Moses said to the people: "Remember how for forty years now the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments. He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord. "Do not forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery; who guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its saraph serpents and scorpions, its parched and waterless ground; who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers."
1) Glorify the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates; he has blessed your children within you. (Refrain:)
2) He has granted peace in your borders; with the best of wheat he fills you.
He sends forth his command to the earth; swiftly runs his word! (Refrain:)
3) He has proclaimed his word to Jacob, his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation; his ordinances he has not made known to them. Alleluia. (Refrain:)
Brothers and sisters: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: "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."
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
Jesus said to them, "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. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."
(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL.)
Today I would like to focus on three important aspects of the Eucharist. The first is faith. Today's feast of the Body and Blood of Christ gets to THE belief which lies at the heart of our Catholic faith, a belief which separates us from all of the other faiths on the face of the earth. And that belief is transubstantiation, or the actual change of our gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. And THE gospel text which provides the basis for this belief is none other than the one we just heard today: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will have no life in you."
Secondly, each Eucharist is a celebration. And the word celebrate means "to honor someone with solemn ceremonies" and "to mark (as an anniversary) by festivities or other deviation from routine". It also means "to perform a sacrament or solemn ceremony publicly and with appropriate rites". The Eucharist is certainly all of these. Each Sunday, we set aside our usual workday routine and come together to honor Christ.
Thirdly, it is a time for thanksgiving. The Greek word from which our word Eucharist is derived ("eucharisteo") (eujcaristevw) means to give thanks. And for what do we offer thanks? I'm glad you asked, because this brings us to our last point.
We need to remember that the Eucharist is a memorial: at each liturgy we remember Christ's sacrifice for us on the cross. And remembrance is a very important thing to all of us. "When we remember a close friend we recall some specific quality of that person, for example, the understanding or the acceptance given without consideration. In remembering we somehow take part of that person into our lives. When we remember another person, we confer the present upon them, give them further life in our life, and keep a moment of the past from drifting away or fading into death. No lover forgets. No beloved is forgotten. The memory of love is life. The memory of another becomes ourselves.
"None of us wants to be forgotten. We are not content to be but a fleeting moment in the lives of others. We write to friends: 'I have been remembering you'. As strong as the urge to live is our desire to be remembered by others, to remain on in their memory. No one really dies till the memory of that person is erased. (2)" A few years ago, my wife and I attended an awards ceremony at our daughter's high school at which over $350,000 in scholarships were awarded to graduating seniors. Many of these were awarded to worthy students in memory of a certain person. Some were still living, but many more had died, some under tragic circumstances. In every case, however, those who were sponsoring the scholarship were seeking to ensure that a particular person's memory was not lost to posterity. It is the same thing, for example, with the Holocaust. As the number of survivors dwindles on a daily basis, the need to preserve the memory of this sad event becomes all the more imperative so that it does not happen again. It is for this reason that movies like Schindler's List were made and that Holocaust memorials have been built all over the world.
"Jesus, too, experienced this profound desire. As he became aware of his impending death, he gathered around him at a meal those least likely to forget (and said to them) 'Do this in memory of me'. Famous people often achieve fulfilment after death through followers who keep on their memory; Christ, in a special way, achieves fulfilment in being celebrated in our Eucharistic gatherings.(2)"
As we approach Father's Day next week, I thought the following story spoke well of what remembrance is all about. The author says:
- The earliest memory I have of my father is one of me as a young boy grabbing his hand and him guiding me along as we walked together. I'll always remember that.
I remember the times when my father would bring his bread truck by the house early in the morning on those cold days when I was home from school over Christmas break. I used to ride on the floor of that bread truck as he delivered the bread to the stores. The smell and the warmth from the bread made my mouth water and kept me warm both at the same time. I'll always remember that.
In high school I became very interested in athletics. My father would attend all my games. During my senior year, our football team qualified to play in the state championship game. It was the first time in the history of our school. The night before the game my father came to me and sadly told me that he would not be able to attend the game. He had to deliver the bread to the stores and the game was a three hour drive from his route. He said he would listen to the game on the transistor radio. I said that I understood. The next day as game time approached I thought about my dad. As I lined up for the opening kick-off, I happened to look across the field into the parking lot. There I saw his bread truck pulling into the stadium. He made the game and we won that state championship. I'll always remember that.
Years later I had become a teacher and coach. Early one morning my wife and I were awakened by the sound of the telephone ringing at 5:30 A.M. As I struggled to answer the phone I'll never forget the sound of the sheriff's voice on the other end telling me that my dad had just been killed in an automobile accident on his way to work. Cattle from a nearby farm had broken through their fence and wandered onto the highway. Being a dark, rainy morning, my father had not seen them as he came over a ridge. The impact spun the car sideways in the highway before a tractor-trailer collided with it.
I was devastated. After that things didn't really matter to me. I went about my life but I really didn't care. It was as if someone had taken my heart from my body and I was just a robot. I went to work. I still taught school, but I was just going through the motions.
