In high school, I was active in my Catholic faith, I went to Mass every Sunday and was involved in the youth group. And I had heard many times and knew that the Church taught the Eucharist is not ordinary bread but the bread and wine is actually transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. I knew what the Church taught, but I didn’t really understand how, and I wanted to have a deeper understanding. What about you, raise your hand if you too have known what the Church teaches about the Eucharist, but at some time in your life have wondered how, or had a hard time accepting or believing it?
I remember one time in Adoration I was thinking about this, I was being honest with myself and God, and told God- ‘Lord, I know what the Church teaches about your Presence in the Holy Eucharist, but it is hard to believe, help me to have a deeper belief and understanding”. In that prayer time, I remember Jesus asking me in my heart, who do you believe me to be? Although not at the time, I now realize that this is the same question that the disciples who were following Jesus are grappling with. Our Gospel begins, “The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Of course, at the time, I felt alone in my questioning, like others knew something that I didn’t. Too often when we have some uncertainty or even doubt about a Church teaching, but we don’t do any reading, ask anyone, or do anything to try and understand. If I would have read the bible and this part of John 6 which I knew about, I would have seen the Jews were questioning too, and I would have realized that the question Jesus asked me about what I believed Him to be, is the same question that Jesus answered for the Jews. So, before I share the final insight our Lord gave me in that Adoration to strengthen my faith in the Eucharist, let us look more in depth at the answer Jesus gives to the questioning minds of the Jews, as well as my own, and maybe yours as well.
Indeed, if we want to believe in the Eucharist, then it is essential that we first grapple with who we believe Jesus to be. The Jews were questioning that Jesus said that He ‘came down from Heaven’. Think about what came down from heaven means. Neither you nor I can say that we came down from heaven. Each one of us knows that we are creatures, we are created by God through our biological parents, and that from the beginning we are human, we have a human nature. Only after our baptism do we begin to share in God’s divine nature. But Jesus did come down from Heaven. He is not a created human being like you or I, but from the beginning Jesus is the un-created divine Son of God, only later did Jesus become human and share in our human nature.
To their questioning, Jesus answered and said to the Jews, “Stop murmuring among yourselves”. Keep in mind that Jesus saying, ‘stop murmuring among yourselves’, should cause us, like it did the Jews, to recall the Exodus we heard in our 1st reading last week, and how the Israelites murmured, complained to God that they were hungry, even though they were just saved through Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. They murmured and complained because they did not really believe that God had come to save them through Moses. Therefore, Jesus is essentially asking the Jews, as He’s asking us today, do you believe that through me, God has come to save you?
Jesus continues to answer the questioning Jews, “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father expect the one who is from God; he has seen the Father”. Did you hear that? Jesus actually had the audacity to say that not only has He come down from Heaven, but that He has seen the Father- to see God was something the Jews believed that no one could do and live. Therefore, it is clear that Jesus is saying that He has seen God the Father because He is the only Son of God the Father, and he is the One sent by the Father to come down and save his people. Do we really believe that?
And so, the take away for today, my brothers and sisters, is that to believe in the Eucharist, it is essential that we first really think about and confess who we believe Jesus to be. Do we really believe God heard the cries of his people, and out of love and desire for us, sent Jesus to share in our humanity? That Jesus came down to earth to save us so that we can come to know and love the Father? Do we really believe that Jesus was sent by the Father for the forgiveness of our sins so that we can share fully in God’s divine life and live with Him eternally in Heaven? We must answer what we believe about those questions first.
In my prayer while in Adoration many years ago when I was in high school, Jesus asked me who I believed Him to be. I thought about all the miracles Jesus did, the people he healed, the casting out demons, the raising from the dead. I remember answering, ‘yes’, I believe Jesus did all those miracles that only God could do, and so ‘yes’ I do believe Jesus is the Son of God. Then Jesus asked me, do you believe that I love you, and every person, so much that I would do all that- for you? I remember pausing, then humbly, and gratefully, I said ‘yes, I do believe you love me that much’. Then Jesus said to me, ‘if you really believe in who I am, then the more important question isn’t how the Eucharist is what it is, but why? Why wouldn’t I? If you really believe in who I am, then why wouldn’t I want to give myself to you in this most special and intimate way’. So, in faith, I had to admit, not only that God could do what he said, but that also, because of who He is, God would want to.
Therefore, my brothers and sister, our belief in the Incarnation, our belief that Jesus is the eternal Son of God who came down to share in our humanity, is intrinsically tied to our belief in the Eucharist. For the Church teaches that the Eucharist is the ‘Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ’. Think about what that all means, what we receive in the Eucharist is not just the body and blood of Christ, like a dead corpse. But Body, Blood, and Soul- the soul is the life of the person- in the Eucharist we receive the life of Jesus. But not only His humanity, but His divinity as well. We are not just receiving the human Jesus, as if the human and divine nature of Jesus could ever be separated, but we receive the whole Jesus- who is fully God and became fully human. The same Jesus who chose to become human, chooses to give Himself to us in the Eucharist.
In the last verse of Matthew’s Gospel, after the Resurrection but before the Ascension, Jesus said to his disciples, “Behold, I am with you until the end of the time”. The same disciples whom sat by the campfire and ate with Jesus, who physically saw him every day, walked and talked with him over the years, the same Jesus who they knew was crucified but who they again ate with afterwards and so witnessed that Jesus physically resurrected from the dead. That same Jesus then tells them, and us, ‘I am with you until the end of time’. Jesus didn’t say, ‘my spirit is with you, or only my spiritual presence is with you’. No, he clearly says, ‘I will be with you’. The disciples must have believed that Jesus meant the same Jesus, his whole person, would be with them, not just his spirit. And so, the Eucharist is how the same real Jesus remains with us, his disciples, until the end of time. Even though it might be hard for us to believe, and next week I will explain more of how and why the Jews, and we, should believe it. But today, if we really believe that in Jesus, God became man, then we should also believe in the Eucharist we receive, because the Incarnation and the Eucharist both reveal that God wants to abide in us, and us in Him. May we heartfully believe it and want it too.