Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Eat My Flesh and Drink My Blood

   Over the past few weeks we Catholics Have been hearing passages from the sixth chapter of John's Gospel, first the story of the multiplication of loaves (John 6:1-15) and then the Bread of Life Discourse (John 6:22-69).  In this discourse Jesus not only presents Himself as the Bread of Life but tells us that "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you."  Even as He spoke many found this message difficult.  Many have found it difficult throughout the ages and that is likewise the case for many in our own times.  Let's take a look at the several levels of meaning behind this statement.

   For us Catholics, as well as for the Orthodox churches and some Protestant denominations this statement of Jesus means that we truly receive His Body and Blood when we receive Holy Communion.  I will return to this part further on but let's look at what else we are presented with in this discourse.  First of all before we get to the Eucharist Jesus tells us that He is the Bread of Life.  Now any Christian will instinctively say "Yes, that's true, Jesus is indeed the Bread of Life.?"  But, on a practical day to day level is He?  Is Jesus the one we turn to first for nourishment? Do our lives and our practical decisions reflect that fact?  Or is some philosopher, talk show host or politician our real source of nourishment.  By this I don't mean the shallow and silly "What would Jesus do?" phenomenon that's going around but rather at a deeper level asking " Are our lives shaped by the Gospel message? The Scriptures are often called The Bread of the Faithful.   Do we let them nourish us and shape our lives?

   And yes we do truly receive His Body and Blood in Communion--not however His flesh as it was in earthly form, but His risen and glorified body given to us in the form of bread and wine.  When we participate in the Mass we are not just distant spectators however watching the priest make Jesus present.  We are gathered in and drawn into the depth of His love which was poured out on the cross and which rose on Easter Sunday.  It was on the cross that He literally gave His flesh for the life of the world. (see John 6:51).   After the consecration of the bread and wine there is, as it were, another consecration--of us.  We pray, in the words of the third Eucharistic Prayer, " that we become one body, one spirit in Christ."
Later on in the Mass we have the greeting of peace. Unfortunately many Catholics think that this was some nice gesture initiated by the Second Vatican Council.  It is not.  The council restored this gesture which was always present at the Solemn High Mass and which was practiced in the early Church. It is a gesture which says that in receiving Christ in Communion we are also united with one another in Christ.  We not only receive the Body of Christ, we are that Body.  To eat His flesh and drink His blood is to embrace one another as the Body of Christ and to strive to be that.

   This is even harder than believing that bread and wine are His Body and Blood.  To believe that He comes in the form of bread is one thing, but to believe that he is present in the world through this Church of very imperfect human beings.  That's a challenge.  Of course I am not saying that  we use this belief to excuse sin and imperfection. Far from it.  It calls us to strive to overcome that.  But it also challenges us not to walk away when we dislike this priest, that nun, this parish secretary, that weird person who sings off key at Mass, etc.  So many folks today say things like, "I believe in Jesus but not the Church." or   "I can find God on my own in nature."   We don't want to be part of "the great unwashed" which is the Church.  But to eat His flesh and drink His blood for me means being part of a flesh and blood Church made up of very imperfect people. It's a lot easier if I am my own Church, but Christ has chosen to work through me, and all those others too, warts and wounds and all.


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