• Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a
• Psa 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
• 1 Cor 10:16-17
• Jn 6:51-58
In my late teens I began to have questions about the beliefs and practices of the small Fundamentalist Bible chapel—co-founded by my parents—I had attended most of my life. Many of these questions were only half-formed at the time, but later came into sharper focus, causing me to critically rethink much I had been taught.
Why was it, I wondered, I had heard several sermons about Rahab the harlot (Josh 2 and 6), but only one about Mary, the mother of Jesus? Why did we celebrate Easter and the Resurrection of Christ, but ignored Good Friday and the commemoration of his death? And why did we celebrate the Lord’s Supper each Sunday, but always emphasized that our communion service was only “symbolic” in nature?
This latter topic was especially vexing. And it became even more troubling after I attended an Evangelical Bible college for two years. I heard sermons and lectures about the miraculous gift of the manna (Ex 16; Num 11), but I don’t recall ever hearing a sermon or lecture about the final twenty verses of the sixth chapter of John. That passage fascinated and troubled me. I read it again and again, mulling over the stunning words, heard in today’s Gospel reading, uttered by Jesus: “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.”
John 6, especially verses 51-71, was the most bothersome passage in the Bible for me as a Protestant. That section of Scripture played an essential role in the decision my wife and I made to become Catholic, entering the Church together in 1997. Yes, there were many other important issues, including Church authority, history, Mary, and the other sacraments. But at the heart of our hunger was a desire for the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
“For my flesh is true food,” Jesus told his disciples and the others listening to him, “and my blood is true drink.” I became convinced of what the Church taught—and had taught for two thousand years—about the Real Presence: “In the Eucharist Christ gives us the very body which he gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he ‘poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par 1365).
Four times in John 6 the words “Amen, amen” (or “Truly, truly) are uttered by Jesus (vs 26, 32, 47, 53). Each signifies a transition and a teaching of great importance; each is a deeper revelation into the person and work of Christ. First, Jesus rebuked the people for seeking only after earthly, temporal food—they instead should believe in him (v. 29). Secondly, Jesus emphasized that it is his Father, not Moses, who gave the manna in the desert. Third, Jesus strongly stated that belief in him is eternal life (v. 47) and that he is “the bread of life” (v. 48). He then announced, to the amazement of those present, that the bread he referred to is his flesh. “This is the bread that came down from heaven,” Jesus stated, “Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
Jesus had fed the people real bread (Jn 6:1-14). He then offered real, eternal life to those who believed in him. And then he offered his real flesh as food and his real blood as drink. Natural food, of course, sustains natural life. And the manna, although given in a miraculous manner, was still natural food for natural life. But the new manna, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, is supernatural food given for supernatural life. This new manna, the Eucharist, is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). It is, as St. Paul wrote the Corinthians, participation in the blood and body of Christ.
It is, for me, no longer bothersome, but still stunning.
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the May 25, 2008, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)
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Many thanks Carl for such a beautiful insight into your faith walk.
Here’s a humble attempt to bring Catholic and Protestant perspectives closer together.
HOLY EUCHARIST: A SUPREME PRESENT WITH A SUPREME PURPOSE
Without appreciating God’s covenantal way of operating we can miss what he offers us in the sacred body and blood of Christ. Saint Paul explains God wills to: “transform us by the renewing of our minds.” God purposes to raise us from an inherently wrong way of thinking and behaving, to God’s way of thinking and behaving.
Today, a pervasive ignorance of what God does with us in the Holy Eucharist is leading many to deny the Real Presence.
Jesus grew up in a culture that constantly recited and celebrated God’s ways in their weekly Sabbath meals; and, in the Jewish yearly cycles of holy festivals, culminating in Passover. The constant theme of Jewish celebration was of ‘covenant’: that is that God’s faithful promises are for a people who faithfully obey God’s instructions.
Christians have always been rooted in the Sinai Covenant with Jews; both in its instructions and its blessings. In addition, however, our leaves, flowers, and fruits stem from the New Covenant, in the body and blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. As we often hear: “The New Covenant completes the work of the Old Covenant.”
In both cases, the divine covenantal mercy was begun at God’s initiative. Tradition has the First Covenant being bestowed on Noah then Abraham; then Moses received the definitive Ten Commandments about 3,500 years ago, at Sinai. Historically, the New Testament reveals Christ’s life and teachings culminated with his New Covenant gift of himself to his followers, in Israel, about 2,000 years ago.
It’s always worth reminding ourselves that these gracious covenants of Almighty God were not earned by humanity; far from it. Out of pity for our hopeless situation, God has mercifully stretched towards us with magnificent offers we should not refuse. God offers us everlasting blessings; blessings that far exceed our part in the covenant.
What is new about the New Covenant? Well above the Old Testament commands on the two stone tablets, the New Testament witness is of Jesus’ living flesh being unfailingly obedient to all of his Father’s instructions; and, again, Jesus’ life blood was never less than totally loving, even of his enemies.
By commanding us to remember him in Holy Eucharist, through sharing in his flesh and blood, Jesus calls us to incorporation in his unique personhood: a personhood of covenantal obedience to God’s rules and unfailing love.
The eucharistic Real Presence is the greatest gift, with the most amazing of God’s promises attached (John 6: 53-58). Let’s joyfully remind one another of that; and also that Jesus’ flesh and blood call for our personal and communal covenantal response of obedience to God’s instructions and of sincere love, even of our enemies.
As always, in all things, the divine purpose is a righteousness and love that brings everlasting peace and joy.
——————————————————————– 13.06.2020 mJr
Thank you too for the sharing – on this Feast Day of St.Anthony of Padua too , he of the spiritual family of St.Frances , eager to help bring back many lambs and some ? your own family as well , may be among his blood relatives through the twists and turns of the past 🙂
Many who claim to be of The Church , keeping an appearance of communion , yet not truly taking in His words to heart , like our First Parents ..
That little accusing voice of the enemy echoing through many , as it did among those who left Him at the first discourse , in spite of the Passover celebrations over centuries , to prepare them to know the deeper meaning of ‘Flesh and Blood ‘ .
God’s holiness and His love , its oneness , not easy for our fleshly minds to grasp and thank God that He Himself thus in oneness with us , becoming our Covenant and our High priest , our holiness , purifying the weaknesses of the flesh , its rebellions and the broken covenants , through His Spirit and Blood ..
and ‘ every word that proceeds from the mouth of God ‘ , through the priests who are given the power in Him , to utter the words of Consecration at every Holy Mass , offered through out the world to bring the life of holiness of heaven ,
for the joy of deeper oneness and praise , with all in Him as well ..
Glory be !
Almost as stunning as the miracle of love that is the Real Presence is that your Evangelical bible college apparently never touched on Christ’s words in Jn 6. They were content with signification troubled by words insisting on the reality that his flesh and blood is true sustenance. That he is really present.
Overwhelmingly stunning then is the Real Presence. As long as the Church offers the Mass with valid words of consecration, which will continue by priests faithful to Apostolic Tradition despite changes that may occur invalidating the consecration, as it seems it may during this ‘new epoch’ his Real Presence will sustain us. Then however he will appear to all eternal joy for some, a regretful bane for many. That is reason that we should offer ourselves for the conversion of the sinful.