We all learned as children the amazing nature of caterpillars and how, through metamorphosis, they become butterflies. One thing completely transformed into something entirely different – and far more amazing (don’t mean to offend those who prefer caterpillars!).
Keep that picture & process in mind as we read through today’s gospel (John 6: 52-59).
My flesh is real food and my blood is real drinkThe Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:‘I tell you most solemnly,if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,you will not have life in you.Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my bloodhas eternal life,and I shall raise him up on the last day.For my flesh is real foodand my blood is real drink.He who eats my flesh and drinks my bloodlives in meand I live in him.As I, who am sent by the living Father,myself draw life from the Father,so whoever eats me will draw life from me.This is the bread come down from heaven;not like the bread our ancestors ate:they are dead,but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’He taught this doctrine at Capernaum, in the synagogue.
It is what He says it is
Jesus is extremely literal here, leaving no room for confusion around possible symbolism. He doesn’t even use a parable as He so often does. Looking at the arguments and outrage from the Jews listening in the synagogue, you can tell that culturally this is a very extreme thing to be saying. In the very place where animals are sacrificed to God, Jesus is telling them that the same thing is to be done with Himself…and that He should be consumed as well.
Depending on your age and how long you’ve been in the Church, you have heard Jesus say “This is my body…This is my blood” over a thousand times. I emphasise “is” because here also Jesus leaves no room for symbolism. He’s told us already that we are to eat His flesh and drink His blood – and at the last supper He reveals that the bread and wine have become that flesh and that blood – that they now are these very things.
Our belief in the transformation of bread & wine into body & blood is a process we refer to as “transubstantiation”. Similar to how a caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly (physically), the bread & wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ (mystically). There must be a reason why Jesus was overly literal, as he more often speaks in parables – I believe it was to convey this truth, that these are what He says they are. Just as He humbled himself to enter our world as a vulnerable child, He continuously humbles Himself to enter us as bread & wine in the celebration of the Eucharist.
Thanksgiving in the Eucharist
There’s a beautiful concept of the wholeness of Christ that our Church teaches about the Eucharist. He is fully and wholly present in each host, He cannot be divided. Breaking the bread simply leaves you with more than one of Jesus, fully present and fully whole in each.
Consider this analogy for Jesus’ presence in each of us.
Think of the flame of a candle as the presence of Jesus. Lighting additional candles using that first doesn’t diminish the original flame – it’s still just as whole and present as it was to start with. That flame could be passed on to an infinite number of candles and each would have a whole and complete flame – a present Jesus. We’re called to invite those flames, Jesus’ presence, into our hearts – and in turn help him spread that to others. In doing so, there is no diminishing of His presence with us.
In one of my favourite books, “Climbing the Mountain” by Anne, a lay apostle, the writer is given a vision of Heaven. In this vision, Jesus is personally and completely present with every soul there. This brings me great anticipation for what that must be like – even to the point of joking with my wife this morning about how I can’t wait to go for a run with Him through the most perfect mountain trails without any worry for fatigue – just talking and taking it all in. Here’s a link to an excerpt from that book if you like to get a taste for what beauty is in her writing. Its worth the time to read as it provides such an eagerness for what is to come, making any cross we have to bear easily worth it!
Veneration or understanding?
The mystical transformation I described above is beyond our comprehension and understanding. Sorry, it just is. When we get to Heaven I’m sure we’ll gain a better grasp on this and how meaningful and important it is, but that isn’t going to happen in this life without intervention or an infusion of knowledge from God. It is, and will remain, a mystery.
With mystery comes faith. Faith is the decision to believe that it is what it is even in the absence of any proof or understanding. Rather than seeking understanding or waiting for that proof, pray for a deeper love and reverence for the Eucharist. If you pray for this, particularly if you include Mary – who always brings us to her Son – be prepared to fall in love with the Eucharist in a way you wouldn’t have thought possible. Even then you won’t understand it, nor could you explain it, you’ll just know this truth in your heart.
Real food for the Spirit
Jesus calls His flesh and His blood (which we receive in the Eucharist) as real food and real drink. That must imply that He’s giving us real nourishment. It can’t be nourishment for our physical bodies – even those that have been on strict diets didn’t count the calories of that small host or tiny sip of the blood! It’s real food for our spirits, our souls.
