True Food and True Drink

The Church has taught, and Catholics have believed, since the very beginning that the Eucharist is something different. At Mass, ordinary bread and wine and changed into something beyond our imagination: the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Church had established this teaching well before Justin Martyr wrote, around 150 A.D., that only those who believe that the bread and wine are truly the Body and Blood are permitted to partake of the Eucharist. St. Irenaeus of Lyon, around the year 180 A.D., fought heresies, such as some forms of Gnosticism which denied the God became man, on the grounds that this would deny that the Eucharist was Christ’s body and blood. In response, St. Irenaeus asks them: who other than God could do such a thing? Through the centuries and millennia, the Church has never wavered in this teaching. Similarly, through the centuries and millennia, many struggle to believe this teaching. Jesus Christ himself had to confront this unbelief:

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“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.

John 6:52-55

It has not changed. Last year, a Pew Research survey said that among Catholics who go to Mass every week only 63% believe in the Real Presence. If you include all of the people who don’t go to Mass, that number drops to 28%. Shockingly, 22% of people who identified themselves as Catholic expressly reject the teaching if the Real Presence of the Eucharist. Many have fallen prey to the idea that the Eucharist is some sort of symbol; however, in John’s Gospel we read that God himself refutes this understanding. What’s more is that in the Greek text it is abundantly clear that Jesus is not speaking about taking a meal with him or, in some symbolic way, consuming his Flesh and Blood. He is demanding not just that we eat his flesh, but that we gnaw and munch and chew on it, as an animal chews on its food. 1 The Eucharist is different than all of the other sacraments, in that it is not simply the power of Christ that becomes present and operates within us. Christ himself becomes present and operates within us. The only way this happens is if the Eucharist truly is the Body and Blood of Christ. A symbol would not work this way. Flannery O’Connor, in reference to the Eucharist said, “Well, it it’s only a symbol, to hell with it.”2 She was absolutely right. If the Eucharist were a symbol, the Protestants would be right, and the only prudent thing to do would be to leave and to cut our losses now.

The Eucharist is one of those teachings that seem simple, but, in reality, defies all our understanding. Like the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which we celebrated last week, this teaching must be taken on faith. In the verses leading up to today’s passage from John, Jesus speaks of faith. Jesus tells us that belief in Him is essential to eternal life. If we believe in Jesus Christ, that means we must trust him, and if we trust him, then we must trust what he says. We must trust Jesus when he tells us that bread and wine become his Body and Blood. We must trust him when he tells us that we must eat it and gnaw it and munch it to have eternal life.

In the context of right now, I’m sure some might be thinking, “wait a second, if I have to literally eat Jesus, what is the point of this Spiritual Communion everyone keeps going on about?” This is an excellent question. Between a Sacramental Communion and a Spiritual Communion, much is the same. For both, we must prepare ourselves, especially through prayer. We should be in a state of grace, i.e., we should not be conscious of any unconfessed mortal sin. To receive Sacramental Communion, we must also fast from all food and drink—except water and medicine—for one hour, but this would also be praiseworthy for a Spiritual Communion. For both, we should participate to the extent that we are able in the Mass, uniting ourselves to the Sacrifice of Christ and asking God for his grace to fill our hearts. We should, as Jesus taught his followers in the parts leading up to today’s Gospel, strive to believe in Jesus and ask him to give us the Bread of Life, that is, himself.

The key difference between the two is in the reception itself. In a Sacramental Communion, we are assured that we are receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. We are fulfilling his Gospel command to eat his Flesh and drink his Blood. We receive actual graces due to God being present within us, and to the extent that we have prepared ourselves we are open to many more spiritual benefits. With a Spiritual Communion, the situation is a little different. Primarily, we are not physically receiving our Lord and fulfilling what he says in the Gospel. That does not make Spiritual Communion something unworthy, it simply means that it is different. We still receive many spiritual graces from Spiritual Communion, and God still inflames our hearts with love for him. We cannot allow ourselves to think, however, that Spiritual Communion is a fitting or good “replacement” for Sacramental Communion, because Sacramental Communion is essential for eternal life.

