I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | Receiving Christ’s Body and Blood preserves us for eternal life

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The poet John Ciardi once said, "I love to hang around words and listen to what they mean." Catholics might aptly paraphrase that by saying, "We Catholics love to hang around Christ's words as He reveals to us the meaning of the Holy Eucharist."

In the Gospel for the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Jesus says, "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."

Sometimes Catholics make the mistake of interpreting Christ's teaching on the Eucharist as merely symbolic. They mistakenly think that the Mass is a symbol of the Last Supper, and that what we call the Body of Christ is merely a symbol of what Jesus gave to the apostles at the Last Supper. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Ever since Pentecost, the Catholic Church has held that at every Mass, Jesus, through the words of the priest, changes bread and wine into His real Body and Blood. So, in this Gospel passage, Jesus makes it clear that when we eat the consecrated bread and drink the consecrated wine, we eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of Christ.

Once, a brilliant Baptist theologian came to St. Louis to give an ecumenical retreat to Protestant ministers and Catholic priests. He shocked the Protestant ministers by telling them, "I believe that on the night before He died, Jesus took bread and wine and changed them into His Body and His Blood, and I believe He gave this power to the apostles and their successors."

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, in a book entitled, "This Is My Body," quotes St. Cyril of Alexandria as saying, "We will rise because Christ is in us, through His own flesh; indeed, it is impossible that Life not vivify those in which it is found. Just as, when kindling a spark of fire, we put it in straw so as to preserve the source of the fire; so also, Our Lord Jesus Christ has hidden life within us through His flesh, and has inserted it as the seed of immortality which frees us from all corruption that is now in us."

Take a deeper look at this beautiful image. Just as a spark of fire is placed in straw so as to preserve the fire, so Christ's Body and Blood, received into our bodies, preserves them for eternal life. All of this presumes that we receive Him worthily. If Christ by His words can change bread and wine into His Body and Blood, cannot the same Christ speak words of life over our decayed remains and bring them back into a resurrected body?

There is more good news: Jesus continues, "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." The life of which Christ speaks is a life that is overcoming human weaknesses; a life of purification and sanctification.

Again Father Cantalamessa quotes St. Cyril as saying, "It [the Eucharist] has the force to drive out not only death but also our weakness. In fact, Christ dwelling in us mitigates the law of the flesh that rages in our members, stimulates piety toward God, mortifies temptation, not imputing to us the sins into which we have fallen, but rather curing us as sick persons."

This good news sounds almost incredible. So we can say "goodbye" to will power Christianity and "hello" to Christ in the Eucharist. Is this the faith we bring to our reception of Christ's Body and Blood? Do we cease to condemn ourselves because of our failures and instead welcome Christ's transforming love to heal our weaknesses?

Do we see Holy Communion as a remedy against our un-redeemed compulsions? When we receive Christ in the Eucharist, do we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to Christ? Do we tell Him that we want to be a living sacrifice that says "yes" to the death of our compulsions? Do we give Him permission to purge us of our faults and failings?

Do we tell Jesus that we want to be a witness to others of His goodness to us? Do we ask Him to help us mortify our appetites for food, lust and anger, so that we will find room for His compassion, patience, purity and love? Do we ask Him for the grace to share these virtues with those with whom we live?

Do we have the audacity to ask Him to help us curb our consumption of TV and replace it with quality prayer or quiet contemplation? Do yourself a favor. For three days, keep track of the amount of time you spend watching TV, then reduce it by one-third and spend that time in daily prayer. Your life will change dramatically. Your relationships with your family and co-workers will improve. You will become more joyful.

We ought never to receive the Holy Eucharist mindlessly. Let us take to heart what we pray right before receiving Holy Communion, "Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."

The more we hunger for holiness, the more we will welcome the fruits of the Holy Eucharist into our daily relationships. 

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