Fleshy unto Spiritual

I think we can find a particularly interesting paradox in the words of Christ which we hear at Sunday Mass, having to do with “the flesh” and “the Spirit.” [Spanish]

The people murmured: “This saying is hard. 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.

little last supperChrist, 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. He anticipated that His words would push some into disbelief.

The saying about the Body of the Galilean rabbi isn’t the only hard one involving flesh and blood in this Sunday’s readings, though. What about St. Paul quoting Christ quoting Genesis? A man shall join with his wife and become one flesh.

One flesh. Sex, marriage, procreation, and permanence go together. 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. You and me and baby makes three.

Maybe the idea that we all come into the world in this somewhat messy way; this one-flesh thing… maybe it strikes us as a little odd, if we think about it too meticulously. But God has His beautiful reasons.

wedding ringsThe birds and the bees are a fact of life. Like “This is My Body,” and “This is My Blood,” is a fact of Christian life.

We didn’t make up that marriage is the permanent bond of man and woman. We didn’t make up that the Holy Mass gives us Christ’s true flesh. We Catholics just take the Lord at His word. We believe. We know that, if we believe, then maybe we can begin to understand. But if we don’t totally believe, 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 in the flesh. It’s not just breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, tv, and bed. Our life is God. God is immeasurably greater than all flesh and blood. 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.

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Eating the Bread that is His Flesh

Whoever eats this bread will live forever. The bread that I will give is my flesh. (John 6:51)

The Holy Mass: A sacrifice and a Passover banquet. Can’t have the banquet without the sacrifice. And: No point in having the sacrifice without the banquet. [Spanish]

Christ offered Himself, a Lamb slaughtered to atone for all the sins of the world. “This is my Body which will be given up for you.”

Ghent Altarpiece Adoration of the LambReligion always involves approaching the all-good, all-pure God with something to offer Him. Our religion involves approaching the all-good, all-pure God with His Son as our sacrifice.

This sacrifice pleases the Father. The Body and Blood of His only-begotten, the eternal Word, made man. We know this sacrifice pleases the Father because… ?

The Resurrection. Jesus did not offer Himself as a sacrifice in vain. No. The Father accepted, approved, and vindicated the offering. He granted mercy to sinners because of it. He gave creation a fresh start. The Resurrection proves all that.

So: The Mass involves offering the Christ to the Father as a sacrifice. We all do that, together, as the priest prays the Eucharistic Prayer. And we offer ourselves, too, with Christ, to the Father. Through Him, with Him, and in Him, all honor and glory is yours, Father.

But: That’s not the end of Mass. There’s more. He didn’t say, “Take this and offer it.” He said, “Take this, and eat it.” He said, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

The Paschal banquet of Holy Communion involves receiving as food the risen flesh of Jesus Christ.

HostSome people have a hard time featuring the Real Presence. Christ with us–Body, Blood, soul, and divinity—in the Blessed Sacrament. But maybe we can resolve any doubts by remembering: Holy Communion does not involve consuming mortal flesh. Christ’s flesh, since He rose from the dead, is immortal, heavenly, glorified.

Now, that does not mean that Christ’s Body is purely spiritual and mystical. He is not just ‘an idea.’ After all, we know from the gospels: Jesus ate, even after He rose from the dead. And Thomas fingered the wound in His side. Christ is risen in the flesh, real human flesh. But it is human flesh that has passed over from mortal life to immortal life.

Ok. What does God ask of us, to prepare to receive Christ’s flesh in Holy Communion?

  1. A clear conscience. We have to confess all our serious sins to a priest beforehand.
  2. Fasting for one hour before Holy Communion.
  3. Living in union with the Church. Striving for honest harmony with my neighbor. Forgiving others as I have been forgiven by God.

And how does receiving Holy Communion affect us? Well, only a mystic could give a comprehensive answer to that question. But we can name a few effects:

  1. Holy Communion draws us closer to Christ. Heaven means total union with Him. So every Holy Communion received in a state of grace gets us that much closer to the final goal.
  2. Holy Communion cleanses us from past sins and protects us from committing future sins.
  3. Holy Communion unites us with our neighbors, especially with the poor, with those who need our love and mercy.

We cannot fathom the depths of the loving generosity of God. Yet all of God’s love is present in the consecrated Host and chalice. With every Holy Communion, we enter more deeply into the divine love, the generous love, of the Heart of Jesus. And He enters more deeply into us.

