A reflection on the Feast of Corpus Christi by Bishop-elect Donald Hying originally published in the Milwaukee Catholic Herald 6/23/11
One of the early Spanish explorers, Juan Ponce de Leon is famous both for naming Florida and his search for the fabled fountain of youth. Legends of some magical elixir which could stave off aging and death abounded in the European Age of Discovery and propelled more than one expedition to the Americas. These myths and journeys speak of the innate human desire for immortality that abides deep within all of us. We all want to live forever.
Today’s feast of Corpus Christi proclaims Jesus Christ as the Bread of Life, the One who offers us eternal union with God in the kingdom of heaven. In John’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims His flesh and blood to be the great antidote against the power of sin and death. “He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal and I will raise him up on the last day.” In the Eucharist, God fulfills our desire for immortality beyond all of our expectations. When we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, we digest within ourselves the great power of Jesus’ resurrection which is life eternal with God, a glorious existence freed from the corruption of sin and death.
I am reading a fascinating book, “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist,” by Brant Pitre, a Scripture scholar who teaches at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. The author develops the connection between the manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness and the Eucharist in several ways. As clearly articulated in the book of Exodus, manna was a heavenly bread, given by the Lord to sustain the Israelites during their long sojourn through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. The manna stopped when Israel entered the land of Canaan, but a pot of it was preserved in the Tabernacle. Its mysterious appearance on the face of the desert every morning and its distinctive flavor proclaim the manna as a new and supernatural sign of the Lord’s providential care of His people. Even its name, which comes from the Hebrew “man hu” meaning “what is it” tells us that this bread was no ordinary phenomenon.
Pitre goes on to quote many rabbinical writings which articulate the belief held by some Jews of Jesus’ time that the manna would return at the coming of the Messiah and would serve as a sign of the Messianic age. This belief helps us to understand today’s Gospel, as Jesus refers to Himself as the new manna, “the living bread come down from heaven.” The manna does reappear as the flesh and blood of the Messiah Himself. Just as the Israelites were fed and sustained by the hand of the Lord until they reached the Promised Land, so too we are spiritually nourished by the Bread of Life until we pass through the mystery of death into eternal life.
Belief in the Eucharist requires great faith. To believe that ordinary bread and wine become, through the power of the Holy Spirit at Mass, the sacramental Body and Blood of the risen Christ is a pretty tall order. But maybe faith in the Eucharist is sometimes a struggle because it seems too good to be true. Can God really love us that much, that He would humble Himself by becoming so small and vulnerable in a tiny host and a sip from the chalice? Can my life be so valued by God that His greatest desire would be to abide within me, to literally become one with my flesh, blood and soul? Perhaps, I can only believe in the Eucharist to the extent that I believe that God loves me. I am convinced that the only reason Catholics would stay away from the Eucharist is that they either do not understand or do not believe. Once we have faith in and knowledge of this Bread of Life, the Lord Jesus who comes to us in Word and Sacrament to feed us, to live within us, to offer us eternal life, how could we ever absent ourselves from the Eucharist?
The Church will be renewed to the extent that each Catholic discovers and lives the great secret of the Eucharist, that the risen Lord desires this intimate communion with us, this love relationship which will propel us into eternal glory. The true fountain of youth flows daily at your local parish church. Go, eat and drink and live forever!
1. How can you deepen your faith in the Eucharist? How can you witness that faith to Catholics who do not attend Mass?
2. What are the social implications of the Eucharist? If the Lord abides in all of us, how must we live and act with each other?