Jun 16, 2017

Super Food

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

"This is the bread that came down from heaven"

Dt 8: 2-3, 14B-16A
1 Cor 10: 16 - 17
Jn 6: 51-58

If there is any food which has been a universal experience for all humanity over the past thousands of years, I think it would be bread.  In some way, shape and form countless cultures have formed in some manner a food that we refer to as bread.  From the ancient Egyptians to our own day of various forms of “designer” bread filled with all sorts of grains and seeds and other fruits and berries, we all enjoy this universal source of food, gluten free or not. 

One local well known bakery even sells bread named “Super Food” which is filled with all sorts of healthy grains in a very delicious combination.  (It's great toasted by the way.) Yet, a long way in flavor and effect though, from the bread we reflect on today and this bread has far more benefits than even the most powerful of “super foods.”  

If we look carefully at our readings on this beautiful feast of the Body and Blood of Christ we will hear of bread.  The first reading from Deuteronomy begins with Moses address to the people and the word, “Remember.”  Later we hear this emphasized with the phrase, “Do not forget.”  Moses reminds the people of the super food God gave them in the desert; the “manna” bread like substance which appeared on the desert floor in a time of their great hunger.  This bread became a sign for the people and Moses reminds them that God provided for them in their need not just because they were hungry but to test their faith and loyalty.  To, “. . . find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments . . . in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live . . .”  This test of their personal connection with the Lord who would save and sustain them was all part of their formation and their understanding of who God was for them. Since that event, the Jews have seen that moment of manna as a sign of God’s faithfulness and care for them. This bread became a sign of life that God had given.

If we move to the Gospel we see the one who comes among us to say: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; . . .”   Jesus makes himself to be bread – food for life, eternal life. Like the manna from heaven, this living bread is beyond just food that sustains but is rather a super food.  Every time, then, as Moses spoke to his people in the desert, we “remember” what God has done for us through his Son who gave us himself to be food, super food: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I  in him . . .”

This is a great sacramental mystery – the Eucharist – which we Catholics truly believe to not a symbol, some sort of reminder or recall of a meal eaten with Jesus 20 centuries ago like one might remember a birthday party or family picnic.  But this IS a Person and every time we consume, literally eat and drink, this Person, we share in his risen life.  So, no we are not cannibals as the early Christians were unfairly labeled by pagan Roman Emperors and suspicious other non-Christians.  In the mysterious work of God, we encounter the risen Lord truly present to us in a substantive way behind the signs of bread and wine.  If that isn’t “super food” what would be more than that? 

This theme of food and bread runs through our readings this Sunday and is one that not only is easy to wrap our heads around but remains a challenge to logic and reason.  Only through eyes of faith can we believe this to be true. 

The Mass then is this great meal which levels out the diversity among us.  Walls are torn down, differences make no difference, and we gather together as one family in the Lord who becomes that food from heaven for our journey through this life.  The unity the Eucharist creates among us is meant to not stop in Church.  While everything is fine for an hour, where do we go afterwards?  Maybe an even more essential question may be, why do we come? 

While the obligation to attend Mass each weekend and Holy day is a serious one for all Catholics, really why do you come?  Is it only out of obligation to sooth our guilt?  Or do I come to seek a deeper life as a Catholic Christian?  Do I come to simply catch up on the news of the week by seeing friends or I love the music or I want to be seen as a good Catholic? 

One of the best reasons might be to come because I am hungry and I need to be fed.  We begin the Mass with the sign of the cross and then right off the bat, we express our hunger for forgiveness and mercy.  We “recall our sins.”  That is either a downer, to begin so negatively as we stress where we have strayed or it is an expression of our need for God – our hunger before him.  We carry that farther as we express “Lord have mercy.”  Lord, I am hungry and need to be fed by your mercy.  Only then can we enter this great mystery of God’s mercy for us. 

To satisfy hunger we eat food and we drink.  As the Mass moves we now are fed by the word of God – the Scriptures.  It was the word of God to the ancient Hebrews, the sacred Torah that fed them now and continues to be the focal point of their worship. Those five books of the Sacred Law of God remain an essential reminder of God’s Covenant with his people.

Then, Jesus came as God’s word made flesh.  The scriptures feed us as His sacred word. Not a new Word but a living word beyond the Old. What God says brings confidence and hope. This is a time to remember what God did and we are given confidence that he continues to do for us today.  So, the word is a living word, not just a book of ancient history.

We move then to more food - from the living word on paper to the living word of person. Bread and wine come first as a symbol and then become sign.  It is the symbol of our lives, offered to the Father to be changed.  So, when the priest raises the bread and wine in prayer: “Blessed are you Lord God of all creation . . .” he offers at the same time the people gathered and himself. And as the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit what was once only a symbol now becomes a sign.  A true sign of God’s presence as we remember the words spoken by his Word among us: This is my Body . . . This is my Blood.  What was given as bread is now transformed into super food for us – the very life and presence of the risen one come to us as living bread. 

So we come because we are hungry for Christ himself and we need to be fed with Word and Sacrament.  Yet, the danger might be to turn the Mass into a private devotion.  Let me just sit or kneel here in peace and when it’s over, I’m gone.  However, this is not a meal for one or a private table.  This is food for all who are hungry.

Ultimately, one of the greatest expressions of the implication of the Eucharist was given by Jesus himself at the Last Supper according to John – he washed the feet of his Apostles.  As he was about to lay down his life for those he loved, he washes their feet as a sign they will never forget and to imitate.  No great fanfare, no marching bands, no inspiring choir just the act of a slave as God humbled himself in a stark action that surely made an indelible impression on those gathered that night.  “As I have done so you must do . . .”

Called to lay our lives, to sacrifice for the common good and for the good of others, we live out the meaning of this super food.  Jesus doesn’t come for me but for us in a way that brings about a bond of unity with him and with others through this bread from heaven. This encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist is a transformative moment for us. 

While the theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas in particular in the 14th century, coined the term: “Transubstantiation” to explain the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist if it only remains on a shelf of books in some theological text, then we miss the whole point of Jesus’ example.  The “full, active and conscious participation” the Second Vatican Council called for in the celebration of Mass goes well beyond the walls of the Church – to the world outside.  I should hunger to be fully, consciously and actively involved in the life of Christ himself.

So “do not forget” but let us remember this great act of divine love and with humble hearts, share in the super food which has the power to change us to conform more to his own example. 

“Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”

“It is not to remain in a golden ciborium that he comes
down each day from heaven,
but to find another heaven,
the heaven of our soul in which he takes delight.”

St. Therese of Liseux