During these weeks when we as the Church have been drawing from the sixth chapter of John’s gospel and reflecting on Christ as the bread of life, I have become more and more aware of how Eucharist and friendship with Christ must be held together and that the starting point for a true understanding of Eucharist is relationship with Christ. The two are that closely bound and connected. In fact, I do not think that one can have a full understanding of Eucharist apart from relationship with Christ. We can talk about transubstantiation, real presence and the matter and form of the sacrament (which are all valid points and have their place) till the cows come home but without relationship with Christ all the talk does not really amount to much.
A number of years ago, I saw a saying on a roadside church sign that has remained with me, “People will not care about how much you know until they know how much you care.” God, I think, understands this. In the Eucharist God reveals the depth of his love. Christ freely and totally gives his own body and blood that we might have life.
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.
This word “life” is of utmost importance. We live in a time that says we must get the most out of every moment and that this is where true life is to be found. Today, our faith gives us the same invitation:
Brothers and sisters: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord. (Eph. 5:15-16)
Wisdom has built her house … “Let whoever is simple turn in here”; to the one who lacks understanding, she says, “Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” (Proverbs 9:1,5-6)
Notice how in both these passages and in today’s gospel (Jn. 6:51-58) life is achieved through relationship – entering Wisdom’s house, seeking God’s will, eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ in order to remain in Christ and for Christ to remain in us.
I have just finished reading a new book put out by my friend Fr. Lou Cameli entitled; Bread of Life: Exploring the Presence of Eucharist in Our Lives. The book is quite good and I highly recommend it but here I want to bring out two points that Fr. Cameli makes in his book.
First, in the book, Fr. Cameli explores in detail the sixth chapter of John’s gospel and he reminds us that in this chapter as Jesus is expounding on his being the bread of life he is (in fact) in dialogue with a “more and more concentrated set of interlocutors”. At first Jesus is talking with a crowd, then it is his disciples, then it is the Twelve and, I would say, finally Jesus is in dialogue with you and me. The invitation that Jesus has put out there for the people has become too much, too intense – many people walk away. Jesus puts the same question to each of us; Do you also wish to go away? It is a question of relationship, of friendship. It is a question that only each one of us can answer for himself or herself but notice how Christ as the bread of life and relationship/friendship are intertwined and connected.
Throughout his book, Fr. Cameli reflects on the importance of the Eucharist yet also how that importance has seemed to dim in the life of faith for so many people. Many people, many Catholics, just do not seem to think that the Eucharist is that important. Fr. Cameli wrestles with the question but he does not give a pat answer because there is none. Rather, Fr. Cameli shares his own “Eucharistic Autobiography” – how the Eucharist has been experienced throughout his life and how the Eucharist has, in turn, shaped his life. He concludes his autobiography with these words:
So, the critical importance of the Eucharist happened for me, because the Eucharist became important at important junctures of my life and in the ordinary rhythm of daily life. I understand how those who have not had this blessed experience would neither know the Eucharist nor find it that important. There is a circularity here in the logic of this relationship: it is central because it becomes central; it remains peripheral because it remains peripheral. The spiritual or formational challenge is to break into this circle of relationship and to begin to practice familiarity.
The language is relational – friendships become important to us because we allow them to become central to our lives. The Eucharist becomes central because we allow it to become central.
Throughout this chapter of John’s gospel as Jesus speaks of himself as the bread of life we also find him inviting us to relationship and friendship; even to the point of accepting the poverty of seeing people walk away. Do you also wish to go away?
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.