Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.
“This is enough, O Lord! Take my life.” On the last Saturday of April, 2011, I found myself sitting under a tree on the shore of lake Monona near the campus of UW-Madison. It was a grey day. The sky was grey, the water was grey, and my soul was grey as well. I had gone out for a long run with no destination in mind. And as I took a moment’s rest, sitting under the tree and surveying the gloomy world before me, a prayer not unlike the prophet Elijah’s in our first reading burst forth from my heart: “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life.” Unlike the prophet Elijah, I wasn’t literally on the run for my life that afternoon. But like him, I found myself at the point of despair. I didn’t want to live any more. It was too hard. It hurt too much.
If you’ve ever found yourself in a similar situation before—at the point of despair, and praying for death—there can seem like no path forward. A precipice lies on every side, and to take a step in any direction is to risk a fall from which there is no return. And to make matters worse, the devil tries to convince you that what you are feeling in this moment will last forever. No hope, no consolation, will ever come to you: discouragement and despair will be yours for the rest of your life. And so, you pray for death, for an end to it all. You just want it to stop, for the hurt and hardship to be over. “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life.”
When Elijah makes this prayer in our first reading, an angel is sent to him with heavenly food and drink. The angel orders him to get up and eat. “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” Elijah gets up, eats, and drinks; then strengthened by that food, he walks forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God.
And what was true for Elijah is true for us as well: for it’s impossible to make our journey to the mountain of God, to the heavenly mountain which is our destiny, without help from on high. We need heavenly food and drink, we need the Bread of Angels, the Holy Eucharist, to sustain us, especially in times of trial and moments of despair. When there seems to be no path forward, and a precipice lies on every side, the Holy Eucharist gives us hope. This was the message which the Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien shared with his son Michael, who had been injured in World War II and was recovering in a British hospital. In a letter dated March, 1941, Tolkien wrote this to his son: “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth.”
In the Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist, we find the true way forward out of darkness and despair. For in It we find Jesus, who is the Way and who desires to be with us on our way. Although we normally reserve this term for when the Holy Eucharist is given at the last moments of person’s life, the Holy Eucharist truly is viaticum, which literally means, “with you on the way.” Jesus desires to be with us on our way, and so He has given us Himself as heavenly food and drink. And like the angel in our first reading, the Church says to us: “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” If we try to make it to the heavenly mountain on our own steam, we will inevitably fail. For the journey is too long and difficult to go it alone. We need the Holy Eucharist. It is a matter of life or death, hope or despair.
I know that it was the Holy Eucharist that got me through that moment of despair in college, as It has gotten me through similar moments since then. If you find yourself at the point of despair, praying for death, as I did ten years ago, remember the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, given to us in the Holy Eucharist. When you feel like praying, “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life,” remember this great gift. And hear Jesus say to you, “This [the Holy Eucharist] is enough! Take my life. Take my life with you on your way. Be no longer afraid or filled with despair, but go forward in great hope. In this strength of this food, I will lead you to my holy mountain.” Amen.