As we celebrate the Mass and approach the Eucharist, the True Presence of God in the Blessed Sacrament, let us strive to spiritually prepare ourselves so that in this Sacrament Most Holy, we may experience a taste of the Living Bread from Heaven, the Food of Angels, and the Sacrament of our Salvation.

Today’s Readings:
June 14, 2020
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (Corpus Christi), Year A
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; Lauda Sion (sequence); John 6:51-58

Habakkuk’s Question

Audio recording of homily for 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

We are often told that God is all-merciful, that he is mercy. I can’t argue with that, because, well it’s true. God is also all-just; he is justice. God is mercy, and God is justice. The two cannot be separated in Him. In fact, God’s justice is his mercy, and God’s mercy is his justice. The prophet Habakkuk struggles with this in today’s first reading. He sees wicked people prospering, and he doesn’t understand why God allows them to continue existing. He thinks God needs to punish them now. If you look at the selection of verses we read, you’ll see that we skip quite a few right in the middle. In the section we skip, God replies to Habakkuk, reminding him that the unjust, the unrepentant, the evil will be repaid, eventually. Habakkuk is not satisfied with this answer. He demands to know why wicked people are allowed to destroy—to swallow up—the good, the faithful, the just. God replies again, but He doesn’t give Habakkuk a time line for the destruction of Israel’s enemies. Instead, he promises that time “will come, but in the meantime the righteous must persevere, believing that the salvation, the promise of which is communicated through prophetic revelation, will eventually be theirs (2:2–5).” 1

Habakkuk could very well be prophesying in our own day. It seems that people who are obstinate in their sin, who commit evil acts every day, are allowed to run rampant. We see political leaders commit crimes and atrocities all over the world. We even see evil committed by those who have solemnly sworn before God to lead his people and shepherd his flock. I can’t blame anyone for crying out to God, “How long must we suffer, O Lord?”

While we echo the prophets cry, we must also be attentive to our Lord’s response, which contains two critical components. First, God will give those people who commit evil and sin exactly what is due to them. Hell is a real place. If we do not all repent and strive to follow the Lord, it is very possible to spend our eternity there. Obviously, I would not desire or wish such a fate upon anyone, but it is for that exact reason I must warn you that it is possible. God will never tire of forgiving us when we turn to him, especially in confession; however, he will not be duped. He will not suffer hypocrites who claim to follow him in their words, but through their actions show that they could not care less. The prophets of the Old Testament warn us of this, and throughout the Gospel, Jesus confirms this teaching.

The second component of God’s response to Habakkuk is that we must persevere. The Gospel reminds us today that we are servants of God, and we must “do the work,” so to speak, that he has asked us to do. Jesus reminds us that we must remain strong in our faith. He does not expect us to be able to do this on our own. He has given us many gifts so that we might grow in our faith. He gave us the sacraments so that we may be sanctified, made holy, and grow closer to him. In Baptism, we are welcomed into God’s kingdom and the wound of original sin is removed from our souls. In Confirmation, the gift of the Holy Spirit is deepened within our hearts. In the Eucharist, we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord and enter into Communion with Him, all the Saints, and all of our brothers and sisters in the Church. In Confession, the repentant are forgiven of their sins and given the grace and strength to continue following the narrow path the Lord has asked them to walk. In anointing of the sick, our Lord heals the sickness of our souls and sometimes our bodies. In matrimony, couples assist each other to grow in holiness, and they assist God’s church by bringing to life new members. In holy orders, God ensures that his people have ministers to give his people all of these sacraments.

Brothers and sisters, we cannot despair in troubled times. We must remember the gifts that God has given us to persevere in our faith. Paul reminds us to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. Let us remember to call on those gifts of power, love, and self-control, to be strengthened in our faith.

Today’s Readings:
October 6, 2019
27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Psalm 95; Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10

Humility and the Heavenly Banquet

In our Gospel today, Jesus gives what could be perceived as a lesson in social etiquette, but it is so much more than that.

Homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Liturgical Year C, given at 9AM on September 1, 2019. 

Full homily: https://mattsiegman.com/2019/08/humility-and-the-heavenly-banquet/