Father Robert Barron preaches love of the Holy Eucharist

Original sin an interruption of God’s divine meal

POWER OF GOD Father Robert Barron delivers a rousing talk to thousands of followers who attended the Diocese of Knoxville’s Eucharistic Congress to hear him. Photo by Stephanie Richer

POWER OF GOD Father Robert Barron delivers a rousing talk to thousands of followers who attended the Diocese of Knoxville’s Eucharistic Congress to hear him. Photo by Stephanie Richer

When Father Robert Barron speaks, people listen, and that certainly was true Sept. 14, when the world-renowned theologian compared the holy sacrifice of the Mass to the Garden of Eden, the Last Supper, and the mountain where Jesus feeds the 5,000.

The comparison to feeding 5,000 was especially appropriate given that Father Barron’s presentation during the Diocese of Knoxville’s Eucharistic Congress was shortly before the closing Mass, where 5,000 congress attendees would gather to receive the holy Eucharist.

Father Barron was afraid Dr. Scott Hahn “stole his thunder” during the congress.

Father Barron, founder and executive director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and rector/president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, and Dr. Hahn both had similar themes in their talks on the Eucharist on Sept. 14 at the Sevierville Events Center.

“What is the one thing that unites the saints as different as they are from Augustine to Thomas Aquinas to the Little Flower to Francis of Assisi to Edith Stein? Their love of the Holy Eucharist,” Father Barron said. “It’s the sign, it seems to me, that somebody is connected to the body of Christ. So it’s always a privilege, always a joy to talk about the Eucharist.”

The eagerness of people to receive the Eucharist became apparent when Father Barron once had the opportunity to distribute Communion in St. Peter’s Square, he said.

“As you’re distributing, people are just rushing up to you in sort of the Italian way, but they rushed up and stretched their hands out and they’d say, ‘Padre, per favore.’ ‘Please, Father!’ And I would distribute, then the hands would continue to stretch out—the young hands, the old hands, the hands of different colors—and ‘Father, per favore!’

“And what struck me was that was the right attitude toward the Eucharist. It is something that we should be begging for from the bottom of our souls, because without the Eucharist, we starve to death spiritually.”

Father Barron said he wonders whether Catholics hear “The body of Christ, amen” with a ho-hum attitude.

“Think of St. Peter’s Square: ‘Padre, per favore!’ Like someone physically starving—that’s the right attitude to the Eucharist. That’s the right behavior concomitant to the claim that the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life.”

Father Barron talked about the Eucharist “under these three great rubrics, and they’re familiar to us, I think: namely a meal, sacrifice, and real presence. Again, I’m touching on some things that Dr. Hahn does as well.” Father Barron’s address also prefigured the themes of Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s keynote talk later that day.

The original sin in the Garden of Eden was “an interruption” of God’s divine meal, Father Barron said.

“An interruption of the flow of the divine life leading to us and through us to the rest of the world. Do you see how in the Biblical reading, our trouble began with a bad meal? The original sin was a kind of bad meal. ‘I will take, I will have, I will make it mine. I determine right from wrong. I will eat of this tree on my own terms.’ No, no. That’s where the garden is compromised. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that throughout the Bible, what’s God trying to do? He’s trying to re-establish his sacred meal.”

Isaiah prophesied and saw “the great sacred mountain, that’s the sacred mountain on which the swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks,” Father Barron said.

“That’s the mountain where there will be no more warfare. That’s the mountain where the lion and the lamb lie down together, right? But what else happens on that mountain? On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will make all peoples a feast, a feast of rich food, of well-aged wines strained clear. God lays out for his people on his holy mountain a meal, a sacred banquet. It’s meant to recover and recapitulate Eden.”

Jesus, “the person who speaks and acts in the very person of God, is the God who was offended by the original sin,” Father Barron said.

“He is the God who set out the sacred banquet. He is the God who established the people Israel through a series of sacred meals; therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that meals play a major role in the life and ministry of Jesus.”

Father Barron asked, “What’s the Mass, this sacred meal?”

“It’s the garden of Eden, isn’t it? It’s Isaiah’s holy mountain, isn’t it, where God himself is laying out for us a banquet? What’s the Mass? It’s the mountain where Jesus feeds the 5,000. What’s the Mass? It’s the Last Supper, where Jesus gathers around himself the new Israel. Friends, all of this happens when we gather for Mass.”

