I think we can find a particularly interesting paradox in the words of Christ which we hear at Holy Mass on Sunday. Hopefully we can receive the paradox as an invitation.
“This saying is hard,” they murmured. “Who can accept it?”
Which saying? The one we heard last Sunday. “My flesh is true food and my blood true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. The one who feeds on Me will have life because of me.”
Christ, the man, flesh and blood, born of the womb of Mary. He possesses divine life, eternally flowing into Him from the Father. Infinite life. The Holy Spirit, Who has breathed life into everything that lives. This particular Galilean fellow, made of bones and cells and stuff, just like us. He gives His body and blood as the gift of divine life for us. The Holy Spirit gives life–through the flesh and blood of Christ.
Ok: A hard saying, which demands faith in the Incarnation and the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, the Holy Eucharist. He anticipated that His words would shock some of us into disbelief.
A few weeks ago, an aspiring Catholic came to see me to discuss the possibility of coming into full communion with the Church. He has attended Mass with his dear Catholic wife every Sunday for 35 years. But this man’s Presbyterian sensibilities couldn’t quite feature the idea that God would have us eat somebody’s body and drink his blood.
The saying about the Body of the Galilean rabbi isn’t the only hard one involving flesh and blood in this Sunday’s readings. Anybody catch St. Paul quoting Christ quoting Genesis? “A man shall join with his wife and become one flesh.”
The fact that sex, marriage, procreation, and permanence go together, inseparably–like root beer and foam go together, or chips and salsa, or music and dancing–these are flesh-and-blood facts of life, brought to us by God Himself. Maybe the idea that we all come into the world in this somewhat messy way–maybe it strikes us as a little odd, if we think about it too meticulously. But God has His beautiful reasons.
In a similar way, “This is My Body,” and “This is My Blood,” come as simple Christian facts of life. Christ Himself said these words. It’s not as if Catholic priests made the whole thing up. We didn’t make up that marriage is the permanent bond of man and woman, any more than we made up that the Holy Mass gives us Christ’s true flesh. We Catholics just take the Lord at His word. We don’t see it as our job to “engineer” the meaning of those words. We simply believe them, holding back no part of our minds from our unequivocal belief. We know that, if we believe, then maybe we can begin to understand. But if we don’t totally believe, we know we will never understand at all.
Anyway: taken all together, the facts of life, given by God in today’s readings: fleshy. Altogether fleshy. Husband and wife: one, inseparable flesh. Holy Communion: Christ’s flesh and blood to eat and drink. Almighty God does not despise human flesh. To the contrary, He has embraced it more intimately than we can conceive.
Hence, the paradox: In the same breath with which the Lord lays down these stunning affirmations of intense fleshiness, He also says, “it is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words I speak to you are spirit and life.”
The flesh has life. The flesh even has life to give. But the flesh itself is not ‘life.’ God wills to give us life in these muscles and bones of ours. He wills that we receive our lives through our parents’ flesh and bones. He wills that we receive eternal life through His incarnate Son’s living flesh.
But our life is not just breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, tv, and bed. Our life is not even just earth, wind, and fire.
Our life is God. God is immeasurably greater than all flesh and blood. Immeasurably greater even than Earth, Wind, and Fire were, when they jammed “September,” in their prime.
God is so pure and spiritual that we cannot begin to imagine, cannot begin to conceive. He is the Beauty of everything beautiful, the Truth of everything true. He is our goal. God, purely God, awesomely, mysteriously God.
Everything Christ ever said has one fundamental meaning for us: that we would never shoot for anything less than God Himself.
So: we have flesh and blood, which came from our parents’ flesh and blood, nourished with divine life by Christ’s flesh and blood. And, in this flesh and blood, we strive for God.