The Bread of Life Discourse
OTHER HOMILY SOURCES from 365 Days with the Lord
THE Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us [His] flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “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. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in him. 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. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
2007 As we all know, Catholics and Protestants disagree about several doctrinal issues. One of these is about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Protestants do not believe that the eucharistic bread and wine are literally the body and blood of Christ. While they do not agree among themselves as to the precise meaning of the words of consecration, “this is My body… this is the cup of My blood,” they usually reduce them to some merely symbolic meaning. We, Catholics, take these words literally, that is, as meaning what they say.
Now, one of our main arguments in favor of our interpretation is the part of Jesus’ speech on the Bread of Life which we find in today’s gospel reading. There we find in the words of Jesus an obvious reference to the Eucharist – which does not yet exist when Jesus pronounces His speech, but which He will institute later, during the Last Supper. Naturally, Protestants do not interpret these words of Jesus as a reference to the Eucharist. They interpret them as a metaphor for accepting His revelation. In this interpretation, to “eat” the “body” of Jesus would be the symbolic equivalent of believing in Him. In contrast to this, we, Catholics, say that the language of Jesus in this discourse does not support a merely symbolic meaning. It is too crude for that. Furthermore, they simply reproduce the words we hear in the account of the institution of the Eucharist: “Take, eat, this is My body… drink… this is My blood.” A confirmation of the Catholic interpretation is the fact that from the very first days of the Church, this passage has been understood as an advanced or anticipatory explanation of the Eucharist.
The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is our greatest treasure, since it is Christ himself – body, blood, soul, divinity. A consequence of this is that our chapels and churches are never empty buildings. For they always contain a Presence, a Person, a Lover.
SOURCE: “365 Days with the Lord,” ST PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328
2008 Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist is contrary to our senses, to our science, and to our experience. Our senses indicate that what looks like bread is bread, and what looks like wine is wine. Our science looks into the texture, shape, and composition of material things, and tells us that the host continues to possess the properties of bread. Our experience shows that there’s no way that we can look at a Eucharistic host under a microscope and find a tiny Jesus.
Nevertheless, the God-given reality is that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. There are many ways of being present. People can stand before one another physically. Actors are present to us on a movie screen. Our departed loved ones are present to us in our hearts.
Our Lord’s Eucharistic presence is sacramental. The Church defines a sacrament as something material that brings about a spiritual reality. Thus, the bread and wine are not symbols: They’re signs. Every sacrament has an outward sign that gives grace: the pouring of water at Baptism, the exchange of vows at marriage, the words of absolution in the sacrament of Reconciliation, and so on. In the Eucharist, by God’s power the reality of the bread has truly become the reality of Jesus’ glorified body and the reality of the wine the reality of Jesus’ blood.
SOURCE: “366 Days with the Lord,” ST PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328
2010 FLESH AND BLOOD
“Flesh and blood” is a phrase that can be understood from two different perspectives.
Relative to human beings, “flesh and blood” means man as a created, therefore, mortal, perishable entity. It is often used to contrast human beings with God and other “sky beings” (angels, spirits). When St. Paul says that he did not consult “flesh and blood” when he preached the Gospel after his conversion, he means that he received his commission from God directly, not from men, not even the apostles.
Relative to animals, “flesh and blood” is used to make proper distinction concerning what human beings may eat. Blood is always prohibited because blood is the life of the creature and it belongs to God. “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” In the temple sacrifice, the blood is poured against the altar which represents God.
“Flesh” may directly refer to “fat” which, in Israel’s tradition, is considered the “seat of life” together with blood. “All the fat belongs to the Lord” (Lv 3:16). In the temple sacrifice, the fat is burned to go up in smoke to the Lord.
Thus the prohibitions single out animal parts that serve as the seat of life—because life is from God alone and belongs to God alone.
In the “anti-language” of John’s Gospel, Jesus says that his flesh and blood are the source of eternal life (Jn 6:54). Ironically, it is by eating what is “prohibited” as food to human beings that they are able to receive true life. During the Last Supper, Jesus turns the bread and wine into his body and blood and commands his followers to “take, eat, and drink.” To ingest Jesus’ flesh and blood is to believe, accept, and welcome him who offered his “body and blood” in the sacrifice of Calvary, and to offer the sacrifice in an un-bloody way in the Eucharist.
2012 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood: The Jews think of literally eating the flesh of the Son of Man and drinking his blood. For them this is a form of cannibalism. Besides, they are prohibited from drinking blood (cf Gn 9:4). Thus, they cannot understand and accept what Jesus is telling them.
Jesus here is pointing to the mystery of the Eucharist. His life will be a sacrificial offering on the altar of the cross. We who partake in the communion of his body and blood are closely united with him. We receive his redemption and forgiveness of our sins, the fullness of life and his promise of eternal life.
At the Eucharist, God gives us Jesus as food for eternal life. Jesus is the bread of life. His flesh is true food, and his blood is true drink. Unlike the Israelites who ate manna and died, we who feed on Jesus will live forever.
“You are what you eat.” Does your frequent Communion make you think like Jesus, speak like Jesus, and act like Jesus?
