What it means to live eucharistically
Trinity 12, Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, 19 August 2018, United Benefice of Holland Park
In April 1954 a young Irish priest arrived in the island of Jeju off the coast of South Korea. He was sent by the Columban Missionaries of Ireland. Jeju had been ravaged by the civil war with some professing loyalty to the Communist north. Local agriculture and industry was on its knees and there was a huge shortage of able bodied men. And into a landscape that had echoes of Connemara, came 26 year old Father Patrick McGlinchey Given such history, islanders harboured suspicion toward outsiders like the Irish priest. Once on the island, Fr McGlinchey, who had a farming background, recognised however, that local traditional farming methods were inefficient, as well as unhygienic.
Now you are probably wondering where I am going with this true story. The story of Father PJ as he came to be known, is about living out the Gospel, recognising that preaching alone will not feed people, the importance of food and sustenance. But it also taking us into the realm of the sacred mystery of the Eucharist which is foretold by Jesus in today’s Gospel. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.”
So this morning I want to tell you more about Father PJ and to explore what it means to live “eucharistically” because that is our hope and what we are asked to do. In 1961, thanks to the charity of some of his Irish Catholics, PJ brought a pair of Yorkshire (white) pigs who soon produced 10 little white piglets. He made contracts with young students and gave each a pig. When the pig produced piglets, the students could keep all but two, which would be given back to the church. Eventually he set up his own farm, named after Spanish patron Saint Isidore. Pigs grew healthy and in a hygienic way. Cows provided meat. He purchased some sheep for wool and invited some sisters from Ireland to teach women to knit. He helped establish a textile factory which employed up to 1,700 women at a time when jobs on the island were scarce. He created a credit union which changed the economy of the island and helped the citizens break free from their poverty.
For about 50 years, Saint Isidore farm became the heart of the island. Conversions increased and the faith of Catholics was boosted. New healthcare facilities, school buildings were to follow and eventually a new church building for the island. He provided a complete social, economic and sustainable existence for the entire island at a time when the South Korean Government could not. Since then Jeju has seen significant economic development, it has become the honeymoon destination of choice for South Koreans and the population has grown from 40,000 when PJ arrived to over 600,000 today.
Thanks to the efforts of Fr McGlinchey and other Columban missionaries there are now 4,500 Catholics in in Jeju. He died this year aged 89. Father PJ’s work was pastoral in every sense, tending the farm, tending his growing flock of congregation and feeding them spiritually. Having focused on physical food I now want to reflect on spiritual food, which is of course why we are all gathered here in St. George’s this morning. For we have come to understand that we, you and me, do not live by bread alone. It is the word of God, that sustains us –but how easy it is for us to forget this..
It has been written: “The glory of God is the living person, and the life of humankind is the vision of God.”
The story of Father PJ is an example of someone who understood that God created the world as a place where we are to exercise all our human powers of creativity, imagination and endurance. And if we do this we will learn those two most crucial things, what it is to trust and what it is to love. This gives our own lives their true meaning, (what it is to trust and what it is to love) The late Michael Mayne, a Dean of Westminster Abbey puts it like this: “If there were no Christians, there would still be a wealth of religious activity, profound insights into the transcendence of God and the nature of human beings. But I believe the deepest insight of all would be lost. And that lies in what you might think is a very surprising place. It lies in what Christians do when they come together for the Eucharist, Holy Communion to receive bread and wine.” Eucharistia :Greek for thankfulness. Our service today provides us with the opportunity to be thankful for our lives and offer them back to God from whom everything comes. We are given glimpses of what we are meant to be – rather than what we are: Trusting rather than anxious Grateful rather than grudging Compassionate rather than judgemental Outgoing rather than selfish.
God knows we are all these things but fortunately does not give up on us so easily. He has created us and he knows “we are restless until our hearts have rested in his” Jesus did something at the end of his life that lodged in the minds of his friends. Took bread and wine and did four deeply significant things: Offered Thanked Broke and shared He said “This is my body and my blood” which means in Hebrew and Aramaic “This is me –this is what I am like.” And in these four actions he reflected His life, perfectly lived out Offered to God Lived thankfully –seeing God’s hand in everything lived for others and broken on the cross and shared with others for eternity.
These actions are the only definition of God we need to know. This is the vision of God, (going back to St. Irenaeus), that makes us fully alive. By these actions we put back in place the relationship we are supposed to have with our creator God, a relationship built on trust and love. By these actions, the world is able (perhaps infinitesimally) to recover its true nature and meaning. As if we saying, “This is my body – take me” as the bread is placed in our hands and we accept that His pattern of life is the one for us to follow. I’m coming to the end shortly but before I finish, a quick word “remembrance.” “Anamnesis” means in Greek “to bring out of the past into the present.” The Eucharist looks back, brings into the present but also looks to the future. In our gospel, Jesus says “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” The Eucharist, as we share bread at the Lord’s table, is a foretaste of the future when we shall gather together Conclusion: we give thanks for the gift of the Eucharist and for those missionaries and priests who make known what it is to live eucharistically. We give especial thanks for Father PJ who offered his life to the church and by the building of a sustainable community in Jeju, gave the inhabitants a vision of God. We pray that our lives be shaped by Christ and that we never resist his call to “do this in remembrance of me.” That we live eucharistically. And in this morning’s words from Proverbs: “(Let us) lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”