

Deb Thurston said...

Hi Father, you're correct that the correct pronunciation of the family name is "kuh-PAWN". The story is told that one of the bishops (forgive my fuzzy memory) mispronounced his name as "CAPE-un", and the dear people of St. John Nepomucene Parish in Pilsen didn't have the courage to correct the good bishop. Unfortunately, the incorrect pronunciation stuck. The award of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the effective use of social media, and the faithful who continue to spread devotion to this humble and heroic priest combine to make his cause known near and far. He helps me almost daily. I commend him to you, your readers, and your flock. Thanks for sharing his story.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thank you, Deb. I remember reading in a biography of Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore that on his way home from Vatican I, which declared the infallibility of the Pope, a Protestant lady on the ship asked him 'Is it true that the Pope cannot make a mistake?' The Irish-born cardinal replied, 'Well, he still calls me "Jibbons"!'

I read a delightful story yesterday on his feast day about a visit of some former parishioners to St Pius X in the Vatican. One asked him if it was true that he could do miracles. The Pope replied with a smile, 'Here in the Vatican you to turn your hand to many things!'

I am more and more convinced that we have many saints, canonised and otherwise, who are truly joyful people and with a sense of humour. The photo of Fr Kapaun with his 'wounded' pipe shows this: https://lintvksnw.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/the_medal_at_last__earmstrongksn-com_1-e1365706281667.jpg?w=401.

And here is a link that I found through your website: http://ksn.com/2015/08/06/recovery-of-chase-kear-to-be-featured-on-tlc-episode/

Again, Deb, many thanks. May this great priest become more and more known.