“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
They asked this perfectly reasonable question after the Lord Jesus had said, “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
He will give His flesh that the world may have life, as opposed to death. Without this gift–the Body of Christ–the world languishes in death.
Indeed, taking a sober look around us, we see that death reigns as the inevitable conclusion of all our labors.
We stave off death for a while, by eating plenty of salads and sandwiches and bowls of cereal, etc., and keeping ourselves hydrated. But we can keep death at bay for only so long.
So the Messiah, the Savior, possesses flesh that gives life beyond the grave. The Christ of God gives life. He conquers death in His Body—not just for His own sake, but for all mankind. He gives all mankind His life-saving flesh.
But: How? Good question.
Jesus says that His flesh is true flesh and His blood true drink, and that this food and drink, this sustenance, gives the true life, eternal life, not subject to death.
Other food has sustained life for a time, but not forever. This food, on the other hand, will sustain life forever, because it involves divine nourishment. The Father, from all eternity unto all eternity, gives divine life to the Son. Just so, the Son gives divine life to those who feed on His living Body.
Okay. Sounds like the key idea here is: Life, divine life, life that cannot be snuffed-out by death. The Body of Christ sustains us—our most-essential food, nourishing us with this particular, transcendent life.
Now, the inquiring listeners asked, back in the synagogue in Capernaum: How? How can this man give us His flesh to eat?
Let’s treat this as a forthright and honest question, rather than as a rhetorical attack. Let’s break the question down into its parts.
“This man.” Jesus. How can ‘this man’ do it? Well, this man is God. This particular Nazarene carpenter possesses death-conquering divine life. That’s the decisive fact here. He looks like a Galilean man. He is a Galilean man. He is like all other men in every way, except sin. Also: He is Almighty God.
So the question suddenly becomes: How can this God-man give us His flesh to eat? Now the question no longer has a dismissive ring to it. God, after all, has made the cosmos out of nothing, by an act of creation which we cannot imagine. So, we reasonably figure, He can give us His human flesh and blood as nourishment, too. He can. Not impossible for the Creator to do such a thing.
Well, we know the history. Last Supper, first Mass, endowing His Apostles with this mission and this sacred ministry, the handing down of the unique office of the priest through all the generations… All this history is part of the answer to How? Christ gives us His flesh to eat by the ministry of Catholic priests, which began at the Last Supper and has extended in an unbroken succession to here and now.
But there’s more. How can the God-man give us His flesh to eat? Yes, His flesh is uniquely nutritious, uniquely life-giving. But we would not seem to be equipped to consume the flesh of the resurrected Christ. We are used to eating sandwiches. We have no natural disposition to consume the living flesh of the High Priest of the heavenly tabernacle.
So: He works a double miracle. The consecration which Christ instituted at the Last Supper involves the double miracle by which…
1. The bread and wine we present become His flesh and blood, in accord with His own infallible divine words.
2. His flesh and blood retains all the sensible qualities of food and drink, so that we may consume and be fortified by it, using our limited natural capacities to receive food.
In other words, the Lord gives us sustenance that totally surpasses our capacities in a way that He has in fact suited to our capacities perfectly. The life of God Himself, given to us as an edible morsel.
Amazing, yes, that God gives us Himself in such utter silence and powerlessness. Nothing could be quieter, more gentle, more unassuming than a Host. But let’s consider the precedent…
He exposed Himself to the violence of the evil men who cruelly scourged and crucified Him. He veiled His glory then, in quiet gentleness. He did not cry out; He did not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. And in His silence then, He showed the greatest eloquence. He silently declared: I will that men have life.
So, in the Blessed Sacrament, He freely exposes Himself to people thoughtlessly receiving Him. To people receiving Him with un-confessed sins burdening their consciences. He even exposes Himself to people receiving Him without faith.
But He maintains His silence and vulnerability because it reveals the truth. The God Whom we worship in the Sacred Host wills only to build up, to fortify, to give life. He does not will to tear down; He does not will to destroy.
God wills to feed us with Himself.