The Gift of His Body and His Blood
by Rev. Jack Peterson YA
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will life forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who are and still died, whoever eats the bread will life forever."
My mother’s love for me and my sisters was deep and powerful. I knew from my earliest memories that I was precious to her and that her love for me was a driving force in her life. She manifested that love in many ways, one of which was her untiring commitment to feeding her chicks. My mother had a mission to provide the family with meals that were both delicious and nutritious. She made my school lunch every day. The standard brown lunch bag could hardly hold all of the love that was packed in it. My sandwiches were the envy of my classmates (they often did not fit in the standard plastic bags), my napkins came with a handwritten note, and I always had a dessert (except during Lent).
Then, there was dinner. In the evenings, we sat at the table almost every night as a family in spite of busy schedules and various sporting events. Mom’s dinners were planned and executed with love and art. My friends had a habit of showing up at dinnertime and on holidays, knowing that there would always be a seat for them at the Peterson banquet table. She seemed to exhaust herself, pouring her life out in this service to her husband and children.
My mother, God rest her soul, was not satisfied with giving us life; she was radically committed to giving us food for the journey as well.
I can see now that Mom took a page from God Our Father’s playbook. Out of an infinite love, God Our Father created us in His image and likeness. Then, out that same font of love, He sent His only begotten Son to redeem us. In addition, He sets a table for His family, providing an extraordinary meal that heals, nourishes and sustains us. This meal is terribly unique because in God’s crazy plan of love, He chooses to nourish us with His very self, His precious body and blood.
I just came back from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Marymount University. We visited the place where Christians have commemorated the Upper Room for centuries. It was taken over by the Muslims at one point and turned into a mosque. Presently, it is a museum owned by the Israeli government, and only two Christian symbols remain in that place. One is an old pillar in the corner with worn pelicans on it. Pelicans are an early Christian symbol for Jesus in the Eucharist. When food becomes scarce, a pelican will pierce its breast with its own beak and feed its little ones with its own flesh in order to keep them alive.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
The Eucharist is not only food for the journey, it is also presence. Our Lord promised His disciples that He would remain with them until the end of time. Our Lord is faithful to that promise by being present to us in the sacred Scriptures, the community of believers that pray together, the office of the priesthood and in the beauty of creation and Christian art. However, the most unique way in which Our Lord is faithful to that promise is by His divine presence in the holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
The reality of this divine presence and its power to strengthen and give new life is recounted by so many Christian men and women down through the centuries. One testimony is given beautifully by Cardinal Francis Xavier Van Thuan in his book published in 2000, Testimony of Hope. There, he describes his capture in Vietnam by the communists and his 13 years in prison, nine of which were spent in solitary confinement. He and the other Catholics would find creative ways to smuggle in bread and wine, and he would celebrate Mass at night. During the breaks at the weekly indoctrination sessions, they would distribute the Eucharist to Catholics in the other groups present. He describes the immensity of the gift of the Eucharist for all of them this way:
“Everyone knew that Jesus was in their midst. At night, prisoners would take turns for adoration. With His silent presence, the Eucharistic Jesus helped us in unimaginable ways. Many Christians returned to a fervent faith-life, and their witness of service and love had an ever greater impact on the other prisoners. Even Buddhists and other non-Christians came to the faith. The strength of Jesus’ love was irresistible.”
Lord Jesus, how can we ever thank you enough for the supreme gift of your body and blood?
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