Many years ago, I was on plane with my friend Jen, heading back from a wedding in Minnesota. As we boarded, we were joined in our seats by a young man whose name I’ve forgotten—I will call him Steve. I remember only that Steve was cute, and that he was Christian, but not Catholic.
During the flight, Jen and Steve became involved in a friendly debate about the Eucharist. Steve held that it was only a symbol, whereas Jen defended the Catholic position: that it is in fact the true Body and Blood of Jesus.
Sitting in the window seat, I could hear the discussion but was not an active participant. I had in fact been trained in apologetics, in how to defend from Scripture the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. But as I listened, I was surprised to find rising within me a strange sense of pain. I admired Steve’s Christianity, but I could feel for just a moment the heart of Jesus. Could a symbol have shown greater love than the Real Presence? If the idea of the Real Presence was a mere human invention, did that not suggest that human imagination was in fact greater than God’s actual love for us? Steve clearly loved Jesus, but could he recognize the depths of Jesus’ love for him?
The Gospel this week recounts what is known as “The Bread of Life Discourse” in the sixth chapter of John. After the feeding of the five thousand, the crowd has come, hungering for more, but thinking only of food. Jesus offers Himself as the answer to their hunger: “I am the Bread of Life.” He compares Himself to the manna which the Israelites were given in the desert, but says of His own flesh: “Whoever eats this Bread will live forever.”
The manna given in the desert was not only the daily sustenance of the people; it was tinged with the taste of honey—a foreshadowing of the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Similarly, the Eucharist, uniting us with Jesus, is a foretaste of the more perfect union we will experience in paradise at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
I recently attended a talk by Sister Marie Pappas, CR, in which she spoke about experiencing the Mass as the Wedding Banquet. She noted that a wedding connotes intimacy; that even stronger than the intimacy between husband and wife, is the intimacy which Jesus desires with each one of us. This intimacy will be perfected in Heaven, but begins now and is real in each Mass.
In the Mass, Jesus comes to be with us, but also invites us to offer ourselves, to be with Him. This intimacy can be enhanced by our preparation and participation, notes Sister Marie. While her talk covered each part of the Mass, I will present just a few observations.
“Intimacy requires nakedness” she said. This means that we come before God as we truly are, without posturing and pretense. “It is not like a job interview”—or a posting on social media, in which we want to present ourselves as perfect, without flaws, having it all together. Intimacy requires true, honest, self-exposure. Therefore, rather than hiding our faults, we acknowledge them, publicly and out loud: “I have sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do…’”
At the Offertory, we bring to Jesus not only the bread and wine to be changed, but also our hearts, with our insufficiencies, our brokenness, our prayers, needs, hopes and dreams. When we place these on the altar with the Bread and Wine—we pray that these too may be transformed.
We then watch prayerfully as the priest standing in persona Christi repeats the sacred words from the Last Supper: “This is my Body…This is my Blood.” When God speaks it happens. When He said, “Let there be light..” there was light. And when through the priest Jesus says again, “This is my Body…:This is my Blood” it becomes indeed His Body, His Blood.
Why? So that receiving Him in Holy Communion we can be united in an actual unity more profound even then the consummation of marriage.
This is a hard teaching, who can accept it?
The Opposition Voice from the beginning has tried to change the Word of God. When he does—it is always to suggest less than God’s desire for us.
“He doesn’t really love you—maybe He loves the Person You Ought to be, but not you…”
“Did He really say, ‘This is my Body?’ He can’t have meant that—He must have meant ‘This represents my Body’ or ‘This is a symbol of my Body.’”
“Do you really believe that Jesus wants to be within you? One flesh with you?—Get real. He couldn’t possibly want to get that close to you. You’re just for the friend zone!”
But to each heart Jesus calls: “The Bridegroom is coming!” “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” “I will be with you always….”
Photo by Shalone Cason on Unsplash