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Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB

In Eucharist, we become what we receive

Voices Jul 6, 2017

Jesus said, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abide in me, and I in them." The Holy Eucharist nourishes the body and gives us eternal life. (staticflickr.com)

This is an excerpt from a homily given at Holy Rosary Cathedral on the feast of Corpus Christi.

The greatest act of our Creator was the Incarnation, when the Son of God became man, one of his own creatures, so that we might be reconciled to him. And the greatest act of the Incarnate Lord was giving himself to his disciples as the Blessed Sacrament, so the reconciling act of his Death and Resurrection might be accessible to us in a sign that speaks to all human beings in a simple way, that of food which is both nourishment and delight.

Let’s look at how the nourishment of food was the way provided by the Lord to pour out his saving grace upon us. Besides physical hunger, like that experienced by the Israelites in the desert on the way to the Promised Land, we all experience another hunger, a hunger that cannot be satiated with ordinary food. It’s a hunger for life, a hunger for love, even a hunger for eternity.

Today we celebrate that Jesus gives us the food that satisfies all these hungers. He himself is the living bread that gives life to the world (Jn 6:51). In the Eucharist, his body is the true food in the form of bread; and his blood is the true drink in the form of wine. This isn’t simple nourishment to satisfy the body, like the manna of old. The body of Christ gives life, eternal life, because this bread is a gift of God’s love for us.

The Eucharist communicates a love so great that it nourishes us with God himself; a freely given love, available to all those who hunger and need to regenerate their own strength.

It is at the Lord’s table that we are really satisfied. In the sacrament of Eucharist, the Lord himself journeys to meet us. He comes to us; we do not go to him! He does not leave us alone on this journey. Christ’s being with us was not just for a chosen few a long time ago. He wanted that to continue through time and space; and so he instituted the Holy Eucharist. In today’s Gospel, the Evangelist John records Jesus’ own words: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

At this announcement, however, instead of rejoicing, the people started to murmur in protest: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (Jn 6:52) – a question repeated endlessly in the course of history. This seemed a hard saying, and many of his disciples withdrew when they heard it. Then, as now, the Eucharist remains a sign of contradiction.

My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.

In the face of the murmur of protest, Jesus might have fallen back on reassuring words that he was speaking only symbolically. Instead he confronted his disciples with the statement: “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (Jn 6:55).

He stuck to his assertion, to all its realism, even when he saw many of his disciples breaking away (Jn 6:66). Indeed, he showed his readiness to accept even desertion by his apostles. Later in the same chapter, Jesus said to Peter, “Do you want to leave me too?” Thanks be to God, Peter’s response was one that we too can make our own today: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

While the host we receive is assimilated as food by our body, let us remember that the Eucharist is a different kind of food; it is the “living Bread that came down from heaven” (Jn 6:51). It is Jesus himself. It is not just a sacred symbol on the same level as holy water or a crucifix. It is not just like the visible matter of other sacraments, such as the water poured in baptism, or the chrism in confirmation. This sacrament is not just a gift from God, a sign of the action of Christ, but the gift which contains the giver himself. Hence it is the Blessed Sacrament.

That’s why we do not assimilate this bread. Quite the opposite. This living bread, Jesus, assimilates us to himself. We become what we receive. We are transformed into Jesus Christ – one with him and with all who are one in his body, which is the Church.

Our “holy Communion” is, therefore, directed to transforming my life into him who is Love itself. We cannot simply eat the Lord’s body the way one eats a piece of bread. We can only receive him by welcoming him into our whole life, which means welcoming him into our hearts and our actions.

In giving us the bread of life, Jesus does not offer temporary nourishment, he gives us his body and blood, the nourishment that will give eternal life. Today’s feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is the Lord’s call to us to be nourished by the divine life we receive, and to become his presence for the life of the world.