Updated: Jun 10
The feast of the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ calls to mind the preeminence of our faith in the Blessed Eucharist, an invitation to eucharistic consciousness. This feast should ignite our passion for the Blessed Eucharist as an opportunity to authentically appreciate the centrality of the doctrine of the Eucharist in the church.
I would like to point any reader of this homily to the book written by Bishop Baron titled, This Is My Body: A call to Eucharistic Revival. Baron wrote this book in response to a survey conducted by Pew Forum which revealed the startling statistic, namely, that 69% of Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. From the survey, the majority of today’s Catholics see the Eucharist as merely a symbol of Christ, and the Mass as merely a collectivity of like-minded individuals gathering to remember his life. Isn't that scary? Bishop Baron gives strong biblical and historical arguments against this misconception. One of the examples was the encounter between Flannery O’Connor and Mary McCarthy (a fallen Catholic) in 1950. During their dinner, McCarthy made a condescending statement that she thought of the Eucharist as a symbol and “implied that it was a pretty good one.” This did not sit well with O’Connor who replied, “Well, if it is a symbol, to hell with it.”
We could ask ourselves today, What is our understanding of the Eucharist? How would you speak of the Eucharist to someone who does not understand what Catholics do at Mass? How would you dialogue with someone who speaks of the Eucharist in a derogatory language?
There is this story of the chicken and the pig taking a walk. They pass a church and there is a signup that says, “Free ham and egg breakfast after Mass today.” So the chicken says to the pig, “Let’s go for breakfast.” The pig is shrugging and dragging his feet. The chicken says, “Do you not want to go or what?” The pig looks at the chicken and says, “Well, look, for you it is a contribution. But for me, it is a commitment.” The chicken only donated her egg, but the meat used to make ham is the pig’s. For us Catholics, the Eucharist is commitment, not contribution.
Christ says to his followers in today’s gospel, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Chapter 6 of John’s gospel is one passage that sparks off a strong debate between Christ and his followers. Ordinarily, Christ would expound his teaching to make the audience understand it better. But in this case, he does not expound, rather he reinforces it, even as the Jews “quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus issues an authoritative teaching, “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.”
The Eucharist is the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. Christ is the Head of the Church, and the “lifeblood is his sacramental grace, especially the grace of the Eucharist” (Baron). In most parishes, this is the season for the celebration of the 1st Holy Eucharist. For the very first time in their lives, young children receive the Body and the Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion. What does that mean for these children, for their families, and for the parishioners as a community of faith? We are introducing them to the true food and the true drink, in fellowship with the faith community. We are uniting them to the living bread. We are introducing them to the grace that will sustain them for the rest of their lives. They become one with Christ, unite in holiness and love. As Christ speaks to the Jews listening to him in John’s gospel, we hear those words, “Amen, amen, I say to you…” Those words imply, “Sit up and pay attention!” We are invited to pay attention to Christ in the Eucharist, to give it the sanctity and the reverence it deserves.
When Christ says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,” he invites us into the love of the Father. At the Mass, we participate in the love of the Father. We enjoy the privilege of having a foretaste of eternal banquet right at the altar. First, we eat of the meal, a privilege to share in God’s self-giving love. Second, we experience the great sacrifice of Christ on the cross, that we may have abundant life. Third, we celebrate the mystery over and over again, the true presence of Christ. As Bishop Baron explains in his book, “There can be no communion without sacrifice and thus there can is no eucharistic table that is not, at the same time, an altar.” The Mass offers us great moment to share in the sacrifice of Christ who becomes food for us.
In July, for example, the African Catholics in the fifty states of America will be gathering in Washington DC to celebrate the Fourth African National Eucharistic Congress (ANEC). This event will host about 17 bishops, hundreds of priests, deacons, and thousands of lay immigrant African faithful. There will be Mass, eucharistic adoration, eucharistic procession, singing, and dancing to celebrate Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist. Gatherings like these remind us that Jesus is present in his church in all cultures and languages. The Vatican 11 Fathers explained that Christ is present in a variety of ways: in the very intelligibility of the universe, in the gathered assembly at Mass, in the reading of the scriptures, in the person of the priest. However, Jesus is “really, truly, and substantially present in the Eucharistic elements.”
We all need to join this Eucharistic revival and become people of the Eucharist. We need this eucharistic revival to happen through us. Since eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ makes us to live in Him and Him in us, we must become “limbs, eyes, ears, and sensibilities” of Christ to the world. Using the words of the pig to the chicken, let us make our participation in the Eucharist a commitment and not just a contribution.
Readings: 1st- Deut. 8:2-3, 14-16; 2nd- 1 Cor. 10:16-17; Gospel- Jn. 6:51-58