Sunday, June 26, 2011

Whoever eats this bread

Imagine for a moment that you are a pious Jew.  You have observed every law and every teaching that God has given you. You have memorized the Torah, and you know the Psalms by heart. You know the scriptures that prohibit the drinking of the blood of any living creature, and you know as well the prohibitions against the eating of human flesh.

You have been following the one they call the Christ. You have become convinced that this one is sent by God.  He cures disease, casts out demons, gives sight to the blind, makes the lame walk, the deaf hear, the mute speak, and even raises the dead.  There can be no mistaking it. Only God can do such things, and this man clearly walks so closely with God that he is able to do them as well.

Now, though, you hear him speak words that seem complete blaspheme. He says to you, and to the others near you, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. " 

You are shocked, appalled, and even horrified.  How can a man who walks with God ask you to defy the laws of God and eat human flesh and drink human blood? It's beyond understanding. Is this a trial, some test of God's to see whether you will remain faithful to His teachings? Has a demon possessed this man? Or have you been deceived in everything you have seen?  You must decide. Will you do as this man says? Will you continue to believe in him? Or will you walk away?

Many walked away that day. They said it was simply too hard a saying. They could accept everything else that Jesus did and said, but not this.  They could not accept eating human flesh and drinking human blood.
It was too gruesome, too terrible, too unthinkable. 

A few remained, Peter and the 12 among them. Peter didn't understand, but he trusted the Lord. He knew that a man who walked so closely with God would not lead them to do something sinful. He, after all, knew that this man was not merely a man. He was the Savior, the Redeemer, the one sent by God to restore humanity.  He may not have fully understood Christ's nature yet, but he knew that this was no ordinary man.

The flesh and blood that Christ gave His disciples that Passover feast was real flesh and real blood, but it was manifestly different from any other kind.  It was divine flesh and divine blood, a flesh and blood that contained eternal life in it. Unlike the food that man was used to eating, which came from dead organisms and thus could not truly give life but only sustain it temporarily, this food and this drink was forever alive and fully capable of giving life to anyone who partook of it.  

So, we who are Catholic partake of the living flesh and drink the living blood in the Blessed Sacrament. We believe that when the priest speaks the words of blessing over the bread and wine, although the appearance does not change the substance of it does.  Once those words are spoken it is no longer bread and wine but the complete body and blood of Christ Jesus. He becomes truly and physically present among us.  Though we are not worthy, He calls us to receive Him.  In receiving Him, we become a living tabernacle, a new ark of the covenant where the glory of God is housed and sent out into the world. 

Many do not believe Christ's words. They reject his words, saying he was being symbolic or that he was using allegory. Yet when the pious among his crowd questioned, he did not correct them. He went further, telling them they would have to chew his flesh in order to be saved. It is still a hard saying, still something difficult to grasp and to understand. It is up to each of us to decide whether we will believe the words our Lord spoke and have faith that He would never lead us to do something that would offend God, or go our own way.  As for me, I will say with Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have words of eternal life".

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