You are what you eat. Does this quote sound familiar? It was popular in the 70’s & 80’s to reinforce eating the right foods. The food pyramid was developed to go along with the phrase to help us understand what food led to good overall health. The pyramid base was the healthy food and the unhealthy food, that stuff that tasted the best, was the teeny part of the top of the pyramid. A lot of effort was spent in education and marketing this concept. Which of the foods do you think most of us ate? I know I ate to many at the top of pyramid. Some new models now make it easier to eat better, as my dietician daughter Nicole has shown me, helping me to eat healthier and hopefully live longer. Although these food models may help in living longer, they don’t help to live forever. Only the Eucharist can do that.
Over the last four weeks we’ve been reading from John Chapter 6. We’ve been given the opportunity to feast on the Wisdom of the eternal God so we can grow in understanding of the life giving food of the Eucharist. It began with the miracle of the five loaves and two fish were Jesus fed thousands of people. After this miracle people seek out Jesus for more food. He tells them not to seek that food that perishes, but to seek food that endures for eternal life.
In our first reading from Proverbs the stage is set for God’s invitation to the Eucharistic feast. We hear of Wisdom providing a sumptuous feast where all are invited, including the simple and those who lack understanding, so they can advance in understanding. St. Paul encourages the Ephesians not continue in ignorance, but to try to understand the will of the Lord. He describes the Eucharistic liturgy filled with the Spirit, along with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, always giving thanks for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In coming together in the Eucharist, we can grow in understanding of this great gift feeding on Jesus in Word & Sacrament.
In John’s Gospel Jesus proclaims that: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread I give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The Jews questioned Jesus about this, “How can this man give us flesh to eat?” Think about how shocking sounded to the first century Jews. Jews were forbidden from eating animal flesh containing blood. He was also telling them to eat human flesh. The original Greek word used to describe eating was not the normal way of eating a meal, but to eat as animals did, gnawing on munching. This must have been repulsive to the Jews.
The Jew response provided Jesus an opportunity to restate his meaning. But instead he reinforces what he just said: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”, “my flesh is true food”, and “This is the bread come down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread lives forever”. He was not speaking in symbols or metaphors. He was telling them to really eat and drink his flesh and blood to have eternal life.
We have the hindsight that the Jews didn’t: Jesus was speaking of the bread and wine of the Eucharistic meal mysteriously transformed into his flesh and blood. We also know of the resurrected Jesus, who rose from the dead after offering his life as a sacrifice for us on the Cross. As true food and true drink the Eucharist nourishes us so we can grow spiritually. Jesus also tells us: “Whoever eats my flesh and drink my blood remains in me and I in him.” Through the Sacrament of the Eucharist He remains in us and we remain in him, so our mortal bodies can become immortal. Jesus became like us in flesh, so we could become like God in him. It enables us to partake in the life of the Trinity. We affirm this reality each time we hear the priest conclude the Eucharistic prayer:
Through him, with him, and in him, O God Almighty Father, in unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours for ever and ever.
Our response is the Great Amen where we affirm our belief that the Eucharist is truly Jesus’ flesh and blood that gives us eternal life. Think about this each time you respond Amen at Mass.
These words were hard for the Jews to believe. Next week we’ll hear that many of his disciples left him after this. It’s still hard for many people today to believe in this reality. We know there are many Christian and even some Catholics who struggle with this belief. If we keep the words of Proverbs in mind it may help: Those invited to the feast are the simple and those lacking understanding. If we just simply listen to the words of Jesus, the Word of Wisdom, and believe that they are true, then we can have eternal life. I’d strongly encourage to take time and read the entire content of John chapter 6 and be open to what he is saying.
By consuming the Eucharist, we receive grace and are transformed to grow in holiness and love to become one with Christ. As we become one with Christ, we are united with the body of Christ, and can transform the world. A great example of a person transformed by the Eucharist was St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta. We know of her great love of the poor, which flowed from the power of the Eucharist. Consider her words: If we truly understand the Eucharist, if we make the Eucharist the central focus of our lives, if we feed our lives with the Eucharist, we will not find it difficult to discover Christ, to love him, and to serve him in the poor. If we feed on Jesus’ Word consuming them in our hearts, we can grow to understand he meant what he said: His flesh and blood truly gives us eternal life. By consuming the Eucharist, we can become what we eat.