Monday, August 17, 2009

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
The Magic of Gillyweed

Readings: Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Dear sisters and brothers, do you know what gillyweed is, what it’s used for? My guess is that many of you know better than I do. You know that gillyweed is a plant from the Harry Potter stories. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, gillyweed helps Harry to complete the second of three perilous tasks that he has to perform as part of the Triwizard Tournament. The second task requires that Harry and each of the other three contestants go underwater to rescue a loved one. And Harry is able to do this only after eating gillyweed. The plant makes him grow gills for breathing underwater. It also turns his feet into flippers and makes his hands webbed, so that he can swim better. That’s what gillyweed is for: it helps you to survive underwater.

Which makes me wonder what would happen if gillyweed was given to people who lived in the desert, people who neither liked to swim nor knew how. Would these people also grow gills and webbed hands and feet? And if they did, would they even know what to do with these things? Or perhaps they wouldn’t even want to eat gillyweed in the first place, since we’re told that it’s not very appetizing. It’s green and looks like a bunch of rats’ tails. It’s also rubbery and tasteless. Our desert-dwelling friends might, of course, try to find ways to jazz up the taste a bit – add mustard, or ketchup to it, maybe, or slap on a generous coating of barbecue sauce and then grill it. But whatever they did, as long as they did not dive into the water after eating it, they’d be missing the point, right?

I mention gillyweed today, because I think that maybe it’s not much different from how the Eucharist can look and taste like sometimes. For some of us, and I should confess, sometimes also for me too, the Eucharist can seem quite bland and boring. Why am I sitting here, listening to the priest drone on and on, when I could be catching up on sleep, or maybe even watching that new Harry Potter movie? At times, this is how the Eucharist tastes like to us – tough and tasteless. Of course, this may be due to any number of reasons: the priest may be having a bad day, or the cantor may be recovering from a head cold… And we could respond by trying to jazz things up in various ways. But more than anything else, the Eucharist can seem most tasteless when we lose touch with its deeper meaning, when we forget that the Eucharist has an intimate connection with life. As Jesus tells us: whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life… Just as eating gillyweed might seem a silly thing to do if one doesn’t dive into the water immediately after, so does the Eucharist become tough and tasteless when separated from the tasks of daily living.

How then might we make our participation in the Eucharist more meaningful? How might we better relate the liturgy to life? Our readings offer us some important hints. The first reading paints for us a picture of a banquet laid out by Lady Wisdom to which we are invited. We are told that Wisdom calls from the heights out over the city… Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live… And in this call, we find three important steps towards making our participation in the Eucharist more meaningful: COME, EAT and LIVE...

The first of these steps might perhaps seem too obvious to require further explanation. Of course we have to come to the Eucharist to experience its effects. Aren’t we here now? But are we really here? Sure, we may all be here physically. But where are we mentally and emotionally? Isn’t it possible that even as we might be sitting in our chairs, we are really someplace and even sometime else – replaying in our minds that difficult conversation we had with someone the other night, for instance, or worrying about something we have to do tomorrow, or maybe even wondering about that cool place we’ll be visiting after Mass? But is it really possible to keep all our distractions at bay? Probably not. Still, maybe it isn’t necessary to do that in order to be fully present. Maybe what we need instead is simply to acknowledge our distractions and make them a part of our prayer. Isn’t this also what coming to the Eucharist involves? Like the patient who uncovers his/her symptoms before the doctor instead of trying to hide them, we come to the Eucharist as we are, allowing our preoccupations and distractions to be laid bare. We come acknowledging that we don’t have it all together. Because that’s precisely why we are here. As the first reading tells us, Wisdom’s invitation is issued not so much to the wise as to whoever is simple… to the one who lacks understanding. And I am that person. I am the one who often doesn’t understand what life requires of me. I am the person who often remembers only my own needs and interests even as I forget the depth of God’s love for me. That’s me. I come as I am. We come as we are. And we say Lord have mercy.

