"I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."-John 6:51
This Sunday, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the feast commemorating the institution of the Eucharist.
In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus says the words above after performing the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. When he states these words, Jesus has already been preaching and healing as part of his ministry for some time. He has performed many miracles and healed many people. He has taught in synagogues and given the Sermon on the Mount. He has accrued a steady following and fostered great interest throughout Judea and Galilee. Now, Jesus takes his teaching to the next level by beginning his discourse on his real presence in the Eucharist.
In this discourse, Jesus says exactly what he means. He does not haphazardly preach or simply say what the people wish to hear. Jesus is not concerned about whether his teaching will offend others or be misinterpreted—so much so that he does not recant his words even after many of his followers decide to abandon him because of this teaching. When he is questioned about his words, rather than hastily coming up with an explanation or saying that he is only speaking figuratively, Jesus instead becomes even more precise in his language.
In order to ensure that those around him fully understand the seemingly baffling words he has just stated, Jesus reiterates and continues more solemnly, "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.” If those listening to him had any misconception or misunderstanding, Jesus makes his point abundantly clear. The same God who created the world through the Word now speaks words that will ultimately form a new creation: bread and wine transformed into his Body and Blood. As St. Ambrose asks, “Could not Christ's word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before?” (CCC 1375)
Why did Jesus institute the Eucharist, which we celebrate today?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that he did so “in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet 'in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.'"
Christ’s words come before the sacrifice on the Cross but are meant to instruct his followers regarding God’s promise of salvation. Just as Adam and Eve fell by the consumption of food, we are saved by the consumption of food—bread and wine transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. It’s a beautiful similarity. Although his Passion completely took on the burden of sin and opened the doors of heaven back to mankind, Jesus loves humanity so much that he cannot bear to “leave us orphans” (cf John 14:18). As a result, he remains with us in the Eucharist, which renews his sacrifice on the Cross at every Mass and allows us to consume him. Christ knows that, “Besides physical hunger, man experiences another hunger, a hunger that cannot be satiated with ordinary food. It’s a hunger for life, a hunger for love, a hunger for eternity.” He appeases this hunger for life by giving us life itself, this hunger for love with love itself, this hunger for eternity with eternity itself. We need God himself in order to be satiated.
Pope Francis said in his Corpus Christi homily in 2014 that, “The Eucharist communicates the Lord’s love for us: a love so great that it nourishes us with Himself; a freely given love, always available to every person who hungers and needs to regenerate his own strength.”
This communication of love for us is abundant and humbling. Christ gives us himself every single time we attend Mass or visit the Blessed Sacrament in order to regenerate our strength on the journey towards heaven. Having taken “the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,” Jesus knows the struggles and hardships of mankind. Jesus knows our hunger (cf Phil 2:7). And so he feeds us, sustains us, and nourishes us with himself.
“The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love,” John Paul II wrote in Dominicae cenae. Will you meet him there? Will you allow him to satiate your hunger?
Let us close with this prayer from Pope Francis:
Jesus, defend us from the temptation of worldly food which enslaves us, tainted food; purify our memory, so it isn’t imprisoned in selfish and worldly selectivity, but that it may be a living memory of your presence throughout the history of your people, a memory that makes a “monument” of your gesture of redeeming love. Amen.
Question for Reflection: What are some worldly foods that may be preventing you from more fully receiving Jesus in the Eucharist?