2013 How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat? This objection gives Jesus the opportunity to insist that he is truly giving his real flesh and blood—his very self—to be consumed. The objection has a point. No mere man can give himself to be eaten and at the same time remain alive and life-giving. But in the gospel of John, Jesus is no mere man. He is truly the Son of God who became flesh (cf Jn 1:14). Jesus wants to give us his total self so that we may live from him whom we receive in the Eucharist.
Jesus presents himself as true food. But he is a different kind of food. While the ordinary food that we receive undergoes change and shares our human life, in Holy Communion it is we who share the life of the food that we receive.
In receiving Jesus,
we receive a share in Jesus’ divine life!
2014 Whoever eats this bread will live forever: Jesus declares that the bread he is giving for the life of the world is his own flesh. The crowd’s reaction is immediate: “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” But Jesus does not backtrack.
If we do not draw nourishment from him, Jesus declares, we will not live. In the Eucharistic bread that we partake in and the cup that we share, Jesus assures us of life in communion with him. If we just open our hearts to receive this gift, we will share in the communion that he enjoys with the Father. We will experience eternal life.
Jesus tells us that the believer who partakes of his flesh and blood will have perfect union with him. The believer will be incorporated into the divine family, thus sharing divine life in the sacrament.
When St. Peter Eymard, the apostle of the Eucharist, was at his deathbed, his followers asked him for a last thought. “No, I have nothing to say,” he replied. “You have the Holy Eucharist. Why do you want more?”
“As a person of faith, I see death as a friend,
as a transition from earthly life to life eternal”
(Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago).
2015 HOW CAN THIS MAN GIVE US HIS FLESH TO EAT?
The thought of feeding on human flesh is repulsive to most of Jesus’ hearers, as it remains likely to be to people today. Such an assertion demands some kind of explanation, and Jesus offers it.
In unmistakable language Jesus declares that his Flesh is food and his Blood is drink. Lest this claim go unnoticed, he states it four times (cf vv 53-56). In v 53, the verb “to eat” is more graphic because the Greek text uses the verb “to chew or masticate.”
The phrase “flesh and blood” is rich in meaning. On a literal level, it is a common way of characterizing a human being. When applied to Jesus, it is a proclamation of faith in the incarnation. He is indeed “flesh and blood.” On another level, it calls to mind the victim of sacrifice that is first slaughtered (Flesh and Blood) and then shared at a cultic meal (food and drink). Jesus is “Flesh and Blood” in this way as well, first as the sacrificial victim on the cross and then as Eucharistic food and drink.
The Christological interpretation of the manna has taken on new meaning here. The Flesh and Blood of Jesus have become the source of life for those who partake of it. In other words, eternal life has come from feeding on Jesus, not simply from believing in him. Jesus goes on further in his teaching on eternal life. He implies that it is not something that believers merely hope to enjoy in the future. Instead, those who share in the Eucharist already possess eternal life. What the future holds for them is the fullness of that life that will be enjoyed after the general resurrection on the last day.
2016 HOW CAN THIS MAN GIVE US HIS FLESH TO EAT? Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life (yesterday’s Gospel) leads to a dispute among the Jews who ask, “How can this man give us his Flesh to eat?” The response of Jesus is found in vv 53-58. The Jews misunderstand Jesus’ promise because they cannot go beyond the physical level. Jesus associates the separation of flesh and blood in a violent death as the moment of total giving of Himself (vv 53-54). Flesh is to be broken and blood to be spilled. Jesus will provide His Flesh and Blood as food for the life of the world. Hints on the Eucharist continue to be found in Jesus’ words. The Gospel concludes with a comparison between the bread that Israel’s ancestors ate in the desert and the bread that comes down from heaven (v 58). The Eucharistic self-giving manifested through the cross has a double meaning: Sacrificial death and table fellowship. The Eucharist here is depicted as a relationship of “abiding,” a mutual intimacy, where believers are drawn to the love of the Father and the Son. Our partaking of the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist makes us partakers of eternal life.
Our reception of Holy Communion unites us with the Blessed Trinity and with our brothers and sisters in the Catholic faith.
SOURCE: “366 Days with the Lord 2016,” ST. PAULS Philippines, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328
2018 My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink
We have reached the summit of Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life. In the preceding revelation, Jesus refers to his person as “bread.” His words are also “bread.” This can refer to Jesus as the source of life and communion with God.
“Communion” of this bread is believing in Jesus.
But Jesus makes a deeper and more controversial claim: “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you do not have life in you.” This is not simply believing in Jesus but real partaking of his body and blood, though not in a cannibalistic way. Jesus makes this possible in the sacrament of the Eucharist where the consecrated bread becomes his body and the consecrated wine becomes his blood. Again this communion is not just symbolic; it is real.
Pope John Paul II teaches that one aspect of the Eucharist that, more than any other, makes a demand on our faith is the mystery of the “real” presence. He writes: “With the entire tradition of the Church, we believe that Jesus is truly present under the Eucharistic species. This presence – as Pope Paul VI rightly explained – is called “real” not in an exclusive way, as if to suggest that other forms of Christ’s presence are not real, but par excellence, because Christ thereby becomes substantially present, whole and entire, in the reality of his body and blood” (Mane Nobiscum Domine, 16).
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SOURCE: “365 Days with the Lord,” ST PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328
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