On the Mass as a sacrifice, Father Barron said that in the late 1960s and ’70s, “we talked about Mass as a sacred meal.”

“Sacrifice—I hardly ever heard about that. The holy sacrifice of the Mass, that was old-fashioned–minded. No, it’s the sacred, happy meal—a gathering. Sacrifice? Not so much. That, everybody, was a huge mistake. That was a huge mistake both theologically and spiritually and pastorally and in every other way, because sacrifice is so basic to the way the Bible understands the Eucharist, the cross, and the life, dying, and rising of Jesus.”

If people went back in a time machine to the ancient world, “we’d be struck by a lot of things that are strange, but what would most strike us would be the prevalence of sacrifice, the number of sacrifices going on all the time,” Father Barron said.

“So what was the logic of the ancient world, including ancient Israel? Really kind of simple: to take some aspect of God’s creation, whether it’s an animal or the first fruits of your harvest—take some aspect of God’s creation and return it to God. Because God needs it? No, God needs nothing, but return it to God as a sign of gratitude, thanksgiving, communion, atonement. Some aspect of creation—return it so as to reestablish or reaffirm a connectedness to God. That’s a logical sacrifice.”

A sacrifice was “a bloody, painful affair,” he said.

“Sacrifice prior to the original sin would have been effortless because we’d be in right relation to God. We would be in friendship with God, so naturally returning something to God from creation to the creator in gratitude and love would be effortless. But what’s the problem here? The problem here is that we live in a world gone wrong. We live in the world after the fall. We’re all compromised. Therefore, aligning ourselves properly to God will always hurt. It will always cost.”

Jesus “is not one more prophet in a long line of prophets, not one guru, not one teacher among many, but Jesus is the very incarnation of Yahweh,” Father Barron said. “He is the one who speaks and acts in the person of God; therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that sacrifice is central to who he is.” Jesus bore the “full weight of human sin and brings us with him online to the father,” he added.

“Remember what sacrifice is meant to do. It was meant to bring together divinity and humanity, but in a world gone wrong, this will always mean a bloody sacrificial business, and so indeed it ends. Here is the great act of atonement, the great act of sacrifice that brings the whole world back online to the father.

“Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Behold, the scapegoat upon whom is placed all the sins of the world. Behold, therefore, the great priest who effects this great sacrifice by which the world is healed.”

When people gather for Mass, “you’re in the holy temple, now renewed,” Father Barron said. “When you gather for Mass, where are you? You are in the cenacle of the Last Supper. When you gather for Mass, where are you? You are at Mount Calvary.”

Father Barron asked, “What’s the ground for the real presence?”

“It is that magnificent sixth chapter of John. Everybody here, read that chapter with great care. Find a really good commentary on it. Work your way through it prayerfully. Jesus just fed the 5,000, so a eucharistic act has just taken place. This great Isaiahan act of feeding the 5,000, and then he engages in this stunning commentary about what he’s done.”

People in Jesus’ day “reacted so negatively when He said my flesh is real food, because this was not only disgusting for a first century Jew, it was also deeply objectionable religiously because throughout the Old Testament you’ve got prohibitions against eating an animal’s flesh with its blood,” Father Barron said.

Later in John 6, after Jesus had said, “‘whoever eats this bread will live forever,’” Father Barron said, “‘many disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.’ The real-presence teaching has always been a divisive teaching.”

Father Barron said that St. Thomas Aquinas is his favorite saint and that because of him he became a priest. He said the saint had written his masterpiece, Summa Theologica, “but he was unsure that he had done justice” to his topic.

“So Thomas, they say, put the text at the foot of the cross and begged the Lord, ‘Tell me, tell me, is this right?’ The magnificent story attested to by a number of people who witnessed this say that from the cross, a voice came: ‘You’ve spoken well of me, Thomas. What would you have as a reward?’ Jesus spoke to Thomas in Latin.

“Then the great answer, and by the way, if you’re asked this question by the risen Jesus, here’s the answer. Don’t say, ‘a Maserati.’ ‘Thomas, what would you have?’ Thomas said, ‘Nil nisi te.’ ‘Nothing, except you.’ That’s the right answer.”