6-18-2017 The Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ
Jun 19, 2017
Body and Blood of Christ / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
We celebrate today the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ—the last of the many feasts we celebrate in this post-Easter, post-Pentecost season. We focus today on the Eucharist—the source and summit and the church’s life and ministry.
The Eucharist shows in a very clear way the distinctiveness of Christianity and Catholicism. Take an example . . . think of great people from the past. Buddhists revere Buddha. Muslims revere Mohammad. Platonists revere Plato. Aristotelians revere Aristotle. People who belong to the Lincoln Society revere Lincoln.
But here’s the difference: people in these groups and societies do not think of eating the body and the blood of the one they revere. We do! And put that way, it might even sound a little strange to us.
St. Paul in the second reading today puts it this way: "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" The word participation is the Greek word koinonia—communion. The cup and the bread are our koinonia, our communion with the body and blood of Jesus. John’s Gospel expresses the same idea when Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches." Jesus’ communion with us; our communion with Jesus.
Jesus gives his most important instruction on the Eucharist—his Body and Blood—in the 6th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, our gospel today. And Jesus is very explicit: "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."
Up to this point in the Gospel, Jesus has been teaching—about himself, about his relationship to the Father, about living in conformity with God’s laws. But Jesus’
teaching takes a radical turn here: he wants to live in his followers, and he wants his followers to live in him.
So how do the followers of Jesus react to his invitation? They found it too much! The response is visceral. And we can see why. His flesh to eat? His blood to drink?
The reaction of the crowd tells us that Jesus was not just speaking metaphorically, or symbolically. If he were, the crowd would not have reacted so strongly. As it is, they understood him correctly. And here we remember the strict Jewish prohibition against eating meat with blood in it—or eating blood at all. For Jews, it was illegal and repulsive.
So the people fight back, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" But Jesus doesn’t back down. He repeats himself, with greater intensity: "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 . . . for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink."
So how do we make sense of all this? The first reading today is helpful, from Deuteronomy. Israel is in the desert, moving from Egypt to the promised land. When the people grumble to Moses that they are hungry, manna comes down from heaven—bread from heaven, "a food unknown to you and your fathers." The Israelites realize that they cannot survive in the desert on their own. They need "bread from heaven"—the power to move them from slavery to freedom.
And that is the Eucharist—the food we need in the desert, the food we need to move from slavery to freedom, from sin to salvation. The Body and the Blood of the Lord—the feast we celebrate today and every day.