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Food for Our Spiritual Journey
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus 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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
Opening Prayer: Your goodness, O Lord, surrounds me like the atmosphere surrounds the earth. Your faithfulness is like the mountains, the snow-covered mountains—firm and constant and dependable. Your wisdom is like the ocean, always moving and murmuring, vast and inexhaustible. You are my God, my Father, my Savior. You are my refuge, my fortress, my hiding place. I come to you today to fill my heart with your grace and to praise you with the offering of my heart and mind. Blessed be your name, O Lord, for ever and ever.
- Bread from Heaven: Seven times in today’s Gospel passage Jesus tells us that eating his flesh and drinking his blood is the path to eternal life. What a strange thing to say! In fact, it was so strange that in the next few verses of this Gospel passage St. John explains how many of Jesus’s followers abandoned him that day. Maybe they thought he was crazy. And yet, in a certain sense, they should have understood. Throughout the Old Testament, God was preparing his people for the gift of the Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ’s true presence, the food of angels–as today’s sequence puts it–which is given to us as food for our journey into eternity. Think about it. So many times in the Old Testament food is central to the story. At the very beginning, Adam and Eve committed original sin through eating the forbidden fruit. Then, when God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt, he instructed them to have a ritual meal in which they ate the paschal lamb. While they were journeying through the wilderness, he fed them with manna from heaven—a miraculous food that kept them going on their journey to the promised land. All of these biblical references–and we could mention more–show that communion with Christ through the Eucharist was part of God’s plan for us from the very beginning. Somehow, as human beings who are a mysterious unity of body and spirit, our path to salvation includes this sacramental union with God through consuming the Eucharist. Seven times Jesus emphasizes this truth in today’s Gospel. Seven is the number of completion, of fullness. How much do I emphasize the Eucharist in my own life? How much do I value the communion I receive at Mass? Am I on the same page with Jesus about this mysterious sacramental gift?
- The Eucharist and the Mass: The Eucharist comes to us through the Mass. The words of the Mass, especially those of the Eucharistic prayers, make clear what happens at Mass. Mass is the perfect prayer, the perfect act of worship, the re-presentation of Christ’s own sacrifice on Calvary so that we can bring the grace and glory of that sacrifice into the here-and-now of our lives—every single day. Through the Mass, every day and every corner of the world is swept up into the story of salvation. Through the Mass, our own prayers and sacrifices are united to Christ’s perfect prayer and sacrifice and thus enhanced, elevated, and given the power to build up his everlasting Kingdom. And then, during the rite of communion, God responds to the offerings we gave him during the Eucharistic prayer by giving us in return the food of eternal life. When we receive Holy Communion we are receiving sacramental nourishment for our hearts and minds. If we receive Holy Communion worthily–with humility, gratitude, and an awareness of its true nature–our faith, hope, and love are strengthened by that sacrament and we become more like Christ. As St. Augustine put it centuries ago, normal food is transformed into the one who eats it, but the Sacrament of the Eucharist does the contrary: through it we are transformed more and more fully into Christ. How fully do I really understand what happens at Mass? How much have I studied the meaning and the history of the different parts of the Mass? How central a place does the Mass play in my own life and the life of my family? Without the Mass, we would have no access to Christ’s Kingdom, and we would have no Eucharist. The Celebration of the Eucharist at Mass truly is the “source and summit of Christian life” (CCC 1324), and so it should be the same for my life. What can I do to make sure it is?
- Christ’s Loving Invasion: Over the centuries, the Holy Spirit gradually guided the Church to an awareness of Christ’s ongoing sacramental presence in the Eucharist. As the Eucharist was reserved after Mass so that Holy Communion could be brought to the sick, we began to realize that we could extend the worship and praise, and the prayers of intercession and supplication, offered to God during the Mass by adoring the Lord in the Eucharist outside of Mass. Eventually churches constructed tabernacles where we could reserve the Blessed Sacrament. Gradually we developed the liturgical practice of Eucharistic exposition, adoration, and benediction. Today, it is impossible to know how many tabernacles there are in the world. So many parish churches, convents and monasteries, oratories and residences of religious orders! In every corner of the world–indeed, in every corner of time and space–Jesus is with us, wanting to accompany us and to be available so that we can come to him in the Eucharist and open our hearts to him. He is drawing the whole world into his Sacred Heart through his silent, respectful, loving, generous presence in countless tabernacles throughout the earth. What does this decision on God’s part tell me about his love and interest in my life? How have I responded to this gift? How would I like to respond from now on?
Conversing with Christ: Your gift of the Eucharist is too marvelous for me to comprehend, Lord! You give yourself to me as supernatural food. You stay with me and invite me to involve you in all that I am and all that I do. You, the Creator and the Redeemer of the universe, are always present in the little tabernacle of my parish church, humbling hoping that I will come and accompany you and let you accompany me. The Eucharistic host is so simple, Lord—small, fragile, so plain and tasteless and undramatic. And that is how you chose to remain with me. You don’t want to overpower me; you want to be with me. You don’t want to enslave me; you want to nourish and encourage me. I believe in your true presence in the Eucharist, Lord, and I bow down before you, amazed at your infinite goodness and wisdom, and full of a sincere desire to live my life as you would have me live it.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will make an extra visit to a chapel or a church where I can be with you in the Eucharist. And I will take time there simply to enjoy your presence and thank you for all the things for which I am grateful. I will let you love me through your Eucharistic presence today, Lord, and I will pray for all those who haven’t yet discovered that you love them.
For Further Reflection: Food for the Journey: A Retreat Guide on the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC.