At a recent men’s Gospel reflection. a dad shared a story. He said that he was driving home from Mass with his two 20-year-old sons. they had just heard the Gospel about Jesus The Bread of Life. A conversation ensued:
Son: Dad, you really don’t believe that stuff do you?
Dad: What do you mean?
That Body and Blood stuff. You don”t really believe that it is real flesh and blood do you?
Dad: Actually I do.
Son: Dad, it’s just a symbol.
Dad: The priest says, “This is my Body; this is my Blood.
Son: Yeah, but Christ said, “Do this in memory of me.” He didn’t say, ” When the priest says this, I declare that the bread and wine will change into My Body and My Blood.” He said that’s it’s only a memorial.
The dad mentioned that the boys had attended Catholic grade school and Catholic high school and even a Catholic college. He asked the men at the table, “Can you guys help me with this?”
Ok. let’s look at the Scripture. Between A.D. 46 and A.D. 58,St. Paul traveled around the Mediterranean Sea telling the story of Jesus Christ. During this time, he wrote s series of letters (called “Epistles”) to a number of the Christian communities that had been established. These “Pauline Epistles were written between A.D. 55 and A.D. 65.
In some of these letters, St. Paul wrote about the Eucharist. The key is that, if Paul is writing about Eucharist to already established communities, that means that these communities were already celebrating Mass. Paul is not making stuff up and saying, “Hey, here’s a suggestion.Why don’t you do this eucharist thing?” It was already being done. However, apparently some people (like our two college boys) were having questions about whether the bread and wine really had become the Body and Blood of Christ. Hence Paul responds:
1 Corinthians 10:16: Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?
Paul didn’t make this liturgical ceremony up himself. He had received the form of the Eucharist and the Mass from the Apostles and other believers. He writes:
1 Corinthians 11:23-29: For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
At the same time, the Apostles are traveling and telling the “Jesus story.” This is called the “oral tradition” and it occurred approximately between A.D. 30 and A.D. 50. After a few years, the Apostles started dying. Why? They’re were getting killed! They’re were getting martyred. The Christian community was afraid that they would lose the stories about Jesus. Thus, they began to talk to the Apostles as well as people close to the Apostles and began writing down the stories. This is called the “written tradition” and occurred between A.D. 40 and A.D. 95. These are the “Gospels” that we read today. In them, they recall the same details about the Eucharist, about which Paul had been writing earlier such as:
Luke 22:19; And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.
Matthew 26:26-28: And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Mark 14:22-24 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
Starting to see a pattern in the above passages. When the Gospel of John was written, the writer, in effect said, “Ok we’ve seen this already. Three time, in fact. I’m going to come at this Eucharist thing from a different angle.” So John’s Gospel outlines the idea of “Jesus, the Bread of Life” which we heard this week, last week, and the week before that. We’re also going to hear about it next week as well. I guess the idea of Jesus, the Bread of Life and that this is truly the Body, Blood, soul and divinity as outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraphs 1356, 1357 and 1358, is pretty important.
But, why is this important? Because (as Bishop T.D. Jakes proclaims), “You’re messed up!” You can pray all you want. You can go to church. You can read your Bible. You can attend That Man is You or Alpha or Walking With Purpose or say 1,000 rosaries and you are STILL not going to be “acting in a way that is pleasing to God,” which is the definition of the word “righteousness.” No matter what you do, no matter how holy you try to be, “All have still sinned and all STILL fall short of the righteousness of God (Romans 3:23). So, nothing you can do will get you into heaven.
So what do we do? How can we act in a way that is pleasing to God? It has to do with faith. Faith means belief. It defines your philosophy, your purpose, your goals, what you love, what you do, where you invest your time. Entrance to heaven relies on having “faith” or “belief” in Jesus Christ and that Christ can accomplish that for you.
Look at John 6:28-29, “They replied, ‘We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?’ Jesus told them, ‘This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.'”
If you believe in the one God sent …if you have faith in Jesus – it counts as if you are acting in a way that is pleasing to God. That is called righteousness. This is an ancient concept going back to the Old Testament. Look at Genesis 15:6, “Abram put his trust in the LORD – he believed in the Lord – and because of this the LORD was pleased with him and accepted him and credited it to him as righteousness.”
But how do I definitively know that I have this belief? How can I be sure that I have this faith? The Eucharist guarantees it. How do I know that I have absolutely had an encounter with Christ in the Liturgy? You see it. You taste it. You physically consume him. This is why the Catholic Church places so much importance in metaphysics (the study of the essence of things) and ontology (the study of being) and philosophy (study of knowledge and the study of thinking). This is hugely important in a skeptical world that questions existence and reality and yet is ruled by feelings, emotions and opinions and not by data, empirical evidence and the scientific method (…like our two college guys).
As I once heard, “Even hyper-skeptical atheists – when they cross the street – still look both ways.”
The Catholic church is an incarnational church. We love things that you can see and touch and feel and taste and hear. We are all about incarnation (“en-fleshment”) because Jesus was incarnational. He was true flesh and true blood. Jesus loves human being and the stuff of humanity. Hence, Jesus continues to do stuff and use stuff that involves human beings, including stuff that can get you into heaven – stuff that you can “Taste and See.”
Audio version of the homily is here: