Fr. Charles Irvin
Proverbs 9:1-6; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
The New Testament presents us with quite a list of roles that Christ could model for us. They’re quite attractive:
Christ the Leader – We follow in His footsteps
Christ the Master – The One whom we obey
Christ the Role Model – The One whom we imitate
Christ the Teacher – The One from whom we learn
Christ the Savior – The One who rescues us
Christ the Physician – The One from whom we find health and healing
Christ the Hero – The interesting historical figure whom we admire
All of the above have a couple of things in common:
- - You can say the same things about Buddha, or Mohammed or any other great religious leader….
- - All of those descriptions keep Christ at a nice safe distance from our souls…. they all keep Him outside, out there, back then, and so forth.
Today’s Gospel account makes a claim that cannot be found in the life or times or teaching of any other great religious leader or heroic person. Today’s Gospel refers to “Christ living IN us”; or in other passages calling us to live IN Christ.
How can this be, questioned His disciples? Whereupon Jesus declared “I am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, for the life of the world.” Well, that was just too much for some of His disciples… and they turned their backs on Him and left.
And what did Jesus do? Did He rush out after them, tap them on the shoulder and tell them that His words were only poetic, merely symbolic, and not to be taken literally, and so please come back? No, He did not. He let them go on their own self-declared way.
Christ then turned to those disciples who remained with Him and said to them: “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. My flesh is real food, and my blood real drink.”
This declaration of Jesus Christ puts us at the very core of what it means to be a Catholic Christian. Our Catholic faith is absolutely uncompromising on this doctrine. Some medieval pope didn’t wake up one morning and declare that we all had to believe it. No, this teaching comes directly from Jesus Christ, in His own words.
The core reality of our Church, the central truth of our parish, the quintessential Catholic “thing” is found this. God in Jesus Christ offers us His very own inner life to be shared, not out of obedience, or simply in a learning experience, or in any merely human activity or function. No, God offers us the invitation to surrender our lives, our wills, and our very own selves over into His.
God comes to us that way, in powerlessness, in self-surrender, in His handing of Himself over to us. God not only calls us to do so, God Himself DOES SO, in order that we might, without fear, do the same and surrender our hearts, minds, wills, bodies and souls over into a living intimacy in Him. There is nothing more Catholic than that.
This is boldly and repeatedly asserted throughout the New Testament. God’s life in Christ can be intermingled with ours, ours with His. God has mingled His divinity with our humanity, in order that we might mingle our humanity with His divinity. The eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood is that act of intimacy in which that transaction and transformation occurs.
No one has ever thought of saying that about any other historical figure. Abraham Lincoln is one of our heroes, one of our giants, along with George Washington, Helen Keller, Amelia Earhart, and others. So is Buddha and so is Mohammed for countless billions of other human beings. But no one thinks of saying that we should live in them or that they should live in us. They don’t claim it; no one counsels it.
But Jesus Christ claims it, and his Church counsels it. His sharing of His very own life is so complete and so profound that only the most vivid and shocking language can convey the truth of it. He gives us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink, for no other reason than that act of intimacy for which God created human beings in the first place.
The mystery is profound, and my poor preaching cannot possibly explain it. No one, in fact, can explain it. But anyone can receive it. And to those who do, theirs is life eternal. And life eternal that begins not in some remote and distant future that follows our death, but life eternal that begins now, in the receiving of God’s life in His very own flesh and in His very own blood.
There is a beautiful balance in the Christian message. It presents Christ to be followed; it presents Christ as the Master; it presents Christ as the Divine Physician; it presents Christ as the Teacher; it presents Christ as our Lord and Savior. And all of these require our diligent attention and acceptance.
But THEN the Christian Gospel presents Christ as “the living bread” to be eaten, and His blood to be received, that His Body may become part of our bodies, and His blood may mingle with our blood. At this point all external activities and efforts cease and we simply become a part of Him and He becomes a part of us. There, and only there, are our deepest needs met.
So, yes, we have accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. And that’s the proper response we should make to anyone who questions us. But thereafter, however, there’s another question that needs to be addressed, namely His Real Presence that comes into us in His flesh and blood, which is real food and real drink, and without which we do not have the Source of life Himself.
May you and I humbly, gratefully, and with true and authentic faith, now receive what He died to give us, namely His living flesh and His living blood in order that His life may commingle in ours.