One day I was on the playground at school supervising a first grade recess when something happened that I couldn't foresee. A little boy walked up to me and grabbed my hand the same way I used to hold my father's: by the last two fingers. In that instant my father came back to me. In that instant, I found my purpose again. You see even though my father was gone he had left something with me. He left me his smile. He left me his compassion. He left me his touch. My purpose was to use those gifts as he did. From that day forward I started. I'll always remember that! (3)
At each Eucharist, we remember, we celebrate, and we give thanks for the sacrifice which Christ offered on the cross. It is just as the chorus of the song we sing so often states so well:
- We remember how you loved us to your death and still we celebrate for you are with us here.
And we believe that we will see you when you come in your glory, Lord.
We remember, we celebrate, we believe. (4)
At each Eucharist, we remember Christ's sacrifice and yet we give thanks for his gift of eternal life to us. And we believe that some day he will take us to himself. And how do we ensure that this will happen? By internalizing the qualities which Christ exemplified during his life among us, just as the author of our story sought to reflect the qualities of his father in his own life. And by doing so, he was perpetuating the memory of his father and perhaps even passing on that memory to his own children. By reflecting Christ's values in our own lives, we ensure that he will not be forgotten.
This is the challenge which is presented to us at each Eucharist: that we remember and give thanks for this incredible gift of the Eucharist, a gift that lies at the foundation of another gift called faith.
1. From The Gospel of John, copyright 1975 by William Barclay. St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. Used with permission.
2. From commentary by James McPolin, S.J., in Scripture In Church, published by Churchill Systems and distributed in the US by Twenty-third Publications, Mystic, CT. Used with permission.
3. Adapted from My Dad, copyright 1998 by Tom Krause. Reprinted in A Sixth Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul, copyright 1999 by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, pp. 182-184. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL. Used with permission.
4. We Remember, copyright 1980 by Marty Haugen. GIA Publications, Chicago, IL.
(Copyright 2017 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use in whole or in part in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at email@example.com.)
In order to have a better understanding of today's gospel, we need to put John's gospel in its historical perspective. It is believed that John's gospel was the last gospel to be written, somewhere around the year 100 at the very end of John's life. It is also believed to be the gospel which contains the most inspiration by the Spirit. It is not used in the liturgical cycles for Sunday readings because it is so different from the other three, which are called the "synoptic" gospels and basically have the same point of view.
There was a survey among Catholics recently which indicated that over 50 percent did not believe in transubstantiation, that is, the changing of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood. And I know that, frankly, there was a long time in my own life when I didn't believe in it either. But I finally came to the realization that I didn't want to have to face my maker some day and try to explain why I didn't believe in it. After all, if we believe that God could make everything around us in his creation out of nothing, then why couldn't Christ take our gifts of bread and wine and transform them into his Body and Blood?
All of this does not diminish the fact that this is a difficult passage of scripture to understand, just as many of the disciples state later in John's gospel when they tell our Lord that "This is hard to accept." While this is an article of faith and not of fact, and therefore cannot be verified by our senses, there are some facts which might help us to more readily believe this truth of our faith.
In researching some sources for this homily, I went to one of my favorites, a commentary by a Methodist minister named William Barclay. He points out that, at our Lord's time in history, when pagans sacrificed an animal to their gods, with a small "g", they did not burn the entire animal. A portion was given to the priests, and another part was kept by the worshiper to make a feast for himself and his friends within the temple precincts. At that feast, the god himself was held to be a guest. Once the flesh was offered to the god, they believed that the god had entered into it; and therefore, when the worshiper ate of it, he was literally eating the god. When the guests rose from the table, they went out feeling that they were indeed "god-filled".
In addition to these pagan beliefs, there were also what were called the Mystery Religions. All of these religions were essentially passion plays, or stories, about a god who had lived and suffered terribly, and who had died and rose again. New believers were carefully prepared to watch the play, and as they did, they became one with the god. They shared the sorrows and the griefs, the death and the resurrection. They and the god became one forever, and they believed that they were then safe in life and in death.
Thus, these ancient people knew all about the striving, the longing, the dreaming for identity with their god and for the bliss of taking him into themselves. Phrases like eating Christ's body and drinking his blood would not come as a shock to them. They would know something of that ineffable experience of union, closer than any earthly union, of which these words speak. If this was true for them in worshiping a god of their own making, how much more should it be for us in worshiping the God who made us? (1) St. Irenaeus, one of the fathers of the Church, puts it this way: "In the same way that the bread which comes from the earth is no longer ordinary bread but Eucharist, made up of two substances, one earthly and the other heavenly, so our bodies, which participate in the Eucharist are no longer corruptible, since they have the hope of the resurrection."
As I mentioned earlier, John's gospel was the last one written and he had been reflecting on what Jesus had said for almost seventy years. So in his gospel, he is not so much providing us with an account of the actual words of Jesus, but rather, through the inspiration of the Spirit, revealing the inner significance of his words. So, from John's perspective, what does our Lord mean when he tells us to eat his body and drink his blood? His body is his complete humanity. Jesus was the mind of God become a person. This means that in Jesus we see God taking human life upon himself, facing our human situation, struggling with our human problems, battling with our human temptations and working out our human relationships. So it is as if Jesus says to us: "Feed your heart, feed your mind and feed your soul on the thought that when you are discouraged and in despair, when you are beaten to your knees and disgusted with life and living, remember that I took that life of yours and these struggles of yours upon myself." This is the body of which he speaks.
With respect to his blood, we must remember that in Jewish thought, the blood represents life itself, for without blood, we are dead, and blood belonged to God. That is why to this day a true Jewish believer will not eat any meat which has not been completely drained of any blood, hence the meaning of kosher. Remember when Judas repented of his betrayal, he came back to the chief priests and flung the thirty pieces of silver at their feet. They could not put it back in the treasury because it was "blood" money, that is, money used to purchase someone's life. Now Jesus was telling the Jews to do the exact opposite of their previous beliefs: to drink of his blood, or they would have no life.
Now when Jesus said that we must drink his blood, he meant that we must take his life into the very core of our hearts. What does he mean by this? Like any life experience, whether a trip to a part of the world we have never seen before, or a book which we have not read, something must be internalized before we can experience its wonder and excitement. Otherwise, it is merely a name, a place or a book on a shelf without any meaning to us. For me, I remember vividly a trip my family and I took to Long Beach, California some years ago. Now it is no longer merely a place on a map, but a vibrant memory. I remember passages from some of the books that I have read as if I had just read them yesterday and not many years ago. I'm sure that all of you must have similar experiences and memories in your own lives.
So it is with Christ. He is merely a name in a book unless we feed on his life and let him into our hearts. By eating his flesh and blood, we feed our hearts and minds and souls on his humanity, and we revitalize our lives with his life until, like the pagans, we are filled with the life of him who is God.
Another important point here is that this passage from the Gospel of John occurs after our Lord has fed the multitude with the five loaves and the two fishes. If you recall the words from this gospel which John uses to describe what's happening, you would see that they sound very much like those of the Last Supper: "Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks and distributed them to the people." Well, these words may sound like those of the Last Supper because for John, this passage IS his institution of the Eucharist. You see, in John's gospel, (and I, for one, had never really thought about it before) THERE IS NO LAST SUPPER INSTITUTION NARRATIVE. Therefore, there can be no misunderstanding that the words "Do this in remembrance of me" mean that the Eucharist is to be merely a commemoration of an event, rather than an actual transubstantiation of bread and wine. FOR JOHN, THERE IS NO INSTITUTION AT A MEAL TO REMEMBER, only the command: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life within you". Possibly because of some early controversy in the church about transubstantiation, John does not include an institution narrative in his gospel. For whatever reason, and I cannot say this often enough, John is explicitly clear in this passage about what every Christian must do to attain eternal life.
In summary then, John is telling us that in eating Christ's Body, we are taking on all of his humanity and his divinity, just as he took on all of our human condition. In drinking his Blood, we are taking his life into our very beings and motivating our lives in him.
I pray that all of us truly take these truths to heart each and every time we partake of this wonderful sacrament and never cease to marvel that, as we heard in last week's wonderful gospel passage: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that those who believe in him may not perish, but have eternal life".
1. The Gospel of John, copyright 1975 by William Barclay, pp. 221-226. St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. Used with permission.
(Copyright 2011 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for oral use in whole or in part in local communities. For permission to use in written form, please contact the human intermediary at firstname.lastname@example.org )
Lord Jesus, you feed us with the living bread of your Body. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you nourish us with the wine of your blood. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you transform the gifts we offer in order to be present among us. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you transform the cup of our wine into the your Blood, shed for our sins. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you offer us your Body to make of us one body, your church. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: Through his presence in the Eucharist, Christ has united heaven and earth. Therefore, in confidence that he will intercede for us, we bring our prayers and petitions to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, feed us with your Bread of Life".
That one day all Christians may be gathered around the one table of the Lord, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders of the nations of the world will do all in their power to feed those entrusted to their care, we pray to the Lord.
That all who live in this land of plenty will work to feed the hungry in their midst, we pray to the Lord.
That our frequent reception of the Eucharist will strengthen us to be agents of justice for all those in need, we pray to the Lord.
That all those who administer the Eucharist to members of our community in homes, nursing homes and hospitals, and who cannot come to the table of the Lord, will be blessed and strengthened in their ministry, we pray to the Lord.
That all of those who have been affected by natural disasters will be strengthened in their efforts to rebuild their lives and not give in to despair, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: Heavenly Father, you feed us and nourish us by transforming our gifts of bread and wine into your Son's Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to use our gifts and talents to further the work of the Body of Christ on earth by caring for the needs of one another. And we ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.