The Eucharist -- Heart and Center of Our Faith -- Part 3
The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said,
"I am the bread that came down from heaven, "
and they said,
"Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?
Do we not know his father and mother?
Then how can he say,
'I have come down from heaven'?"
Jesus answered and said to them,
"Stop murmuring among yourselves.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him,
and I will raise him on the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They shall all be taught by God.
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.
Not that anyone has seen the Father
except the one who is from God;
he has seen the Father.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes has eternal life.
I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." (John 6: 41-51)
Today's Gospel raises many critical questions. Who is Jesus really? Is He from earth or from heaven? How are we to be saved?
These questions and many others like them have divided Christians for centuries, especially since the Protestant Reformation which took place 500 years ago.
Fortunately we Catholics need not be confused or divided by these questions. Our Lord Jesus Christ has provided us with the sure means to understand all that is essential to our life of faith.
The three great sources of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium or teaching authority of the Church are given to us as gifts so that we will be able to know the truth and live it out in our lives.
The first major question raised in this Gospel is "Who is Jesus and where is He from?"
The Jews of His day grumbled among themselves when Jesus said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." They looked at him with earthly rather than spiritual eyes.
"Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know His father and mother?" The Jews thought they understood all that there was to know about Jesus. To them He was nothing more than a carpenter from Nazareth who perhaps had some interesting things to say.
In reality they knew nothing about Jesus. They did not know that Jesus was, in fact, NOT the son of Joseph. They did not know about His virgin birth and in that sense they didn't really know Mary either. All they knew was how things appeared without attempting to find the deeper spiritual truth.
The fact is Jesus comes from heaven AS WELL AS EARTH. He is fully divine and fully human. He has God for His Father and Mary for His mother.
For this reason He said, "Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draw him."
In other words, we have to approach Jesus with more than just open eyes. We must approach Him with open hearts. Only then will we be able to begin to understand what He says about Himself, such as "I am the bread that came down from heaven."
It is important that we understand Who Jesus really is because that ties in directly with how we are to be saved.
Jesus said, "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life." Many Christians would like to stop right there, incorrectly assuming that anyone who believes in Jesus with their mind will be saved.
In their opinion all that is necessary for salvation is an intellectual choice to accept Who Jesus is.
But we know there is more to it than that. Because in the very same breath, Jesus also says, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
So we learn from Our Lord Himself that there is something we must DO to be saved. We must eat the living bread that He provides, and that bread is His flesh.
Christianity is more than just an intellectual choice in favor of Jesus. It is a way of life, and one that encompasses our bodies as well as our minds. In addition to believing, there are particular actions we must DO.
Primary among these actions is the taking of bread and wine and offering them to God, so that He can transform them into Himself, before offering them back to us. At the Last Supper, Jesus said" "DO THIS in memory of me."
The "this" in that sentence is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and in the Catholic Church we are blessed to "do this" every single day.
That isn't the case in every church. Many of our separated brethren only "do this" four times a year, and WHEN they do, it is only a symbol.
But Jesus didn't die on the cross so that we could have nice symbols. He gave up His body and blood so that we could have LIFE, precisely by eating and drinking His very Self as He instructed us in the Scriptures.
There is simply no good reason to believe that Jesus is speaking in confusing metaphors. In the 6th chapter of St. John's Gospel, Jesus teaches most clearly and emphatically about the reality of the Most Holy Eucharist.
When the Jews murmur again, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?", Jesus responds, "My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink."
People become so offended and disgusted that they walk away from Jesus. No one would be offended by a pleasant symbol. They knew what He said and took Him literally because He MEANT it literally. Rather than correcting their supposed misinterpretation and calling them back, Jesus looks at His Apostles and says, "Would you like to leave me also? If so, here's your chance."
Jesus' teaching on the Eucharist is more than just a theological point to debate. It is more than just a tribal badge of honor that sets us apart as Catholics. Still less is it a reward for good behavior.
Instead, it is the source of life itself; a gift to be received with thankful faith more than a doctrine to be understood with perfect clarity.
How can Jesus be truly present in the Eucharist? I don't know...how could He rise from the dead? If He is powerful enough to do the latter, which no Christian questions, I believe He is powerful enough to transform matter into whatever He says it is.
Jesus is God, and, when God speaks, He creates. He said, "Let there be light" and there was light. By the simple fact of Him saying, "This is my body, this is my blood," the bread and wine become what He says they are.
When we receive Holy Communion, we are doing more than fulfilling a precept of the Church. We are professing with our very bodies that we believe what Jesus said.
Receiving Holy Communion is a statement that we are in fact ALREADY IN communion with Jesus and His Church.
This is why Holy Communion is not offered to anybody who happens to be in the church building. Whenever we freely chose to separate ourselves from Jesus through mortal sin, we are not to receive communion until we have been to confession.
Whenever we choose to live separate from the Church Jesus founded on St. Peter by attending a church of another denomination, we are not to receive communion.
Again, receiving holy communion presupposes a relationship with Jesus AND His Church, so, if one or both of these elements is lacking, we don't want to tell a lie with our bodies by doing something that is not true of our minds and hearts.
Restrictions and guidelines on the reception of holy communion are not meant to be penalties or insults. Instead they are meant to protect us.
You see, the Eucharist is like fire. If we approach a fire without the appropriate caution and care, we are going to get burned. Apparently this happened enough in the early days of the Church for St. Paul to write in First Corinthians Chapter 11 "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not discern the Lord's body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick and a number have even died."
I don't say this to scare or threaten anybody and neither does St. Paul. It is simply an exhortation to appreciate the great gift we have been given in the Eucharist, and to approach with appropriate preparation and respect.
Because we celebrate the Eucharist every single day in the Church we run the risk of becoming too comfortable or approaching holy communion as part of our routine rather than a unique encounter with the Lord.
The Lord wants us to receive LIFE from this sacrament, and we will only be able to do so if we first approach the sacrament of confession frequently. Find out you’re your parish church offers the sacrament of confession and go regularly.
Now, I'm aware that there are many devout non-Catholics who come to Mass faithfully with their spouses and children. The Church is grateful for your presence. And while you are presently unable to receive the sacraments, there is a relatively easy way to change that.
A simple phone call or e-mail to your parish to ask about RCIA classes could set you on the path to full communion with Jesus and His Catholic Church.
I can assure you that you'll never regret this decision to take the next step on the journey with Our Lord, however scary or uncertain it may seem. And if you don't feel ready for that yet, please know how welcome you are to continue praying alongside us to the degree that you are able.
Much better than manna in the desert or the hearth cake Elijah ate, Our Lord gives us the TRUE bread from heaven, His very own flesh for the life of the world; His very own body and blood, so that WE can have life, and have it more abundantly.
The priest who wrote this reflection wishes to remain anonymous.