Jesus gave us his flesh to eat. The Jews thought Jesus was talking about cannibalism. How can we eat his flesh and drink his blood? First, we can’t eat his flesh and drink his blood because that would require murder to do so. Second, we can’t because it is forbidden by the law. The first portion of this becomes a moot point with the Eucharist, where Christ transforms bread and wine into himself. The second point, however, requires a little more attention. Cannibalism is forbidden by Mosaic Law. If the bread and wine are Jesus, it would still be cannibalism—we would still be eating a person.
The question we must answer is whether receiving the Eucharist is cannibalism, and if so, is it a bad thing to do. St. Thomas Aquinas was fond of answering both yes and no to questions, and I think that’s the approach to take here. It is cannibalism in the sense that we are eating Jesus. We cannot deny this and remain Catholic. It is not cannibalism in a much more fundamental way: we are not eating the dead body of a person. Jesus is present in the Eucharist in a special way which we call the Eucharistic Presence. In this Eucharistic Presence, he comes in body, blood, soul, and divinity, but it does not look or taste the same as a dead body, so we know something is different about it. Furthermore, Jesus is not dead! He is still alive!
There is one more argument that makes reception of the Eucharist different, and it revolves around the act of eating. Why do we eat? We eat to nourish ourselves. When we eat, the food is broken down and becomes a part of us. The food is transformed. When we receive the Eucharist, something much different happens. Instead of the food being transformed into us, we are slowly transformed into Jesus. The Eucharist is the only food which transforms us into something new.
When we are changed into Christ through the Eucharist, it is not as obvious as Paul’s conversion in the first reading. Jesus came to him as a blinding light which he could not ignore. We receive something even more previous in the Eucharist. Instead of simply seeing Jesus, we become united with him in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Unity, because it unites us with Jesus, and by extension all those around the world with valid sacraments. (If we are all one with Jesus, and he is one with us, then it logically follows that we are also one with all others who are one with Jesus and with whom he is one.)
Let us never forget the incredible gift we receive in the Eucharist.
Today’s Readings: Acts 9:1-20; Ps 117:1bc, 2; Jn 6:52-59