Body and Blood of Christ, Year A

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
The hungry he has filled with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty (Lk. 1:53)

Jn. 6—from which the gospel for this solemnity is taken—recounts that a crowd went looking for Jesus the day following his multiplication of loaves and fish. They had no sooner found him than Jesus told them something that they probably would rather not hear.

Saying it like it was, Jesus laid bare the motive they were masking behind their question, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Without addressing their question, Jesus replied: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life ....”

These words of the Johannine Jesus, in my view, indicate that one reason why we have the sacrament of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is so that we may not be content merely with having our fill of material things. For far more important than eating and being filled, materially or physically speaking, is being fed with food that endures for eternal life.

And Jesus, of course, identifies himself repeatedly in this same so-called “bread of life” discourse to be the living bread from heaven, the bread that is his flesh for the life of the world. He emphatically assures his hearers that unless they eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, they do not have life within them. Thus Jesus, through this very teaching that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink, reveals himself to be at one and the same time the Word that comes from the mouth of God, and by which we human beings live, as well the food and drink for life that God provides for us who are on a long journey toward the enduring city we seek.

But to live by this Word and to be sustained by the heavenly food and drink for life means, paradoxically, to die with the Word and to embody Jesus’ offering of his body and blood as food and drink. For God’s Word assures us: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life” (Jn. 12:24-25). And elsewhere we are taught: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 16:25; Mk. 8:35; Lk. 9:25).

Hence, Jesus, divine Word and heavenly food and drink, reveals to us a way of being human other than that of merely physical or material eating and filling up ourselves, of possessing and consuming, of wanting to gain the whole world. This other way of being human is the way of standing in solidarity with the poor. Those who are instructed by God’s Word and are nourished at the table of the Lord’s body and blood do not only receive but, above all, gives. They keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). They exemplify in their lives the meaning of the sacred mysteries they celebrate by protesting against and doing their share in eliminating the prevailing situation where the richest fifth of the world’s people consumes 86% of all goods and services while the poorest fifth settles for just 1.3%. With the poor, they continually hunger for God and effectively seek that the poor’s hunger for bread is satisfied (cf. Richard Leonard, S.J., “The Body and Blood of Christ” at [1]). Like St. Vincent de Paul and his parishioners at Châtillon-les-Dombes, those who take part in the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist cannot but come away with an outpouring of charity and form a long procession that truly befits the Mystery of Faith, the Sacrament of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

On the other hand, those who receive communion and at the same time refuse to be in communion with the poor, hoarding all they can and not giving back to the poor what rightly belongs to them, they deny that all are God’s children and that Christians form but one loaf of bread, one body of Christ.