Nineteenth Sunday of the Year/Feast of St. Dominic, 8th August, 2021

(John 6:41-51; 1 Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:30-5:2)

The readings of today’s Mass are very much about life-giving bread, a fitting topic for the feast of St. Dominic, in this Jubilee Year of his death, when the image the Order has put before us is that of the Mascarella Table. It is the first known portrait of St. Dominic, portraying him in table fellowship with his followers, as he shares bread with them, bread that would nourish them to go out to preach the Word. We are indebted to Fr. Michael Dunleavy and the Tallaght community for the wonderful series of web talks on the Mascarella Table to commemorate the Jubilee. The second reading today embodies Dominic’s relationship with those who sat at table with him, calling them, and us, to “be friends with one another, and kind, forgiving each other as readily as God forgives you in Christ… following Christ by loving as he loves you.”

Nourishment to give life is the theme of the first reading today. Poor Elijah has had enough of life: “Lord,” he said “I have had enough. Take my life.” How many during the pandemic have had similar thoughts of despair when all they had worked for and hoped for had turned to dust. I wonder how many took Elijah’s example and just lay down and went to sleep, letting the awfulness be quieted within then, allowing themselves to be raised up to new life, as Elijah was, by the nourishment of living bread given to him by a messenger from God. We can be such a messenger for someone who has lost the will to live, providing the equivalent of the “baked scone and jar of water” for them – maybe by way of a listening ear, a word of encouragement, or whatever is needed at the time.  

The Gospel specifies that the “Bread of Life” is Jesus himself. The gospels for these few Sundays are all taken from John, chapter six. After the miracle of the loaves we have the sermon of Jesus which, first of all, speaks of the “Bread of Life” in terms of the Wisdom of God. Jesus is portrayed in the role of Lady Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures who invites people to come to eat and drink at the banquet of life. In Jewish writings the desire to bring God’s Wisdom to others is often mentioned, for example in the Sayings of the Fathers: “Hillel used to say: be the disciple of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving humankind and drawing them close to the Torah” (Pirke Aboth 1:12). For John, Jesus is the new place where the Torah and the Wisdom of God is to be found: “to hear the teaching of the Father and learn from it, is to come to me.”

But by the end of the gospel today the “living bread” is clearly the Eucharist: “and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.” In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis speaks of the gift of the Eucharist as being firmly within creation: “The Lord…chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter… he comes that we might find him in this world of ours.” He goes on to cite Teilhard de Chardin’s image of the Host of the Eucharist on the altar of the world (LS’236). We can join in that lifting up of the Host in our celebration of the Eucharist for the many situations in our world which need prayer today.

To return to the Masarella Table, the Master of the Order, Fr. Gerard Timoner, O.P., in announcing the Jubilee, puts some pertinent questions to us:

  • “What does it mean to be at table with St. Dominic here and now?”
  • How does his life and work inspire and encourage us to share our faith, hope and love, our spiritual and material goods, so that others may be nourished at the same table?
  • How does this table become a table for the breaking of the Word and the Bread of Life?”

Céline Mangan, O.P.

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