It's very difficult for a revolutionary movement to maintain a broad, open mind-set. Eventually, wonder and discovery -- the fuel of revolution -- are regarded as dangerous qualities. Delineation and definition become the goal.

The closer we delineate and the more accurately we define, the more secure we become. Yet there's a price for such security: an exciting, revolutionary movement becomes a staid, traditional institution.

Thirty-five years ago, the bishops of Vatican II tried to return Roman Catholicism to its exciting, revolutionary roots. Following the lead of Pope John XXIII, they worked for four years to bring a gust of open-windowed, biblical-based fresh air into our Church. Instead of narrowing and compressing, they broadened and expanded.

Jesus in us

Their wide-reaching tendency was evident especially in the first major document which came from the council: the Decree on the Liturgy. In it, the bishops reminded us that our Christian ancestors recognized Jesus' presence in the Eucharist in more than just the bread and wine.

They encouraged us to reflect also on four other ways in which He's with us during the Breaking of Bread. In particular, they asked us to recall the way which the churches of the Christian Scriptures believed to be at the heart of their Christian faith: Jesus' presence in the community.

But, before we explore that dimension, we must deal with Sunday's first reading (Gen 14: 18-20). After Jesus' death and resurrection, His disciples eventually discovered a deeper meaning in one of the most ancient passages of the Hebrew Scriptures: the story of the pagan priest/king of Salem, Melchizedek, offering Abram and his victorious band a meal of bread and wine.

Those lines became especially significant to the author of the letter to the Hebrews, who developed a theology of Jesus as priest. Once he referred to Jesus as a priest, he had to tie Him into one of the priestly families already known from Jewish tradition. Back then, no one "studied" to be a priest. He was a priest because he was a descendant of a priest.

The Hebrews' author found an important ally in this shadowy, once-mentioned person. Melchizedek didn't belong to any of the recognized Jewish priestly families. He belonged to his own "order." So Jesus became known as "a priest according to the line of Melchizedek."

Yet, the earliest Christians don't seem to have explored that kind of theology. And we have almost no traditions earlier than Sunday's second reading (I Cor 11: 23-26). Notice how, unlike later Gospel narratives of the Lord's Supper, Jesus' words over the bread and wine don't take place in trip-hammer fashion. The Lord says, "This is my body" at the start of the meal, but He doesn't say, "This cup..." until "after the supper."

Probably an hour, or an hour and a half, passed between the two sets of words. That can only mean that the whole community meal, not just a small part of it, was significant for Jesus' first disciples. they seem to have presumed that He was present during the entire meal, especially in the community sharing the food and drink of that meal.

All together

We also see a parallel emphasis on the community in Luke's bread miracle (Lk 9: 11-17). Not only do Scripture scholars stress that this miraculous feeding narrative must be heard against the background of the Eucharist, they also point out the disciples' role in the account.

The disciples initially recommend that Jesus take care of the crowd's needs by dismissing them, "so they can go into the villages and farms in the neighborhood and find themselves lodging and food."

Jesus' solution is quite different: "Why not give them something to eat yourselves?" Even when the disciples protest, "We have nothing but...," He commands the crowd to be seated and to prepare for a meal.

With Jesus' blessing, the disciples' five paltry loaves and two insignificant fish become more than enough to take care of the crowd's hunger.

Luke seems to be reminding his community of their importance. As the community of Jesus, they're able to meet the needs of others in ways they could never realize if Jesus were not present among them.

It certainly was easier and more secure being Catholic before Vatican II. Jesus was always present in someone or something other than ourselves.

(06-11-98)