Dear Friends in Jesus Christ…,
This is the fourth week in a row that we are meditating on the same theme: Jesus the Bread of Life. I would like to share with you the story of Marie and John. Some time ago a college student named Marie wrote an article called “I Bring Jesus to John.” Marie is a Eucharistic Minister in her parish. Each Sunday she attends the ten o’clock Mass. After Mass she takes the Eucharist to a man named John, who lives all alone. Describing John, Marie says, “His rocking chair creaks as he sways back and forth beside his living room window.” His hearing is bad, his eyesight is poor, and a heart attack has slowed his movements. But John’s 88-year-old faith is strong and vibrant. Each Sunday John waits eagerly for someone. “That someone,” says Marie, “is Jesus, and I a 22-year-old college student am privileged to bring Jesus to John.” While Marie attends the ten o’clock Mass, John watches the same Mass on television. Thus when Marie arrives with the Eucharist, John feels a part of it too. After taking off her coat Marie sits down beside John. Then she rereads the Sunday gospel, just in case John’s poor hearing caused him to miss any of it on television. Marie ends by reviewing the homily with John. Next comes the moment John has been waiting for all week. Marie begins it by praying with John the Lord’s Prayer. Then she holds up the Body of Christ for John to see and says, “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.” John answers in a soft but firm vice, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Marie then gives John Communion. After a few moments of silence, Marie opens a book and prays” “God, our Father, may the Body of Christ which Brother John as received bring him lasting health in mind and body.” Marie concludes with a prayer that has become John’s favourite. It goes something like this: “Lord, Holy Father, free your servant John from sickness, restore him to health, strengthen him by your power, protect him by your might, and raise him to new life on the last day.” After this prayer Marie and John chat together for a while. Then they hug, say good-bye, and promise to pray for each other until they meet again next week.
That simple story of John and Marie is truly beautiful for two reasons. First, it illustrates the kind of faith Jesus invites us to have when he says in today’s gospel: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven…My flesh is the real food; my blood is the real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him.” Both Marie and John witness to their faith in these words of Jesus. Marie does it by bringing the Body of Jesus to John. John does it by receiving the Body of Jesus. And they both do it by their prayers together before and after John’s Communion. It is right here, in their prayers together before and after Communion, that the story of Marie and John may have something practical to say to us. The story of Marie and John reminds us that if the reception of Communion is to be a faith experience, it must be done within a prayer context. Let me illustrate by a comparison. The moment of receiving Communion could be compared to a diamond. The time before and after Communion might be compared to a gold band. A diamond by itself is beautiful. But is becomes incomparably more beautiful if it is placed in the center of a gold band and made the centerpiece of a gold ring. The same is true of Communion. Communion by itself is a beautiful experience. But it becomes incomparably more beautiful if we place it within a setting of prayer. If our own experience of Communion seems to be missing something, maybe it’s missing the setting of prayer. How prayerful are we before and after receiving Communion? What goes on in our mind and heart as we approach the altar to receive the Body of Christ? What goes on in our mind and heart after we have received the Body of Christ? Do we speak with Jesus as with a friend? Do we give him thanks, ask his forgiveness, and seek his guidance? This brings us to the second reason that makes the story of John and Marie so beautiful.
Besides the kind of faith Jesus invites us to have in today’s gospel, the story also illustrates the kind of love Jesus invites us to have as Christians. The warm friendship that has grown up between Marie and John is the kind of friendship that all Christians should try to cultivate toward one another. And so a second question we might ask ourselves is this: Does our own reception of Communion make us more loving in our lives, especially toward those who need our love most, like John? In other words, does it draw us closer not only to Jesus but also to one another?
Let’s conclude by listening to St. Paul describe the kind of faith and love we should have because of our reception of the Eucharist: “The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ. Because there is the one loaf of bread, all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
In conclusion, then, the story of Marie and John illustrates the kind of faith and love Jesus talks about in today’s gospel when he says: “My flesh is the real food; my blood is the real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him.”
God Bless You,