Sunday Sermon for June 14, 2020, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year A
Readings: Deut 8:2-3, 14b-16a; 1 Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58
Given the events of the past three months, Moses’ statement to the people of Israel that God was testing them by affliction to see whether or not it was their intention to keep His commands can be applied to our time in a particular way. This is especially true with regard to the Eucharist. With all the churches being closed down, does our heart yearn for Jesus in the Eucharist, or do we find it freeing to be dispensed from Mass on Sundays? Has the hiatus from Mass given us a new appreciation for the Mass and the need for prayer, or have we allowed our spiritual lives to slip into mediocrity? Has this time been a time of affliction for us?
It is interesting that it was in the context of God testing the people with affliction that Moses mentions the manna in the desert. Moses tells the people that God gave manna to their forefathers to teach them “that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” While the Scriptures contain the written word of God, He ultimately only spoke one Word: Jesus. It is by Him alone that we live.
This has always been true, but at the end of His life on earth, Jesus gave us Himself in the Holy Eucharist. This is food for our souls. This is why He can tell us in the Gospel today that unless we eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, we have no life in us. The life of which Jesus speaks is clearly not natural life, but supernatural life. Of course, this life of grace began in our souls at the moment we were baptized, but there is a perfection of that grace in our souls when we are united to the Author of Grace Himself in Holy Communion.
Much has been said in the past few years about the number of people who call themselves Catholic but do not believe in the Eucharist. While these people may claim to be Catholic, or even be Catholic by baptism, they have distanced themselves from the Church by denying one of our blessed Lord’s most important teachings. In the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus makes it eminently clear that He identifies Himself with the Eucharist.
Many of His disciples were scandalized by our Lord’s insistence that they must eat His Body and drink His Blood. So important was this teaching to Jesus that He allowed those who did not believe to walk away from Him; He was even willing to allow His Apostles to walk away if that was their choice. His disposition has not changed. Sadly, neither has that of many of those who call themselves His disciples.
In the Gospel our Lord tells us that His Flesh is real food and His Blood is real drink. If someone wants to think the Eucharist is a medieval invention of the Church, in the second reading St. Paul states that the cup we bless is a participation in the Blood of Christ while the bread we break is a participation in the Body of Christ. This teaching was known, understood, and cherished by the early Christians. Many early Christians were martyred because of their unswerving belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. So, the Apostles believed in the Eucharist, the faithful of the early Church believed in the Real Presence, and true Catholics today believe the Eucharist is Jesus. In Him we are fed spiritually; apart from Him we have no life in us. Truly present in the form of bread and wine, the Word spoken by the Father in the silence of eternity is the Word by which we live.
God is allowing this time of affliction to test us. It is our opportunity to prove that we will be faithful, to demonstrate how much we love Him; to show how important He is to us. If we have been taking Him for granted or being nonchalant about our prayer and our reception of the Eucharist, this time will serve as a special invitation to go deeper in our prayer and seek Jesus more earnestly in the Eucharist.
The politicians like to say they do not want to waste a good crisis. We need to say the same, but with a very different meaning. As we celebrate the Lord’s love for us and His presence in the Holy Eucharist, look back over these past three months: how much have you longed for Jesus in the Eucharist? This is the time to demonstrate our fidelity to God by living on the One Word that came forth from Him: Jesus Christ, truly present in the Most Holy Eucharist, our Bread of Life.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.