Sunday Sermon for June 22, 2014, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Year A
Readings: Dt 8:2-3. 14b-16a; 1Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58
In the first reading today Moses reminds the people of the events that had occurred during their sojourn in the desert. In particular, he calls to mind the miraculous manner by which the Lord fed His people during those forty years with Manna. Twice he reminds the people of this along with the point that this was a food unknown to their fathers. Reflecting on the spiritual significance of what the Lord had done, Moses says that this was to demonstrate that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Our Gospel reading today comes from the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. In this chapter the people ask our Lord about what sign that He might work, saying that Moses gave the people bread from Heaven. Jesus tells the people that Moses did not give them this bread, but God gave them bread from Heaven. He goes on in our reading to say that He Himself is the true Bread from Heaven.
As we consider the connection with the events that took place in the desert, we realize that this is a food that was unknown in the past, as was the Manna in the desert. This is the Word of God, the only Word spoken by God in eternity. Therefore, this is the Word by which we live. Jesus says the same thing when He tells us that anyone who eats this Bread will live forever.
In the desert, when the people saw the flakes on the ground all around the camp, they asked “manna?” This word means: “What is it?” Their question shows that the bread was unknown to them; it was so novel that it had to be given a new name. The question they asked about the identity of the substance became its name. In the Gospel the people ask how Jesus could give them His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. This shows, once again, that they do not know what this means but, as it was in the desert, their question points to the reality of the food that is being given to them.
The natural life of the people in the desert was sustained by a miraculous bread from Heaven and water from a rock. Today, as we traverse the “desert” of this world, our souls are sustained by a miraculous food and drink given to us in the form of bread and wine. This, of course, is the true Body and Blood of Jesus Himself. If King David, thinking about the manna, marveled at the fact that mere men at the bread of angels, what should we be saying about being fed with the Flesh and Blood of God made man in Jesus Christ?! After all, He is the One Whom the angels adore.
The privilege we have to receive such a Gift requires us to consider the consequences of our reception. Each of us who receives Our Lord is united to Him in a manner which is both personal and profound. We realize that this is God Whom we receive and, as such, if it were not for another miracle, we die on the spot. However, it also unites us with every other person who receives our Lord as well. This union of the Mystical Body foreshadows the union of the Saints in Heaven where each person will be united with the Lord and with one another.
St. Paul speaks of the fact that the loaf is one and, thereby, causes all who partake of it to become one. The Didache, a document from the early second century, presents this same truth, but from an opposite perspective. The author considers the the many grapes that make the wine and the many grains of wheat that are united to make the single loaf of bread. In this way we, though many, become one as we are united in the Person of Jesus Christ.
This causes us to apply the teaching of our Lord about the necessity to love God and neighbor. When we consider the love God shows us in this divine and infinite Gift, how could we not love Him in return? Extending this out, God shows this same love to every other person who receives Him in the Eucharist. How can we fail to love those whom God loves? This love is not about emotions, but it demands that we love as we are loved. Jesus gives us His entire self in the Eucharist, holding nothing back. It is truly self-sacrificing. For many of us, this is something unknown to us in the practical order. But now we are given this Bread so that we can live by Jesus, the Word that comes forth from the mouth of God.
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.