AUGUST 10, 2003 19th SUNDAY: HOMILY-John 6:41-51 

ANYONE WHO EATS THIS BREAD WILL LIVE FOREVER AND THE BREAD THAT I SHALL GIVE IS MY FLESH FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD. That this teaching proved to be too strong for many of Jesus’ disciples is not surprising. What is a surprise to me, though, is how so many convinced Christians today also find the doctrine of the Real Presence of the Risen Christ in the Eucharist too much for their faith. To believe in Jesus as the Risen Lord and yet not to accept what he plainly affirms here strikes me as strangely inconsistent. For Jesus makes it very clear to those who complained that his claim was ‘intolerable language’ that they had to leave his company if they did not receive this truth. He meant what he said in all its literal significance. Moreover, when Peter did declare his acceptance of it unconditionally, Jesus saw in this an affirmation of trust in his person and mission. In short, to believe in the real Presence in the Eucharist is to have faith in him as the Father’s emissary; not to accept this teaching is to refuse to walk with him. 

This is the Catholic faith as taught, practiced and witnessed to from the time of the apostles until today. If such faith in the Eucharist seems so obviously the only faithful response to our Lord’s words and yet so wrongly rejected by many who claim to believe in him, it is because such faith is a gift freely bestowed on us. That means it is an indication of God’s favor and mercy, for we certainly could not merit it even if we were the most virtuous of people- a claim that none of us would think of making. Faith in the Eucharist includes faith that Jesus is risen from the dead. It is the firm belief that he lives in the glory of God the Father and from him sends his own Spirit to us. This faith presupposes that he knows each of us by name, that is, personally, with an intimate knowledge of our deepest self. He not only knows us, he invites us to join our self to him, calling us by name, as he said in one of his parables: “the sheep hear his voice, each by his name he calls his own sheep and leads them out.” (John 10:3) 

The Eucharist, then, has always had a primacy of place in the life of the Church. Indeed, it has plausibly been asserted that the Church has been fashioned about the Eucharist. In celebrating this sacred meal in which we share among ourselves our life in Christ we actualize the hope of our own resurrection. This living hope is essentially social; it creates a bond of union with the glorified Lord Jesus that each of us shares with all the others who belong to him. This membership in his mystical body alone qualifies us to become full members of the household of God. Salvation is never just a private affair. We are all joined in a common effort. 

At the same time, this sacrament of the body and blood of Christ is a most intimate and most personal exchange with the risen Lord. Intimacy is a union of heart and spirit shared without barriers in a trusting surrender of one’s very self. That is the immediate meaning of this Eucharistic sacrament. All the rest of our faith flows from it, as from the Spirit who is received along with the glorified Savior who loves us and gives himself not only for us but, here and now and for always, gives himself to us.

  Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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