The Bread of Life and Cup of Eternal Salvation

Jun 18, 2017: Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16
Psalms 147:12-15, 19-20
First Corinthians 10:16-17
John 6:51-58

Today we celebrate the gift of the Eucharist, the Body, and Blood of Our Lord. We partake of him every time we received Holy Communion, and in the Eucharist, Our Lord sacramentally remains with us always for our consolation and adoration.

In today’s First Reading Moses reminds the people of Israel, just before their entry into the Promised Land that the Lord fed them in their need, just as He feeds us through the Eucharist. The manna that the Lord sent to the Israelites during their wandering in the desert is a foreshadowing of the Eucharist. Manna was unknown to the ancestors of the Israelites in today’s First Reading. The Eucharist is a food unheard of in human history before the coming of Christ, and nothing will ever match it because it is God himself. In Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, Our Lord’s Gospel describes the bread that He will give as something even greater than the manna the Israelites received in the desert because manna did not give them eternal life as the Eucharist does. Despite Israel’s infidelity and mistrust, the Lord fed them something they had never seen before. When the first flakes of manna appeared, they had to ask what they were. If manna caused confusion in the desert, we can only imagine how mind-blowing it was to Our Lord’s listeners when He taught them that He himself was food sent from Heaven, the food they would have to eat to live forever.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that Holy Communion enables us to participate in Our Lord’s sacrifice of His Body and Blood and so doing draws us into communion with God and with each other. In ancient religions sacrifices were made, and then partaken of, to express a communion with the deity to whom the sacrifice was being made. In Christian worship, God sacrifices himself to achieve communion, and we participate in that sacrifice in order to participate in that communion. Our Lord reconciled us with the Father through the sacrifice of His Body and Blood, and taught us to eat and drink that Body and Blood in order to have communion with Him. Breaking bread with someone is a gesture of peace and fraternity. Our Lord let himself be that Bread, let himself be broken so that we could restore communion not only with the Father, but also with each other. In every celebration of the Eucharist, that bread is broken again for us. Throughout the world, wherever it is celebrated, believers are spiritually one body because through partaking of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist they become united with God and with each other.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us that He is true food and true drink that nourish us so much that those who partake of Him will live forever. The manna mentioned in today’s First Reading was something the people of Israel had never seen before. Moses explained that its purpose was not only to feed man but also to show him that man must rely on the word of God to live. Our Lord is the Word of God, and without Him, there is no life. He is not only truly the Word of God that is necessary for eternal life; He is the bread of life too. Attempts have been made to interpret Our Lord’s words today metaphorically, but He is very clear: “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” This is the Scriptural basis, among other passages, for our belief that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. Through eating His flesh and drinking His blood we remain in communion with Christ and, through Him, we remain in communion with the Father. Through eating His flesh and drinking His blood, we not only remain on good terms with our Lord, Jesus Christ; we receive ongoing spiritual nourishment that will one day lead us to eternal life if we remain in Christ. Christ taught this before He ever raised bread and said, “This is my body”: it required faith in Christ to accept this teaching, and it does even today. It was only at the Last Supper that His disciples really understood that bread and wine would become Christ’s Body and Blood. That Last Supper became the first of many celebrations of the Eucharist, including the one we celebrate today, but they are all thanks to Our Lord and His sacrifice, making himself true food and drink for us.

Some Christian denominations speak about what they refer to as “Eucharistic hospitality”: any Christian of any denomination should be able to attend a Christian service and receive the “Eucharist.” Therefore, they criticize us for insisting that a common celebration is not a point of departure for restoring Christian Unity, but a point of arrival. For Catholics the Eucharist is the greatest expression of Christian Unity, which is why a common celebration of the Eucharist is the goal we strive for in ecumenical dialogue, while at the same time realizing that all other obstacles to full communion between Christians must be resolved first. Some Christian denominations deny that it is a sacrament; others decry that Christ is really present in the Eucharist at all. If we do not share the same faith regarding the Eucharist, we do not really have full communion with each other and participating in the Eucharist as if we did would be a lie. The sad fact is at this moment we do not share full communion with each other, and we must keep praying and working for that day when we can all celebrate one Eucharist as one Church.

Moses drilled into the Israelites that manna was a food unknown to their fathers. He was reminding them never to forget the gift they had received. Even among Catholics, there is an incredible ignorance regarding the true significance and importance of the Eucharist. If we truly understood the Eucharist for what it is, or, rather, for whom it is, every Mass, every line for confessions, and every sign-up sheet for Eucharistic adoration would be full. It all starts with simply sharing, even with our fellow Catholics, the fact that Our Lord is the Eucharist and He wants to be with us. In the Eucharist, God is always with us. How many people do you think you would amaze by saying, “I know where God is, come see”? He will reveal himself to anyone who gives Him a chance in faith.

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