Believing the Unbelievable by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven," and they said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: They shall all be taught by God.
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 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."
Jesus' hearers cannot believe the seemingly unbelievable. When Jesus makes the radical claim, "I am the living bread come down from heaven," He is not only asking the Jews to accept His assertion that He can give His body as flesh to eat under the appearance of bread - Jesus is asking the Jews to believe in something even more fundamental - that He is the Son of God. That is why the Jews murmur among themselves that Jesus is nothing more than the son of Joseph, another man just like them. For Jesus to claim that He has come down from heaven is too unbelievable. If the Jews can believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then they might accept that He is the living bread come down from heaven. We learn that they cannot accept either claim.
What lies at the heart of our Lord's teaching, which forms the foundation of our belief in the Eucharist, is His humble and self-effacing love. In making the claim that He is the bread of life, He shows us the depth of His love. As if it were not enough that He condescends to take our human nature upon Himself in all things but sin, He goes further by dying at Calvary for our redemption. And as if that were not enough, He goes the extra mile by choosing to remain with us always, until the end of time, in the sacramental form of the Eucharist. We must ask, "Is this too incredible for us to believe? Is the transubstantiation of ordinary bread and wine into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ too much for us to accept?" Even though the appearances of bread and wine remain, we know that nothing of bread and nothing of wine is present in the Eucharist.
Perhaps we can consider this doctrine in this way: If Jesus Christ is both true God and true man - and we know that God created the entire universe by His mere word, then what is to stop us from believing that the Son of God could transform ordinary bread and wine into His own body and blood by His word? It is more difficult to creating something out of nothing (as in the case of creation) than it is to change pre-existing matter (bread and wine) into the Eucharist.
Yet how sad it is when statistics show a significant decline in Catholics who believe in the real presence; when Mass attendance in some parts of the world is at an all-time low, when people's attire for Mass shows an obvious lack of due respect or recognition of the miracle occurring on the altar; when many fail to keep the one-hour eucharistic fast; or even worse - when people come forward to receive holy Communion when they are in a state of mortal sin. Christ's love, made manifest in the Eucharist, is returned with so much indifference in our own day.
This claim, "I am the bread of life," would cost Jesus some credibility and certainly some popularity. At the end of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, many of the disciples would abandon our Lord. The claim costs all of us as well - at least for those of us who live according to the "Amen" we say when we receive holy Communion. When a communicant says, "amen" to the words "the body of Christ" when they receive the Eucharist at Mass, they are saying "amen" to several things, whether they know it or not.
First, they are saying "amen" to the reality of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Next, they are saying "amen" to the priesthood that confects the Eucharist and the authority of the bishops and the pope who govern and ordain men into the priesthood. Finally, they are saying "amen" to all that the Church proposes as being true and definitively taught as worthy of our belief. So, in order to make a genuine Communion, a person receiving the Eucharist must be in full communion with the Church - that is, they accept all of what the Church teaches. To believe in anything less makes that person's "amen" a disingenuous act. Only a true "amen" links us to Jesus and nourishes us into everlasting life.
For those who do not accept the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the murmuring of disbelief in the Gospel continues in our own day. This is particularly disturbing when the murmuring comes from within our own ranks in the Church. Let us pray that we continue to grow in our belief of the seemingly unbelievable and teach others to love our blessed Lord, who, through the Eucharist, pledges to remain with us until the end of time.
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