16TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
[Be] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4
We hear a lot these days about seeking peace and unity, how we should seek greater peace among nations, within our nation, within our families and local communities. Peace is certainly a great human good, something to be strongly desired, something most of us do in fact desire. And we also know that there cannot be genuine peace without genuine unity, at least a fundamental unity among people living in proximity to each other. We pray for peace and long for peace, hopefully even work for peace, but the world around us does not seem to grow more peaceful in this age. There is little or no progress in peace because there is less and less that unites us as people, that is, less and less that unites us on a deeper level of our humanity in the depths of the human soul, where true peace has to be grounded.
But what is it that can truly unite us as people, as a nation; what is that fundamental unity that makes genuine peace a real possibility? Is this deeper unity simply having a common government – if that were so, there would never be civil wars. If we say that the form of government is our sole claim to unity, then we are united only by a process, but not necessarily by content, and that kind of unity does not offer much hope in the long run for peace.
Or is unity simply established by having a common culture? Then there is little hope for peace among radically different cultures. Indeed, it is quite arguable whether a common culture exists any longer within our own nation, except perhaps on the most superficial levels of things like entertainment and food. But if a common culture includes having a common vision of life, moral values, art, and education, etc. then it is clearly questionable whether we any longer have much of a common culture in the United States.
So what is it that ultimately unites people in a truly unified nation?
And what is the source of a broader unity that makes for real peace in this world, if having a common government does not suffice, and if national cultures naturally vary from people to people in rather essential ways? I am not sure modern man can readily answer that question since most people today have lost any sense of the transcendent in this world, that is, of something, or someone, greater than us, that can transcend all the differences in cultures and forms of government and languages, etc. and enable us to find genuine and deep unity in the midst of the great diversities in this world,
St. Paul points us in the right direction when he not only enjoins us to seek such unity but also teaches us where to find the ultimate and transcendent ground of such a powerful and universal form of unity and peace. He finds that ultimate ground of unity, and thus a true, universal peace, in the “one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.” It is the word “all’ that sticks out here; Father of us all; above all, through all, in all. The truth is that only God can ultimately unite us all. Only God can serve as the ground of the deep unity that brings true peace, because only God embraces us all, is the inner principle of unity in us all. It is this fundamental truth that modern man no longer understands because he has abandoned true faith, and in his radical worldliness, he no longer understands the very ground of his being and the only real possibility for a universal peace; and in that loss of faith and supernatural vision modern man has abandoned hope.
St. Paul goes further and speaks about this specific unity that has the Father as its source and goal. It is a profound interior unity in God, the unity which is the Holy Spirit, and who is also a gift to us, making us one in Himself, one with the Son and His Father. The presence of the Holy Spirit in human souls is what truly unites them, making them one body, the Body of Christ, His one Mystical Body. And thus, says Paul, there is but one Lord (Christ and members), one faith professed by the one body; and all of this results in one common hope, which includes the peace that no one can take from the Lord’s Body.
All of this truth about unity and peace leads quite logically to the miracle in today’s Gospel where Jesus feeds the large crowd that has been following him into the wilderness, hoping perhaps to receive something from him, like a miraculous cure, or to hear some great message from his lips to give them hope, or perhaps just hoping to see some sign from him that He is the Messiah. One can imagine the chaos of a hungry crowd of thousands, which in that time and place must have seemed like a massive gathering. And, indeed, they did receive quite a sign in the great miracle, yet a sign they obviously did not understand, at least at that moment. He gave them a great sign that would have filled them with great hope, had they only understood.
But do even we understand the deepest meaning of that miracle today? Do we yet understand what that miracle has to do with man’s hope for peace and unity and final fulfillment? Surely we understand more than they who actually witnessed it did at the time that they witnessed it. We must understand, surely, that this miracle certainly has to do with the later gift of the Eucharist, that the Lord who multiplied bread and fish that day, will later transform bread and wine into His own body and blood, and not to feed thousands, but millions, every day of the year, year in and year our until the end of time. But Why!, Why? What does it all have to do with our hope for peace, with mankind’s hope period?
The Eucharist is the great Sacrament of Unity, because it is the Sacrament of Charity. Our faith teaches us this is true, that this sacrament is the source of the unity we long for precisely because it is the Sacrament of Christ’s saving and unifying humanity, of the humanity he offered for us, in love, on the Cross. He gives us Himself and not just some spiritual experience of Himself, that is, his whole self, body and blood, soul and divinity. In this gift of Himself, he brings us a deeper unity than anything else we know in this world. He makes us one with and in himself, and thus makes us one with and in each other. For the brief moments of the Eucharistic Banquet, wherever it is celebrated in this world, men and women realize for that brief time the deepest unity possible for men, the unity in Christ, with the Father and the Spirit, and with every other person who is drawn into the Eucharistic mystery. In this Banquet of Christ, we come to realize that we already share in God’s unity through the life of Grace, and we know that we share in that life even more deeply though communion with Christ’s body and blood.
The Eucharist then has three dimensions of hope being realized at one and the same time. First it is a recalling of hope, that when we were Baptized God called us into the communion of His life, and that made us one spiritually. Secondly, the Eucharist is a deepening of that hope through its extension to our flesh, when we become one with the risen humanity of Our Savior in the flesh and briefly taste the fulness of bodily and spiritual communion in him. Finally, the Eucharist is a pledge of final hope going beyond this world, the hope we have in our resurrection, when we will be one with God in our whole being, and one with each other in a way that we cannot fully understand in this world.
St. Paul fully exhorts us “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” and that is precisely an exhortation to share in the Eucharist. There in the Eucharist is man’s only true hope for peace and unity on the grand scale we long for, for there we find the one body, the one faith, the One Lord, the one Father who is Father of us all, above all, through all, in all. It is in the Eucharist that we encounter the fulness of this mystery of man’s destiny in God. To miss this, is to miss everything, to lose all hope. To partake in this sacred mystery is to know the joy that Jesus promised no one can take from us.