On the glorious feast of Corpus Christi, before we turn to the famous teaching of Jesus on the Bread of Life, we read from Moses’ instruction in the Book of Deuteronomy. This is the ancient foundation upon which Jesus will build his extraordinary discourse. Moses reminds the people of how God has been with them throughout their forty-year journey through the desert. The Lord tested them and then provided food and water for them. He fed them in the desert “with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers.”
An essential part of the lesson, as Moses explains it, is to understand where our real nourishment comes from: not from “bread alone” – or from manna alone – but from “every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.” When our hearts have been trained by adversity during our desert pilgrimage, we can more deeply understand that all that is good in our life is God’s free gift, the evidence of God’s gratuitous love for us. While wandering through our own deserts of sadness, illness, anger, confusion, fear, and all the pains of life, we need to remember that God is always caring for us, and that he will feed us what we truly need.
In fact, he wants to feed us with more, with a food greater than we could ever imagine. This is Jesus’ topic in John 6. He tells the Jewish crowds: “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven.” His audience is very familiar with the Old Testament tradition of a “bread that came down from Heaven,” the manna. But Jesus is introducing a new and better manna. This new manna is also “a food unknown” to many. It is not bread alone nor Word alone, but the living bread which gives us eternal life.
Jesus’ claim that he himself is “living bread” from Heaven is already confusing to his audience. What is much more troubling for them is his next statement equating the “bread” with his “flesh”! What can he possibly mean? Jesus is challenging them, and us, to go from what is known and natural to what is mysterious and supernatural. With his audience already in shock and quarreling among themselves, Jesus continues, saying something even more bewildering: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” He makes it clear that he is not speaking of bread as a metaphor or a symbol: “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink”!
It is sad that most non-Catholic Christians, and even many Catholics themselves, do not yet understand this foundational teaching so explicitly given by Jesus himself. The Catholic Church firmly believes and professes that Jesus, through his perfect act of love and obedience to the Father at the Last Supper and on the Cross, and through his Resurrection from the dead, is now transformed and glorified. He has made his own glorified Body and Blood available to us as the Source of eternal life. Every Mass is a feast of thanksgiving – the word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word for “thanksgiving” – and we are invited to join the banquet, to be fed by “every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD” and by the “Bread that came down from Heaven.”
This great gift, the “Bread of Angels,” is offered to each one of us. But we must partake of it with the proper inner dispositions. Simply going through the motions at Mass, not focusing on God’s word, casually going forward to receive Communion, and not thinking at all about the enormity of the Gift does not prepare us to truly “digest” the sacred Food of Christ. So St. Paul asks in the second reading: “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ?” Later in the same Letter, Paul advises us to prepare well before we receive Holy Communion: “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the Body and Blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the Body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor 11:27-29). Today’s joyful feast reminds us of the great Gift we can receive at Mass, and moves us to prepare well to receive it, for the Lord invites us into a profound and holy “communion” with himself.
This living Bread is not for only for individuals but for the whole Church. Pope Francis explains in this week’s Spiritual Reflection, “This twofold fruit of the Eucharist: first union with Christ and second, communion between those who are nourished by him, generates and continually renews the Christian community.” He goes on to say, “It is the Church that makes the Eucharist, but it is more fundamental that the Eucharist makes the Church, and allows her to be her mission, even before she accomplishes it.” The Eucharist is indeed food for the journey not only of the individual but also of the entire Church as she strives to do the will of God. Jesus once said, “I have food to eat of which you do not know…. My food is to do the will of the one who sent me” (Jn 4:32, 34). May Jesus in the Eucharist strengthen and nourish us, that by our communion with him we may do the will of the Father as well.
How can I compare my wandering through the desert of all the pains of life with that of the Israelites’ journey? What and where are my thoughts as I prepare to receive the “Bread of Angels” during the Mass? How has receiving the Eucharist, the Source of Eternal Life, drawn me closer to Jesus?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.