Most Holy Body and Blood (A); June 18, 2017
Dt 8:2-3,14-16; Ps 147; 1 Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58
Deacon Jim McFadden; SJB
Most Americans don’t know what it’s like to go hungry. But, even in a country where obesity is a serious health concern, millions of people do in fact go hungry. Throughout the Third World, where two-thirds of the world reside, gnawing hunger is a fact of life. How many of us have experienced that kind of hunger?
In the first reading, Moses reminds the Israelites as they were about to enter the Promised Land, that their ancestors knew real hunger when they were in the wilderness for forty years. Their hunger was so intense that they wanted to return to Egypt where they would be enslaved again, because at least they would have something to eat. Moses reminded them that God provided for their ancestors by sending them manna, then quails when they still complained, but apparently that wasn’t enough.
Moses clearly states that God did allowed them to feel hungry in order to show them that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord
(Dt 8:3). In other words, there is a hunger that only God can satisfy. Do we experience that kind of hunger so beautifully conveyed in Psalm 42: “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God” (Ps 42:2).
The craving for God is grounded in who we are because we are made in the image of God, which is our essential identity. But, this basic drive for communion with God and fellowship with each other can be supplanted by unintegrated desires. The frantic search for meaning can take desperate forms. Unbridled consumerism, obsession with success, the domination of others in order to be in control, the pursuit of hedonistic pleasure are examples of this anxious search. As misplaced as these desires are, at their heart, they may be a search for God. Furthermore, I think many of us are like the Jewish crowds in today’s Gospel. They are good people who are not prepared to accept the claims made by Jesus. They are searching for God according to their terms, their concepts: namely, the Law; Jesus, on the other hand, claimed that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (Jn 6:51). This is a bold claim; moreover, it goes to the heart of our Catholic Faith. We don’t think our way to Jesus; we simply fall in love with Him.
If we’re going to do that, if we’re going to be fully human, we must eat Jesus’ flesh. We must enter into that personal, communal relationship with him in order to know Who He is. The wisdom of the Eucharist is that it is the essence of incarnational religion. Jesus has moved religion from the verbal and conceptual to the non-verbal level. The center of our Catholic religion is the altar—the symbol of non-verbal language. Preaching, while important, is not the central statement of who the Church is, but somehow the Eucharist is.
When we share a meal with each other, we don’t analyze what we’re doing; we simply sit down and eat altogether. We enter into the experience, which is primary; the relationship we have with one another is primary; the doing is primary.
It’s the same thing with the Eucharist: we simply have to allow God to come into our mouth and we have to take him in like we do 3x/day with food. We have to allow that to happen. And when we do, something awesome happens. When we eat ordinary food, we turn it into our own body. But, when we eat His body and drink His blood, we are transformed by it: we become what we eat. We become the Mystical Body of Christ. We become the Bread of Life to the world. We remain in him, and he remains in us. Furthermore, as members of the Body of Christ, which is the Church, we are bound together with all others who partake of this food and drink. As we “fully, consciously, and actively participate” (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium) in the Eucharist, we enter into communion with God and solidarity with each other, especially the vulnerable. As Saint Pope John Paul II once wrote, “How could it be otherwise, since the Christ encountered in contemplation is the same who lives and suffers in the poor?” (Via Consecrata, n. 82).
Brothers and sisters, there is a thread that begins with the Incarnation—the Word became Flesh in Jesus—the transubstantiation of the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and service to mankind, especially the poor. At the Holy Mass, we do give praise and glory to God in a very profound way. But, if we, each one of us, do not help the needy, it does not suffice. In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear “There was not a needy person among them” (4:34).
Put simply, we will be judged not by our praise but what we have done to Jesus. “But Lord, when did we do it to you? As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:39-40).
That, I believe, is the litmus test as to whether we truly believe that Jesus is really Present in the consecrated bread and wine. And, when we eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood with genuine faith and conviction, we then become Bread of Life to the world, especially to those most in need. In so doing, we have eternal life here and now! We will have so entered into the really Real, we will be so sharing life at such a deep level that Life cannot be taken away from us. We will be liberated at the very core of our being and we will come to the knowledge that we will exist forever because we’re tasting eternal life now. We will enter into the plane of the eternal.
Sisters and brothers, at the heart of the mystery that we celebrate today is the fundamental mystery of God’s love for us. We have been created with a craving for God. As St. Augustine famously put it, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in you” (Confessions, Book 1, Chapter 1). While we wait for our final transformation in God, we have the Body and Blood of Christ to satisfy our hunger and our thirst. He is the real staple of life. Nothing else even comes close.