Dear Friends in Jesus Christ…,
I wonder how many people here have ever seen the Vitamin A in a carrot, the Vitamin C in an orange or the potassium in a banana. I’ve seen lots of vitamin pills, but I wouldn’t know what an actual vitamin molecule looked like even if it came up and bit me. Yet the experts tell us they are in certain foods whether we can see them or not. With this thought in mind we could make a simple comparison with the Eucharist, in so far as we cannot see Christ present in the Eucharist; but it doesn’t matter that we can’t see him, he is still there. I would like to extend this comparison a bit further. Health experts tell us that without the sufficient amounts of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and fats in our diet we will not be healthy and we may even die. We are told to eat a variety of foods so that we get all the nutrients we need. We tend not to question the health experts that tell us all of this. We trust they know what they are talking about. Even though there is probably no one here who follows their recommendations perfectly, I think many Americans are beginning to pay attention to following a good diet, especially as some of us get older. But there are also many who seem to think that those who promote good nutrition are just trying to take all the fun out of life and so they go their merry ways filling themselves full of saturated fats, salt, sugar, nicotine and alcohol. The experts who tell us how to take care of ourselves can’t help us much if we don’t believe them or follow the suggestions they give us.
Today’s feast puts us in touch with another expert, Jesus. He tells us what we need to do to be healthy spiritually. How do we know he is an expert we should listen to? Well, he told us he knows what he is talking about, but he also knows many will not believe him just because he said so. So, he told us if we are not sure we want to believe him, to look at his works. “If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (Jn 11:37-38) Of course we were not there personally to see the miracles Jesus worked, but there were many who did witness his works and there were those who gave their lives as a testimony that what they preached about Jesus was true. So if we decide to believe the words of those who saw him and knew him and who died for him, then we can only conclude that when he speaks to us about things that are beyond us we ought to listen to what he had to say. And if we listen to what he had to say, we will discover that he has a few things to say about nutrition too. He doesn’t tell us about the vitamins and minerals we need to keep our physical lives healthy though. He has a much greater purpose in mind. He tells us, “I came that they may have life and may have it to the full.” (Jn 10:10) And the food that will nourish that life is himself. For he tells us “I am the bread of life.” (Jn 6:35) “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (Jn 6:58) Now that’s the ultimate healthy diet. Today’s gospel tells us how he becomes our food.
If many of us have difficulty trusting and especially if we have difficulty following the research and expertise of those who advocate eating a well-balanced and healthy diet, then I suppose it’s not too great of a surprise that many have difficulty trusting and especially following the guidance of Jesus who is our expert on eternal life. We see a great number of people, even Catholics, who try to tells us Jesus didn’t really mean what he said when he said “This is my body”. They tell us its all symbolism. Long before the Last Supper, many of Jesus’ followers walked away from him shaking their heads in disbelief when he said to them “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.” (Jn 6:53) When he saw them walk away, he didn’t call them back and say “Heh! Come back, you misunderstood me.” He knew they were leaving him because they did understand what he said to them. At that point, he just turned to his apostles and asked “Do you also want to leave?” (Jn 6:67) Jesus is our expert on et4rnal life and he tells us the food he offers us, which is himself, will nourish us forever. Today’s feast challenges our belief in him and in his presence with us in the Eucharist.
There was a time in history when so few people were being fed by the Eucharist that the Church had to make a law saying that Catholics were obliged to receive Communion at least once a year. Even up to 40 or 50 years ago, people went to Communion very seldom. There was a heresy at that time called Jansenism which told people they were unworthy to receive Communion unless they went to confession first. The Eucharist was held in such high respect that people stayed away. Now many people have lost their belief in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, and consequently they stay away too. They stay away in the sense that its too much trouble to come to Mass. It seems to me as if the devil tries every trick he can to keep people away from Communion. Either the devil tells us it is so sacred we shouldn’t receive it, or he tells us there’s nothing worth going there for anyway.
The real crisis of faith in the Catholic Church at the present time I think has its origin right here in the mystery we celebrate today. There are many who no longer believe that the Eucharist is really and truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ. I think this lack of belief is connected with the vocation crisis. I think it’s the reason Mass attendance has dropped off. And then, like a domino effect, when people get away from church and Mass attendance, they are getting away from their spiritual roots. Without a strong spiritual foundation to build our lives on, we are left with fewer values to live by and fewer values to pass on to our children. Do I overemphasize the importance of the Eucharist? I don’t think so. Certainly God’s love is shown to us in many ways, but I believe the Eucharist helps us to see those ways more clearly in which God’s love is present in our lives and I believe it is also the Eucharist itself, more than anything else, that tells us that God loves us and that God is with us.
God Bless You,