By Brother Matthew Schaefer, C.PP.S.
I remember speaking to someone in one of my first RCIA classes who expressed discomfort at hearing chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. Apparently, this was never read in the scripture-heavy church that she was raised in. For her the repeated use of the word flesh was unpleasant, the image of eating flesh was repugnant, and the idea of eating the flesh of Jesus was almost too much for her to hear. She wanted to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, but the words of John were too graphic. I guess she preferred to think of the Eucharist in more innocuous terms. I remember telling her that this was one of the many mysteries of the Catholic faith that do not require complete understanding, only belief.
Since I’ve been hearing these words my whole life, the language John uses has never shocked me. In fact, I find comfort in the repetition of Jesus’ message: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” This isn’t a threat, it is a promise. Jesus is not excluding people; it is their discomfort and disbelief that excludes them.
Perhaps I was too easy with the woman in that RCIA class. When she said she preferred to think of “receiving Jesus” rather than eating his flesh, I thought she seemed reluctant to accept the totality of the Eucharist. But I think my advice for her to “accept the mystery” was just as tepid. After all, this isn’t a parable. Jesus is talking about high stakes—“live forever,” “the life of the world,” “I will raise him on the last day.” What Jesus is offering is real and vital. And he isn’t just requiring us to believe. For if we believe, we must change our lives. The promise of eternal life doesn’t lessen our need to improve our earthly lives. We must live the Eucharist and be the Body of Christ to those around us.
In recent weeks, the place of the Eucharist in our lives has changed. We were unable to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Many of us can again receive, but perhaps not as often as we may like, or in the manner that we prefer. I cannot remember the last time that I received the Blood of Christ, which has been painful for me as a Missionary of the Precious Blood. But this separation from Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament has not weakened my belief—instead it has deepened my love for the Eucharist. My ongoing thirst for the Blood of Jesus has allowed me to understand in a deeper way the meaning of sacrifice.
Let us be thankful on this day for the amazing gift of the Body of Blood of Jesus, a gift arising from suffering and death, a gift born of sacrifice and love, a gift that offers eternal life.
To view the full scripture reading, click here.
Brother Matthew Schaefer, C.PP.S., is in ministry at the Dayton Region Seven parishes, which include Emmanuel, Holy Trinity and St. Joseph.