|SUNDAY HOMILIES FOR YEAR C|
|By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp|
|Homily for the Body and Blood of Christ|
We Become What We Eat
|Genesis 14:18-20||1 Corinthians 11:23-26||Luke 9:11-17|
Augustinian nun Juliana of Liège had a vision in which a glistening full moon appeared to her. The moon was perfect but for some hollow dark spots which she was told represented the absence of a feast of the Eucharist. This led to the celebration of the feast of the Body of Christ, Corpus Christi, which was introduced into the church calendar in 1264.
Why do we need a feast of the Eucharist? A feast like this affords us the opportunity to give God collective thanks for Christ’s abiding presence with us which is made visible in the Eucharist. It is also an opportunity for us to seek a better understanding of the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ and to order our attitude to it accordingly, since the Eucharist is a sacrament of life which, if misused, could bring about the opposite effect. As St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “All who eat and drink in an unworthy manner, without discerning the Lord’s body eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Corinthians 11:29-30).
In order to arrive at a better understanding of the Eucharist we need to ask why Jesus gave us this sacrament in the first place. A closer reading of today's gospel or, better still, the whole of the Eucharistic discourse in John 6 from which it is taken, provides useful answers. From the reading we find that there are two main reasons Jesus gave us this sacrament. (1) Jesus promised to be with us until the end of time (Matthew 28:20). In the Eucharist he provides a visible sign and an effective means of him being present to us and us being present to him. As Jesus himself said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (2) Jesus said that he came that we may have life and have it to the full (John 10:10). In the Eucharist he provides a visible means of communicating this life to us so that we can be fully alive both in this world and in the next. As Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day” (John 6:53-54).
The Jews that Jesus was addressing in John 6 had gathered to ask him for more bread. Jesus promised to give them the sacramental bread and blood instead. But in their worldly frame of mind they could not understand or appreciate the sacrament. They disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (v. 52). Jesus reaffirmed that “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (v. 55). They ended up distancing themselves from the Eucharist because the sacramental language makes no sense to people in a materialistic frame of mind.
The same problem that these early would-be followers of Jesus had is still with us today. If we approach the Eucharist with a materialistic mentality we fail to understand and so lose the benefits of such a wonderful gift of God’s love. The Eucharist is true food and drink but at the same time it is very different from every other food and drink. The great difference lies in these words of Christ which St Augustine heard in prayer, “You will not change me into yourself as you would food of your flesh; but you will be changed into me.” We transform ordinary food into our own bodies but the food of the Eucharist transforms us into the body of Christ. Ludwig Feuerbach's statement that we become what we eat is never more true that in the Eucharistic experience.
Why then do many of us who receive the Eucharist not experience more of this radical transformation? Maybe this story will throw more light on the question. A team of Russians and Americans were on a common expedition. Among their cabin foodstuff was Russian black bread. It was tasty but hard on the teeth. It happened during a meal that an American bit into a piece and snapped a tooth. He threw the bread overboard and growled: “Lousy Communist bread.” The Russian countered: “Is not lousy communist bread. Is rotten capitalist tooth.” If we do not experience the transforming power of the Eucharist it is probably not on account of a lousy Eucharist but on account of our rotten faith. Let us today approach the Eucharist with a more lively faith in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and we shall experience therein God's saving power and transforming love.
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