20th Sun [B] 1991

Fr. Charles Irvin

Proverbs 9:1-6; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Imagine yourself sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture on astronomy. The moon is the subject and the lecturer drones on about its rock formations, the chemical and mineral content of its soil, the known rock formations, the specific density of the moon, the magnitude of its gravitational pull, and so on, and so on, and so on.

Now imagine yourself outdoors, in the mystical, moist summer night air, looking up from time to time at the moon in a midnight blue sky, with stars twinkling in the background, crickets singing in the darkness, and frogs croaking in a nearby pond. The smell of flowers and dew-dampened grass is in your nostrils, and your whole being is held absolutely transfixed in an experience of the moon that will remain forever in your memory.

Those are two experiences you and I have all had. They are not opposed to each other; both have their place in your lives. But the classroom experience without the summer night’s experience would leave us impoverished.

It is one thing to know with our minds, it is quite another to experience with our hearts and souls.

Sad to say, far too many of us here at this Mass that have been told about God and hold notions about God in their minds, but they have never experienced God in their hearts and souls. They believe in God with a cautious and somewhat hesitant intellectual assent, but they’ve never allowed themselves to experience God with a soul-filled experience of God’s presence to them in their hearts and souls. And that’s tragic; it’s a truncated and impoverished form of religion that stays at the level of mere notions, concepts, doctrines, rules and regulations. What a pity!

God made us with minds and hearts. One without the other leaves us unbalanced and only half human. Our emotions, our feelings, and our experiences can teach us just as well as our intellects and our brains.

We are, all of us, awash in emotional experiences and in deep feelings. We experience the fear of failure; we are overcome with grief when we suffer the loss of one we love; we feel the thrill of victory and the happiness and satisfaction of success; we fall in love; we are overjoyed at meeting again with and old and long lost friend. And we’ve all known suffering and grief. Life’s experiences make an impact on us.

If our religion never reaches that level, if God is never FEELS real, if we never feel His Presence in our heart and realize His life and Spirit living in our souls, then as a practical matter we have no God. He doesn’t really exist for us, and our faith life is only a half-life.

As a priest there is nothing more rewarding for me than to be with someone when they become aware of God not simply as “up there” or “out there” but as “in here”, inside, in the heart and soul. After all is said and done, after all the creeds are written, all the books of theology are printed, and after all of the sermons are preached and faith-sharing groups are assembled, the truth remains that God made you to love Him face to face. He made you to have a heart with room in it for Him to enter and live within. He made your heart to talk with Him; He made your soul to whisper words of love to Him.

“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” sings the Psalmist. “You must know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,’ advises St. Paul. “He who abides in love,” says St. John, “abides in God, and God in Him.”

And Jesus? We hear Him in the most sublime and luminous moment of His life of self-giving say to us: “This is my body, take it. This is my blood, drink it.” Imagine, God the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, begging to be loved, to be taken, to be accepted, to be experienced in your heart and soul!! It’s a fantastic scene; the angels watch, holding their breath. What will those earthlings do?, they ask. Will they let Him in?

There are many ways of coming to know truth and arriving at knowledge. We can study physical sciences, engineering, physics, and natural science. We can study philosophy, law, literature, history, and political science. We can major in economics or business administration. We can develop muscular minds and incredible intellects. And all of those ways are valid, have their place, and are of immense value to us.

But in the realm of our spirit there is another route to knowledge; it is the way of experience. It comes in the incredibly enriching experience of friendship, in the profound commitments of marriage and family, in loving and intimate relationships with others wherein we share the deepest parts of our inner selves and receive those precious gifts in return. We have all tasted and seen. We have come to knowledge, and we have discovered truth, in the rich experiences of living.

The psalmist invites us to take the risk, to set aside fear, to surrender to the loving Presence of God who seeks entrance into our hearts… that we may experience His closeness, His love, and His presence within. Psalm 34 goes on singing: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”

Our hearts, yours and mine along with yours, are too much held down by fear. Fear is a controlling and dominating emotion. The intellectual part within us fears faith; it doesn’t want to be made a fool; it’s fears being duped by a faith built on fables. So fear holds us back from the sort of prayer that induces us to surrender to God; the sort of prayer that surrenders and says: “Dear Lord, I want only to do what you want me to do.”

But for those who can accept God’s Presence a great and wondrous day dawns when they taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Then something that they believed merely with their minds becomes something that is real and in their experience, something that lasts forever and that nobody can ever take away from them.

“I am the bread come down from heaven. I am the bread of life. If anyone eats this bread, he shall live forever, I living in him, he living in me in a life that is eternal.” That is Christ’s invitation to you in today’s Gospel.

“Taste and see,” you are urged. No one, not even God Himself, will force you. It’s something that can be yours only by your response…. your response to Love’s insistent call to your soul.

“This is my body, take it.” “This is my blood, drink it.” “This is me, love me”.

“The heart has its reasons the mind knows not of.” (Blaise Pascal).

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”