18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In one of his hymns for the feast of Corpus Christi, St Thomas Aquinas called the Eucharist “the living and life-giving bread”. This is based on what Jesus says in this morning’s Gospel, I am the bread of life, and later on he adds, Whoever eats this bread will have eternal life, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.
The manna that came from heaven for the Israelites in the desert was also bread from heaven, but it nourished only the body; it was food that could not last. The kind of food the Son of Man offers us is the kind of bread and wine he took at the Last Supper and said, This is my Body, this is my Blood, the Blood of the new covenant, which will be poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.
The manna of the new covenant, the living bread, is Jesus himself, and because he is the bread of life and conqueror of death, all who receive him receive the forgiveness of sins and a share in his divine life.
St Augustine in his Confessions spoke of a mysterious reciprocity in the Eucharist: it is the opposite of ordinary food, which we assimilate as the Israelites ate the manna in the desert. The Eucharist is just the other way around: it is divine food which transforms us into itself. As Pope Benedict said in one of his Angelus messages: “It is not the Eucharistic food that is changed into us, but rather we who are mysteriously transformed by it. Christ nourishes us by uniting us to himself; he draws us into himself”. The result is what St Paul describes at the end of the second reading: the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.
If we could really understand how the gift of the body and blood of the Lord renews us, we would put away the old self of our former way of life and try to live only for him and to do his will, as he himself only lived to do the will of his Father, according to the mission he received from him.
The Eucharist is the food of this spiritual revolution: the body and blood of Christ nourishes and strengthens us with his grace, and his presence in us provokes acts of love to counteract the acts of violence that are all around us. He lives through the Father and for the Father, and we too should live “through him and for him”, in our thoughts, our desires, and our actions.
The life that the Holy Eucharist offers us is not different in kind from the life of eternity, which is a life of love, and the Eucharistic feast prepares us for the feast of the eternal Passover. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day…This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.
That is why the Church gives us the body and blood of Christ at the moment of death, so that the Eucharist may be literally a “foretaste” of the life of heaven and the promise of future resurrection. It increases our love for God and also our love for others, which is what the life of heaven is all about.
The Eucharist should give us a sense of human solidarity in Christ. Those who receive the body of Christ should put away their old way of life, a life of self-gratification, or they will not have understood what the Eucharist is all about: any failure to love is also a failure to respond to the grace of the Eucharist.
But if the faithful Christian does respond to the Eucharist, then little by little he or she will be transformed by the bread of life, by a spiritual revolution in which they become more loving people, and the effects may even be seen in the society at large. The secret of this spiritual revolution that renews the world is the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. Whoever comes to him will never hunger, and whoever believes in him will never thirst.
At this Eucharist, let us become agents of the spiritual revolution. Let us subvert a corrupt and hedonistic society with acts of love. Let us infiltrate all walks of life with the power of Christ’s body and blood. We have nothing to lose but our sins.