My flesh for the life of the world by Rev. Jack Peterson
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.
Many of Jesus' disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one came come to me unless it is granted him by my Father."
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."
We have spent several Sundays looking at the sixth chapter of John's Gospel, commonly called the "Bread of Life" discourse. In it, Jesus teaches in clear terms about the wonderful mystery of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a fountain of life for us on earth: "The one who feeds on me will have life because of me." The Eucharist is also the source of eternal life: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life." It is true food to be eaten: "For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink," and the "bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." It brings about a most intimate union with our Lord: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him."
The supreme gift of the Eucharist is almost too good to be true. It is not surprising that the early Christians struggled with accepting this fundamental truth of our faith: "This saying is hard: who can accept it?" In fact, some were unable to accept in faith this gift of Christ to his followers as John recounts with a hint of sadness: "As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him." It is unfortunate that they did not stay with Christ, explore this challenging part of his message through additional dialogue and prayer, and work through their doubts.
Jesus then turns to the Twelve Apostles and asks them, "Do you also want to leave?" Peter, in a grace filled moment, offers a heartfelt, inspired response that keeps the ball in play for the Apostles: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
Faith in Christ and in all that He revealed is a grace. Believing in the Eucharist requires this gift of faith. The grace of faith usually builds up in our lives over time. I would imagine that some key events in our Savior's life flashed through Peter's mind as Jesus posed this question: the mystery of Jesus' birth, the power of his love, his desire to enter into a relationship with each believer, his faithfulness to his word in every other situation, his power over nature, and his radical commitment to nourishing the crowds. As Peter quickly pondered all of these great events and mysteries, he was inspired to place his trust in Jesus and embrace what He had to say about this all-important gift of his body and blood.
Saint Francis of Assisi's beautiful faith in Christ included a very strong devotion to the gift of the Eucharist. At a time when it was not common to attend Mass on a daily basis, St. Francis was committed to go whenever possible. In the cities, daily Mass was more available. Out in the country or up in the mountains, it was another story. Francis was filled with joy when Pope Honorius III granted the Frairs Minor permission to have Mass at the hermitages on a portable altar. From that point on, Francis brought one of the priest friars with him on those journeys to the hermitages for prayer and renewal. The first of his famous "Admonitions to his brothers in community highlights Francis' insistence that the friars show "great reverence and great love for the God revealed to the eye of faith in the holy Eucharist." St. Francis had a profound love for Christ in the Eucharist.
Likewise, in my ministry with young people. I have watched a growing faith in and devotion to the Eucharist over the past 10 years. Young people are showing a greater interest in attending daily Mass. They have a growing desire to pray before the Eucharist in our churches and chapels. They are requesting exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament during retreats, work camps and weekly routines. It is inspiring to see this development. Young people want to receive Christ in holy Communion, to pray in his holy presence, and to praise and adore him through exposition.
Lord Jesus, we believe; help our unbelief! Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us. Strengthen our faith in you. May we learn to place our complete trust in you and your word. May we find great comfort, strength, joy and mercy in worshiping you at Mass and receiving your precious body and blood in holy Communion. "The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
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