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Friday, August 14, 2015

Eat My Flesh and Drink My Blood

   As I promised in my last blog post I will offer a reflection on the Eucharistic dimensions of John 6. As Catholics we believe that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are truly the Body and Blood of Christ.  In this Sunday's Gospel from John 6 Jesus tells us "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink." (Jn 6:54-55).
there are several important implications of these words, several aspects of our belief in the Real Presence that we often do not think of.

   First of all Jesus is telling us that He doesn't just want us to look up to heaven and pray top Him.  He wants to be united with us, to enter into the depths of our being.  He desires that we eat and drink, take Him into our selves as nourishment.

Secondly, He wishes to transform us.  there is a saying that says "You are what you eat."  Now I wouldn't go to far with that in terms of some of the things that make up my diet, but in the case of the Eucharist my body, my flesh and blood, joined to that of Jesus must shape my life and make a difference.  This was very clear to the early Christians, but unfortunately it is not so clear to many today.  In Baptism we are joined to the Body of Christ. In the Eucharist that bond is strengthened.  One of the excuses I hear people saying for not going to Mass is that "you don't need the Church to be a good person."  Believe it or not that is true.  We don't participate in the Eucharist to be good. We partake of the Eucharist in order to become holy, to be more Christ-like.



   A third aspect is that the Eucharist is not a me and Jesus event, but rather a we and Jesus event. St. Paul had been dead for about thirty years when John wrote his Gospel.  It was Paul who joined the notion  of the Eucharist as the Body of Christ with that of the Church as the Body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 10:17 he writes "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, because we all partake of the one loaf."  I have to believe that John and is followers were well aware of those words because the letters of Paul were often read at early celebrations of the Eucharist and were in circulation in the early Christian communities.  If everyone else is partaking of the real flesh and blood food that is the Eucharist and is thus joined to Christ, we are all joined to each other.  How different our attitudes towards other peoples would be if we dwelt on this because this union is not only with those who attend the 10 O'clock Mass with me, but with all people everywhere and throughout the ages that receive the Eucharist.

   A fourth dimension is the part where Jesus says "my blood is real drink."  A rather superficial question that has been raised in recent years is "Is the Eucharist a meal or a sacrifice?"  It is both. It is obviously a meal and began as a meal.  At the same time the blood is Jesus blood poured out on the cross.  In the Mass we are united with His sacrifice and hopefully offer the sacrifice of our lives in union with is.

   Lastly I would like to dwell on the fact that Jesus chose to be present to us in the form of bread and wine, common food and drink made up of, as we say in the offertory prayers, "the fruit of the field and the vine, and the work of human hands. He takes earthly, created things, the fruit of our labor, and transforms them into His Body and Blood.  Pope Francis has recently written a beautiful encyclical on our responsibility to care for creation.  The fact that in the Eucharist we offer the Lord the fruits of His own creation should certainly motivate us to take better care of the Creator's work.

   I believe that if someone understands everything that I have written here they would never avoid participating in the Eucharist regularly no matter what the human foibles of the clergy and other members of the Body of Christ.  We need to do a better job of communicating this understanding
  

Sunday, August 9, 2015

What Kind of Bread do you eat?

  Over the past few weeks the Gospel texts for Sunday Mass have been taken from the 6th chapter of John. It began a few weeks ago with John's account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and continues with the beautiful Bread of Life discourse.  The entire chapter leads us to a wonderful and profound understanding of the Eucharist.  Unfortunately, though understandably, there are many who get the concluding message of this chapter, namely that we are called, as Jesus tells us to eat His flesh and drink His blood in the Eucharist, but who miss out on the first point that the chapter makes, that Jesus Himself is the Bread of Life.

      This is important because it leads us to realize that not only are we to partake of the Eucharist, but that Jesus is to be our nourishment in everything that we do.  That means that Jesus life and teachings are our source of nourishment.  We can't receive Him in Communion and act contrary to His message of love, peace and forgiveness in our everyday lives.  An old Cherokee story that has been circulating on the internet lately helps us, I believe, to understand this point. 

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

“One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
“The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

   I believe that if one is nourished by the Bread of life that one is nourishing the good wolf.  Unfortunately we too easily feed on the bread of violence, rage and division that comes to us through the media, through politics and even at times from some voices within the Church.  I would clarify here that I am not saying that we should never be angry.  The list of things that we can be upset about is long.  The challenge is not to allow anger to become a state of mind, a way of being.

   Jesus tells us in a later chapter of John "You are my friends if you do what I command you." (Jn 15:14)  What does He command us to do? One might think  of the ten comandments, but I think that Jesus also commands us to turn the other cheek, to forgive seventy times seven times and to seek to serve rather than to be served, just to name a few.  If we are nourished by these things the evil wolf will fall silent.

   John 6 is with us for a few more weeks and I do hope to reflect on the Eucharistic message of this chapter in my next blog entry.