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Not by bread alone

Gospel Commentary  

The human soul is nourished by engaging in a personal relationship with Jesus, our Creator and Redeemer, and by pondering God’s truth, goodness and beauty. Without this nourishment, we are greatly deprived, become quite ill on the spiritual level, and run the risk of dying from malnourishment of the soul. The Psalmist put it succinctly, “As the deer longs for running waters, so my soul longs for you, O God. Athirst is my soul for God, the living God.”

Jesus, fully aware of this deep human hunger for God, instituted the Eucharist as His parting and most precious gift to His disciples. He greatly desires to nourish us at the family dinner table, set by the Father, served by the Son and made possible in the Holy Spirit. Jesus lays out for us a veritable feast with two main courses; we are fed every Sunday, and every day if we choose, at the table of His Word and of His precious Body and Blood.

We all know what a treat it is to sit at the table in the home of someone who has a real heart for hospitality. My mother had a passion for feeding our family and friends. I have countless memories of days where she poured herself out to clean the house, set a magnificent table, create a welcoming atmosphere, and prepare an amazing meal that brought joy, strength and unity to the family. It is certainly one of the many gifts that I miss since her passing.

One outstanding element of the meal that God serves us at Mass is that God does not provide us with a fine dinner of perfectly grilled salmon, sautéed asparagus and homemade garlic mashed potatoes, as nice as that might be. Rather, Jesus chooses to feed us with His very Self. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Jesus, in His infinite wisdom and love, chooses to give His Body and Blood for our nourishment. It is hard to grasp the beauty of this eucharistic mystery. Love does the most amazing things.

A second element of this meal, described in Scriptures as the “breaking of the bread,” is the gift of presence. When Jesus took on our human flesh 2000 years ago, and was born of the Virgin Mary, He chose very definitively to draw near to us. Throughout His public ministry, Jesus engaged His disciples in an intimate way. He joined His disciples for a walk, set children in His lap, served the apostles breakfast, and grasped the blind man by the hand. Our Lord drew close because He wanted His relationship with us to be real, personal and life-changing.

Jesus, in fact, desires that same intimacy with you and me. So, Our Lord fashioned the precious sacrament of the Eucharist where He bestows upon us the gift of His divine presence. As a result, in our own day, Jesus continues to draw near in the Mass: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” When we come in faith to receive the Eucharist and are disposed properly, we are brought into a profound union with Christ, a holy communion. The magnificence of this gift is hard to comprehend. It demands great faith. It brings extraordinary grace.

Today’s Gospel bids me to mention one final element: the Eucharist carries us up into eternal life. (Again, it is rather important to receive the Eucharist with a humble, faith-filled heart that has repented of all serious sin.) “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. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” The Eucharist, because it is Christ Himself, is not only food for the journey to heaven, it actually carries us to heaven, our true home. This, too, is one of God’s great marvels that needs to be proclaimed boldly.

Jesus, thank you for the precious, parting gift that you made of Yourself to us in the Eucharist. 

Fr. Peterson is director of mission and development for the Youth Apostles.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017