St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption (Covington, Kentucky), interior, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Frank Duveneck mural, ‘Eucharist, the Bread of Life’ via https://commons.wikimedia.org
“What’s Really Going On, here!”
Readings for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B
JOS 24:1-2A, 15-17, 18B
People often leave a club they belong to because the direction the organization is taking just doesn’t appeal to them anymore. Or, the leader of the organization will say something that rubs a member the wrong way and the member says, “I’m out of here, I don’t have to put up with this nonsense!” People pull their children out of sports teams because the coach isn’t seeing things my way, that my child is talented and should have more time on the field! People make choices all the time about how committed they are to an organization, a team or even a church. Often, if something challenges the thinking of an individual, he or she says “Forget it! I just can’t accept that way of thinking. I’m out of here!”
That kind of rejection of a leader’s direction for the group is what is going on in the Gospel, today. Some of Jesus’ disciples think he’s gone too far. Did he just say we’ve got to eat his flesh and drink his blood to live in the presence of God? That’s crazy talk! It’s repulsive, even. Who does this Jesus think he is? God?
Some people just couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that they were in the presence of God in the flesh and that Jesus could make bread his body and wine his blood. They chose to leave his company.
Some people today, still can’t accept what we believe as Catholics. We believe that when we eat communion, the bread is not just a symbol of his body, it IS His body. The wine, some will argue is just wine that “represents” his blood, but isn’t really blood. Yet, we Catholics believe the bread stops being bread, the wine stops being wine and they are the real, true and substantial presence of Jesus in our hands, mouth and assembly. Many have left the church over the years unable to accept this truth.
Continuing for this last Sunday my “sermon series” on the teaching of the sixth chapter of John’s gospel about the Eucharist, let’s look at how, as one of those people who did send in questions I asked for about what members of the congregation would like to learn about the Eucharist, how does the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. (I need to acknowledge where I’m getting most of my material for this teaching, by the way. There’s an excellent video on the internet by Bishop-elect Robert Barron on the real presence. (Click this link to be taken to the video and see if I represent his teaching accurately THE SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST AS REAL PRESENCE at the web site Word on Fire.)
Spoken words have tremendous power. When you, I or anyone says something the words we use can change reality. Words have tremendous power to affect reality. A lot of times we use words to describe something. I am wearing a green chasuble, today. The weather is rainy. These are descriptive words. But words can also change reality. An umpire has the authority to say to a player who breaks the rules, “You’re out of here!” and the ball player cannot continue to play the game. He ceases, for a day, to be a ballplayer. A policeman says “Your under arrest,” and a person’s life is changed, sometimes forever carrying the identity of criminal where that wasn’t reality before. You and I can hurt the feelings of a spouse with harsh verbal criticism or make someone our spouse by saying “I take you to be my wife, to have and hold, forever.” Words have power to change reality. Saying something out loud can make reality change.
In the scriptures we proclaim every Mass, the word of God we claim guides our lives and tells the truth about what’s real, God is the ultimate changer of reality by the words he speaks. “And God said, let their be creation” and everything came into being. Not only did God change or describe reality by speaking a word. He made reality as we know it! That’s power.
We also say that Jesus is God’s Word in the flesh. The beginning of the Gospel of John that we’ve been reading for several weeks states in the first chapter “And the Word of God became flesh, one of us!” (John 1:1-5, 14)Therefore we can believe that when Jesus, THE WORD, says something His words are God speaking. God who made and can change what is real. Think about what words Jesus would say in the Gospels. “Be healed” he’d say to lepers, the blind, the lame and the sick and they would be restored to health. Jesus’ words affect reality, sometimes at the very core of a person’s existence. Things change because Jesus speaks.
At the Last Supper, Jesus said of the bread and wine he and his friends were sharing, “This IS my body. This IS my blood.” He didn’t say “this is a symbol to stand in for my body and blood.” Jesus’ word meant what he said. By his power as the divine in human flesh he could use words to change bread and wine into something else, at the deepest level of their existence.
At Mass, I as the priest, have been given authority by you, the church, the Body of Christ still in our world, to speak His words. I do not speak my own words. I say the words of Jesus Christ. I make audible what Jesus continues to say, as he did at the last supper, his words echoing down through the centuries. “This is my body and blood.” You “order” me, in Holy Orders, so to speak, to speak “in the person of Christ.” And so when I say His words, His words change reality of bread and wine at their deepest existence. Christ effects a change in reality. Bread and wine change at the level of substance.
There is a difference between appearances and what is real often in our lives. Usually, how something appears is what is reality. I appear to be a man. I am a man. But sometimes what something seems isn’t what’s really going on. Someone seems like a jerk, but when you get to know the guy, he’s really a stand up person who has a bad habit or two. You look at stars and it seems like you’re seeing them as they are now, this night, but what you’re really seeing is light that was generated maybe millions of years ago, as the star appeared a long time ago, not as it is now, which may be a dead black hole. The appearance remains, but at another deeper level, the reality has changed.
This is a way that St. Thomas Aquinas taught we can understand the Eucharist. Accidents (a word for appearances) and substance (a word for reality) is still how the church teaches about the real presence of Jesus in our gathering for Mass. The accident of bread-ness remains but the substance of Jesus is really there, his body, his love, his eternal God nature really, truly and substantially. Through the power of the Word of God the deepest reality of bread and wine change. We call this transubstantiation, a word if you break it down that means “trans” (to go from one thing to another, to cross over, to change) in substance, it’s realness.
One more thing, someone once said that you are what you eat. It’s true. The hamburgers and vegetables and fruits we put in our stomachs are changed into the muscle fiber and cells of our body. Because we eat of the real body and blood of Christ, we become what we eat. We become the real presence of Christ in the world, here and now. We are drawn into his person, our words as a church and individual members of the church able to change reality. We can speak words of mercy and love, reconciliation and peace. We have to make a choice. Do we reject the truth Jesus speaks and leave the church where we are assured of His truth? Or do we stay. If we stay we know his body speaking through us can speak a word that will change the world to be closer to the reality of the Kingdom of God that Christ came to bring.
Sometimes I complain to friends about one thing or another the church wants us to teach or believe. Friends will say, “Why don’t you just leave and go become a minister in another church, then?” But all I can say in response is that I choose the Catholic Church, where else can I go? I need the Eucharist, the real presence of Christ. I have come to believe I need Christ’s real presence. I may not be worthy to have Jesus come under my roof (to become part of my being) but I choose to believe! AMEN!