Saturday, August 15, 2009

We become what we receive


“The Jews quarreled among themselves saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’”

There was an interesting story this past Monday in the Boston Globe. Maybe you saw it? It was front page, above the fold. It was a story about the fact that St. Clements Church here in the city was beginning Perpetual (or continual) Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. This is a wonderful development for us here in the city to know that at any time of day or night we can go and pray in adoration before the very Body and Blood of Jesus.

But, much like those in today’s Gospel passage who couldn’t understand what Jesus was talking about; what He was offering in the Eucharist; the Globe author also doesn’t quite understand when it comes to the Eucharist. The article began, “The adorers sit in silence before the wafer.” It went on to call Eucharistic Adoration an “unusual Catholic ritual” and to say that adoration “reflects an embrace of the teaching of Catholicism that many find hardest to understand: the belief that, during Mass, bread and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of Jesus.”

As you and I know, the Eucharist – the Body and Blood of Jesus – isn’t a wafer; it isn’t unusual, and it isn’t hard to understand. Rather, it is the very core of who we are and what we are called to be.

This time of year always leads me to reflect on that question of what we are called to be; the question of identity. Sixteen years ago tomorrow (today), marks the day when I first professed my vows as a religious along with 14 of my brothers. Together we professed to live the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as a member of the Franciscan Order. As I reflect on the last 16 years, which have gone by far too quickly, I realize that what happened on that day of my religious profession was an embrace of my identity before God. Before entering religious life I did many different things – I was a mall security guard, owned a florist shop, was a prep chef in a restaurant, worked on an apple and peach orchard, did painting and wallpapering, worked in retail, was a family crisis counselor, and for the longest period of time was an investigative news reporter for 6 years. In the midst of all of those things, I was most definitely someone in search of their identity. Who was I supposed to be? Who did God want me to be?

And, what lead me to religious life and to discovering my truest identity in the sight of God – as a religious and as a priest – was the Eucharist. After struggling with faith in my teens and early 20s, I eventually met Jesus – the real, living, present Jesus – in the Eucharist. Once that had happened, all of the fogginess of a youth spent searching for something cleared and my identity – who and what God wanted me to be; my vocation – was staring me in the face. There was no decision to be made at that point except the decision to follow. You see, the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist acts as a mirror to our souls, helping us to see who we have been created to be.

We have been reflecting on the Eucharist most of the summer in our Scriptural readings. In today’s Gospel passage Jesus speaks of His own identity in the Eucharist. He speaks of the Eucharist, not only in the ordinary terms of bread and wine, but even more powerfully, He speaks of this bread and wine as being His flesh and His blood. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”

Flesh and blood. We use that phrase all the time – usually to refer to the whole person. And so does Jesus. He reminds us even that this Eucharist is Him – flesh and blood, the whole person. If there were any doubt remaining, He states boldly and plainly, “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven.” Jesus equates the bread from Heaven with Himself totality. This is not a part of Jesus. This truly is Jesus – flesh and blood, so to speak.

Knowing that Jesus equates the Eucharist with His total person, we can see that it is an understatement to say merely that the Eucharistic bread is the Body of Christ. It is certainly more than a “wafer.” And it is even more than the Body of Christ. It is the whole of Christ. Using the traditional expression, it is “the body and blood, soul and divinity” of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is not only present in the Blessed Sacrament, rather in the Blessed Sacrament the fullness of Jesus is completely revealed.

It is not so much a question of presence as that of identity. Jesus reveals His full and complete identity to us in the Eucharist in the hopes that we will look into that mirror and see our identity. Who we are is never complete unless it is who we are in the sight of Jesus.

And so, we don’t just hear these readings about the Eucharist this summer and say, “Got it! Bread and wine to Body and Blood.” Rather, take a moment and see the Eucharist anew. As the Body and Blood of Jesus are elevated during the Holy Mass today, look into the mirror that is the full and complete presence and identity of Jesus in the Eucharist. What is Jesus reflecting back to you? Who are you – what are you – in the sight of your Lord? What Jesus reflects to you there is the most complete, best, happiest and holiest person you can ever be – the one that you see reflected back to you when you gaze into the face of Jesus.

St. Clare, whose feast we celebrated on Tuesday, instructed her sisters to look into the face of Jesus in the Eucharist. She said, “Gaze upon Christ, consider Christ, contemplate Christ, imitate Christ.” When you gaze upon Christ, and even more powerfully today, receive Christ, He will show you who you truly have been created to be. Have the courage to cast off everything else and embrace your identity in the sight of Jesus.

As we receive Holy Communion today, let us be conscious that we are receiving Jesus Christ Himself – totally, fully, completely – and let us open our hearts to receive the new life that He brings to us. As we learn more about the very identity of Jesus through this Communion, let us remember that Jesus also wants to tell us something about our own identity, who He wants us to be.

May God give you peace.

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