Last Sunday, we celebrated a feast in honor of the greatest mystery of all, the mystery of God himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity is a mystery we cannot see and can barely grasp. This Sunday’s feast celebrates the greatest mystery that we can actually see and touch with our physical senses: the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. We often refer to this popular feast using the Latin phrase for the Body of Christ: Corpus Christi. The Eucharist is such an extraordinary gift! Today the Church reminds us that we must celebrate this gift, confirm our faith in it, and proclaim it joyfully to the world!
The basis for our faith in the Eucharist is Jesus’ own words. In today’s Gospel he describes himself as “the living bread that came down from heaven,” and then explains that this “bread” is his flesh, given for the life of the world. When his listeners object to this idea, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”, Jesus makes the same point even more strongly, as if to make sure they do not think he is merely using symbolic language: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life …. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” They find this way of speaking very disturbing. Is he talking about eating him? We can sympathize with their confusion. Jesus has not yet instituted the sacramental means by which he will fulfill this promise, so what can his listeners think, other than that he is talking about cannibalism? And yet, it is not cannibalism either, for Jesus is not saying we should eat his dead body; rather, he is offering his living flesh, as the source of eternal life.
There can be no doubt that Jesus is speaking about real food and real drink, real flesh and real blood. His clear description forces us to decide whether we will believe what he says or not. Many people find it too hard to believe that Jesus really gives us his own Flesh and Blood in the Eucharist. The Church, however, has always held with firm and constant faith that the Eucharist is the greatest Sacrament of all, the Most Blessed Sacrament, because it is truly Jesus himself, really present with us under the appearances of Bread and Wine.
This is what the Saints throughout the ages have believed and taught. In the fourth century, for example, St. John Chrysostom, reflecting on Jesus’ words, says, “Since Christ himself has declared the bread to be his body, who can have any further doubt? Since he himself has said quite categorically, This is my blood, who would dare to question it and say that it is not his blood?” (Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, Saturday within the Octave of Easter). And in our own day St. John Paul II has encouraged us to ponder the Eucharist with the faith of the Saints: “Let us take our place, dear brothers and sisters, at the school of the saints, who are the great interpreters of true Eucharistic piety. In them the theology of the Eucharist takes on all the splendor of a lived reality; it becomes contagious and, in a manner of speaking, it warms our hearts” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 62). How does it warm our hearts? St. John Vianney, another great lover of the Eucharist, speaks from his own experience when he says, “Every Consecrated Host is made to burn Itself up with love in a human heart.”
Because the Sacrament of the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, and because it sums up in one gift all that Christ said and did, there are very many aspects we may ponder and celebrate in today’s feast. St. Paul highlights one special characteristic of the Eucharist in today’s second reading: the Eucharist is the source of the unity of the Church. “We, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” Our common sharing in the Eucharist may remind us of the beautiful experience of the unity of a family that shares a common meal, but the unity of the Church far surpasses this natural level. In Christ we truly become one body, his Body. The early Church compared this marvel of unity to the process by which grains of wheat, scattered on the hills, are gathered and become one in the making of bread. In the same way, we who may be scattered all over the earth are truly made one by the unifying power of the Eucharist (cf. Didache, 9).
The first reading bids us to remember the lessons God taught his people during their forty-year sojourn in the desert. One of the important things to remember is that God always provided food from heaven, the manna, which sustained the people through every trial. In the same way, and to a much greater degree, the Lord provides us with Bread from Heaven for our pilgrimage through the desert of this world. The manna is only a foreshadowing of the Eucharist. Our fathers who ate the manna eventually died nonetheless. We have received a heavenly Food that not only sustains us in this life, but carries us right into eternal life. “Whoever eats this Bread will live forever!”
The more we open our hearts to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the more deeply we are united with him in his work of salvation. This is why the Church encourages everyone to take time for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The words of St. John Paul II express the Church’s urgent call for adoration: “The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith, and open to making amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world. Let our adoration never cease!” (Dominicae Cenae, 3; cf. CCC 1380).
Have I experienced the Consecrated Host burn Itself up with love in my heart? On my pilgrimage through the desert of this world, does the Eucharist strengthen me on my journey? Do I see the importance of making time for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.