Even so, we don’t remain as we are. We come only to be transformed. And for this to happen, we need to eat. At one level, this refers, of course, to Holy Communion, to our sharing in the one Bread and the one Cup at the one Table of the Lord. But just as there’s more to coming to the Eucharist than being physically present, so does eating involve more than the juices in our digestive system. For, as we are told in our readings today, what we are sharing is not just a feast for the taste buds. It is also a banquet for the understanding. It’s meant not just to strengthen our bodies, but also to help us to make wise, God-centered decisions. Do not continue in ignorance, the second reading tells us, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord. Which means, more than just our stomachs and intestines, the food we share in the Eucharist has to pass through our hearts, that deep place within us where our decisions are made. This is what it means to eat. This is what we are trying to do through our singing of the hymns, our attention to the readings, our responses to the prayers, our interaction with one another and everything else at the Eucharist. We are allowing Jesus, the Bread of Life to enter into our hearts and to transform us – to turn us from foolishness to wisdom.

And all this happens not only in this confined space, and not only for this limited time. We come and eat so that we might live. And living extends beyond what we are doing here. Living means continually striving to forsake the foolishness of a self-centered existence, in order to embrace the wisdom of a Christ-centered one. Living means allowing ourselves to be bread broken for others, just as Christ was broken for us. Living the Eucharist means being willing to dive into the cold and choppy waters of life, because Christ first plunged into the messiness of our human existence. In this, we see again the similarity between the Eucharist and gillyweed. Just as eating gillyweed was a cool thing for Harry Potter to do only because he then plunged into the water to rescue his friends, so too is the Eucharist meaningful, only if our coming and our eating leads us also to live out its implications in our daily lives.

There’s one other thing. Harry Potter came to know about the magic of gillyweed only because someone else shared it with him. Sisters and brothers, do you know of anyone with whom you might share the wisdom of the Eucharist today?


  1. What you just shared is so real.
    It was commented by a parishioner at our Place of Gathering who remarked that we go to Church to perform these rituals:
    Come - worship the Lord
    Sit - and listen to the word
    Stand - to praise God
    Go - to preach the gospel
    The essential element is the Manna from Heaven in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist that often elude us. Often I drift into day dream but return in a rude jerk into the reality of Come Sit Stand Go.
    During one of the BoW session, a Catechumen inquired that if those who do not receive Christ, will there be an eternal existence. The answer given was either eternal death or eternal life as promised by the Saviour. It is so easy to forget as we dribble and fret the small stuff in our daily existence. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Fr Chris

    I somehow get the feeling that the Eucharist is being presented here as a means to an end instead of being the desired relationship with the Bread of Life. Not that this is very different from how loved relationships are viewed and practised in our fallen world--that we "love things and use people" instead of "love people and use things".

    So the Bread of Life - the person of Jesus can be seen as bread for life--a source of useful nourishment competing with other more palatable sources, and losing it's appeal in a world of many choices for material and spiritual well-being.

    It is quite another matter to see the Eucharist as relationship--as the Way that our Lord of Love has chosen to be present to us in heart, mind, strength and soul in a way that bests meets our hunger and thirst--through bread and wine. Any hungry or thirsty person will know instinctively to seek food and drink or face certain death, though spiritual hunger and thirst can sometimes be ignored for long periods of time without seeming desperation.

    The way God has chosen to be incarnate in our lives defeats analogy with any visible parallel we can possibly think of.

    Not being a Harry Potter fan (and not knowing what I'm missing out on :), I guess the imagery of Harry Potter saving the drowning person out of deep love and providing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, being likened to God sending Jesus to offer us drowning souls the Breath of Life would work better for me.

    Thanks for the provocative analogy anyhow.

  3. Strangely it was at a management meeting. I was feeling really peeved as I was being chastised by the top guy for something I thought I did right.

    Anyway, the top guy made some silly comment about me "sitting in a corner and wanting to be redeemed". I was so mad!

    I just calmly replied, "Mr Top Guy, I have already been redeemed. I am answerable only to God, and not to you." All the heads around the table kept quiet, and then people smiled. At least Top Guy was able to side-step by saying we shouldn't discuss religion. Coward.

    Perhaps I'm able to speak up because my husband makes enough for the family, so I don't see why I have to take nonsense at the office. It also gave me a rare chance to speak up for my faith!


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