We spend so much of our lives catering to and nourishing our body (overindulging as well) – and not near enough time nourishing our spirit. Our physical bodies are simply vehicles for our spirits. The end of our lives is just the moment that the vehicles stop and the spirit – as nourished as we’ve allowed for it to be – carries on to what comes next, Heaven. We need to take care of our bodies, just as you would maintain your car, but it’s only the vehicle.
Special attention must go to how you nourish your spirit. Yesterday I wrote about spending time with Scripture, in prayer, reflecting on your day using the Examen – these are all ways we can nourish our spirits. Fasting is another great way to nourish the spirit. In fasting we tell our bodies that they’re not in charge and, in turn, we can put our attention on nourishing our souls.
Out of everything we could do, the Sacrament of the Eucharist is the most powerful nourishment for our souls, so let’s get there often. He’s giving us Himself as that very nourishment…and to make it easy, he’s letting it take the form of something we’re already using to nourish our bodies – food & drink!
Locked away from the Eucharist
One of the hardest part of this lockdown due to the coronavirus is that we are deprived of receiving Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. We can’t bring Jesus into ourselves, at least not in the physical eating and drinking of His body and blood.
What we can do, and many are already doing this, is say a prayer for a spiritual communion. Attending mass as it’s being streamed live still allows you to be part of the celebration (and I’m positive your angel can go in your place to attend!), and you can make this spiritual communion at the time you would have received Him physically.
Here is a very commonly used prayer from St. Alphonsus Liguori:
My Jesus,I believe that Youare present in the Most Holy Sacrament.I love You above all things,and I desire to receive You into my soul.Since I cannot at this momentreceive You sacramentally,come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You.Amen.—St. Alphonsus Liguori
An addition, this was posted (and I think written) by Pope Francis around the time the lockdown began:
At your feet, O my Jesus, I prostrate myself and offer You the repentance of my contrite heart as it plunges itself in its own nothingness and in Your holy presence.I adore You in the Sacrament of your love. I desire to receive You in the poor dwelling that my heart offers you.As I await the happiness of sacramental communion, I want to possess You in spirit. Come to me, O my Jesus, that I may come to You.May Your love inflame my whole being, for life and for death.I believe in You. I hope in You. I love You.So shall it be.-Pope Francis
Why not say both at every mass – perhaps even every day?
Just as we could share our Eucharist with others when we receive, the same can be true of our priests. I’d like to believe each of them, as they consume the body & drink the blood, they’re sharing that with all of their parish – which includes each of us. Just like the breaking of the bread and the flame of the candle, that sharing carries on the same wholeness of Christ to each person.
In addition to making a spiritual communion, a quick search on Youtube will reveal many live feeds into Adoration chapels. Again, we can’t be physically present with him in Adoration, but we can be spiritually present. An incredible one I was sent from the Militia Immaculata is the 24/7 live feed of the Blessed Sacrament at St. Maximilian Kolbe’s Niepokalanowa. The way this has been set up, you get a chance to adore Him with Mary (her looking down) and in Mary (the Sacrament being placed in her heart).
Here is an image to see what I mean. I’d highly recommend going to the live feed and spending some time with Him spiritually, perhaps while you pray over Scripture or do your Examen this evening?
The good news in all this: we have so many ways to continue receiving & revering Him in the Eucharist as we await in patience and eagerness our ability to receive Him in person once again.
Spreading our wings
Whether it’s spiritually (for now) or physically (hopefully very soon), receiving Jesus’ body and blood is an incredibly powerful way to nourish our spirits. The more often we can participate in this, the more our Spirits will soar, and the holier He is able to make us.
As we do our sacred reading, prayer, reflecting, praying the rosary, fasting, attending mass, receiving the Eucharist (phyically or spiritually), our spirit gets stronger and stronger. Our body – the vehicle we’re in – is going to stop. Only God knows whether that’s today, tomorrow, next year or in 50 years. When it does, let’s be ready for our Spirit to fly, fully nourished.
Just like that butterfly, finally free of its cocoon.