MAY 29, 2005 - 9TH SUNDAY: HOMILY- DT 8:2,3,1416; 1COR: 10:16-17; J0HN 6: 51-58

ANYONE WHO EATS MY FLESH AND DRINKS MY BLOOD HAS ETERNAL LIFE. The Eucharist from the earliest days of the Church has been at the very heart of Catholic life. Our Lord in the Eucharistic discourse from which today’s Gospel passage is taken presents the highly personal aspect of the holiest of all sacraments. As an expression of personal intimacy, giving himself under the form of food and drink can hardly be surpassed. That Jesus intended this way of uniting himself to his followers as more than a symbol he made very clear when a number of those who were present as he proclaimed this truth reacted against it saying: "This is intolerable language." Rather than softening his teaching with qualifying explanations he affirms it more categorically:" The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life". He goes on to observe that the fundamental issue here is faith in his person.

The faith that our Lord repeatedly insists on is more than intellectual assent to a collection of truths; it is a radical personal relationship to his person. By the act of faith we make a commitment of our most intimate self to the Lord Jesus whom we acknowledge as the unique Son of the eternal Father. The Eucharist is available only to the believer. One cannot receive the Body and Blood as the sacrament of eternal life without the highly personal engagement of one’s inmost self, mind and will, with the person of the living Savior. If Jesus’ words are spirit and life it is because he offers his very self in his words; he stands behind them, gives himself in them. As he states elsewhere, the words that he pronounces for our instruction he first receives as a gift from his heavenly Father: communion with him is, accordingly, communion with the Father. St Ignatius of Antioch, in a striking phrase that expresses what is implied in the Gospel account of the Eucharist, when he states that this bread ‘is baked in the fire of the Holy Spirit’. By communion in the Body of Christ then we participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity.

If the Eucharist is a sharing in the most intimate depths of our heart in the life of the Risen Lord, it is also the bond of union among the faithful. St Paul makes this point insistently as we heard in the second reading.

And as there is one loaf of bread which we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? And as there is one loaf, so we, though many, are one single body, for we all share in the one loaf (1Cor 10:16, 17).

The Eucharist is a spiritual food and so it is a dynamic sacrament, supplying energy, repairing what is worn down, building up fresh structures in the spirit. This symbolism is all the more vivid for us today in that science has so recently discovered in fascinating detail the precise manner in which all the cells of the body are actively engaged in renewing their own highly complex structures and produce the various proteins and other products needed by the bodily organs. The energy and materials requisite for this constant process of renewal is supplied by the food we eat and digest. The body cannot function for any prolonged period and maintain its health without adequate ingestion of food. This food, in a very short time, is transformed in such a manner as to become the very substance of the cells of the body only to be used up and depleted almost as quickly.

Our Lord instituted the Eucharist as a most active memorial of his own person. This sacramental bread cannot be separated from the events that Jesus experienced in his body, above all his sacrificial death on the cross. He made it a point to affirm that the eating of his body and drinking of his blood is a remembrance of him, as known in the body, and then experienced in the Spirit. Through this living memorial of him our whole life is brought into contact with his person to be healed, restored and built up anew, so that we might function in keeping with the Spirit that unites him, and us who live in him, with the Father. May each of us experience this grace of the Eucharist as we celebrate today the memorial that is the glorified Body of Christ, once given for us on the cross and now offered to us as a pledge of eternal life in the glory of God the Father.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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