———-

Last week we talked about the faithful Catholics with hearts broken over the Theodore McCarrick scandal. This week we have to mourn with everyone brokenhearted by the Pennsylvania grand-jury report on sex abuse by priests.

Namely: All the good Pennsylvania Catholics baptized or given First Holy Communion by priests whose names are on the lists or predators. And everyone confirmed by one of the bishops who neglected their duty.

May the good Lord comfort all those good Catholics.

Above all, however: We need to honor the victims of sexual abuse who had the courage to speak to the grand jury and give the world this report. It took enormous courage, and great faith. They have given us a great gift. The truth.

PA Grand Jury victimsThe truth will set you free. That’s what we believe. Our beloved Jesus has suffered. He suffers in the poor, the sick, the grieving, the lonely. And he suffers in the victims of sexual abuse by priests. That means that the grand-jury report is like a crucifix, held up before our eyes.

It moves us. To despise every act of abuse. To love and admire every victim of abuse who has the guts to stand up against it. To react that way is the duty of every decent human being.

For decades, the Pennsylvania bishops did not react that way. That’s the scandal. The Church owed those victims justice. Instead, the bishops muffled their pain under a cloak of secrecy.

No more. Now the truth of those cases stands before the world in black and white. That’s a gift, a fresh start, a chance for a better future. Thank you grand jurors, and thank you, courageous witnesses who testified.

Priesthood Ex Opere Operato

Ecce Agnus Dei

Jesus said to them: “I am the Bread of Life.” (John 6:35) [Spanish]

In the Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself, our Passover. (Vatican II)

Christ, our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer Himself to God the Father by His death on the altar of the cross. But because His priesthood was not to end with His death, at the Last Supper, He willed to leave His beloved spouse, the Church, a visible sacrifice. By the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ our Lord. (Council of Trent)

In the Blessed Sacrament, Christ is present in the fullest sense. That is to say, Christ, God and man, makes Himself wholly and entirely present. (Pope Paul VI)

God Almighty. His Son Jesus Christ, Savior and Redeemer of the human race. The Last Supper, the Holy Mass, the sacred priesthood, the Church, our Church. We stand on our faith, on what we believe, on what God Himself has revealed to us about Himself, the Bread of Life.

God loves. Loves eternally. He begot the eternal Son out of eternal love. In the fullness of time, the eternally begotten Word of God became one of us, a human being, a man. Out of love for us human beings, wretched sinners. The Word became flesh, and He gave us this heavenly mystery, the Mass: Jesus Christ, our Bread of Life.

Boston Globe 2002Older people like myself remember a very tough period in the life of the Catholic Church in the USA. “The Scandal.” Sixteen years ago. Now we have another one: the retired Archbishop of Washington, D.C. Turns out, he preyed on young people for years.

Just so happens that this now-notorious former Cardinal—he and I, along with eight other young men—we had a very important encounter on May 24, 2003. He ordained us priests. So this hurts. This is personal for me, not just a story on the news. Forgive me for bringing it up, unpleasant as it is. But we have to find a way through this together.

The thing about the sacraments of Jesus Christ, though; the thing about the living Bread of Life, Who we offer to the Father and then receive at a Mass celebrated by a validly ordained priest—the thing is: Christ does not fail. We fail. He does not.

Our beloved seminarian David has faithfully done his best this summer, here in Rocky Mount and Martinsville. Done his best to grow into the man God made him to be. May it be God’s will, in six years, maybe David will celebrate his first Holy Mass here. Sunday he concludes his summer assignment. We’re sad to say goodbye for now. But you go with our gratitude and best wishes, David.

David of course didn’t go to the seminary to offer his life to God in a scandal-plagued Church, any more than I did. Now he and I have this in common: having to get through seminary during a time when many Catholics reasonably struggle with a crisis of confidence in our bishops.

But. This does not mean that we don’t have the Bread of Life. It doesn’t mean that Christ fails us. We fail Him. But He keeps loving. A thousand McCarricks committing a thousand crimes cannot stop Jesus loving us in the Mass and giving us Himself as the Bread of Life.

priest_jesus_mass

After all, what did the Word Incarnate do? Why do we have a Church at all? He died, so that we prodigal sinners could be reconciled to our heavenly Father. And receive our heavenly inheritance again.

All it takes is an honest confrontation with the truth. That’s the New-and-Eternal Covenant ‘deal,’ so to speak. God says to us inveterate moral scrubs: “I, dear souls, am infinitely merciful. I will forgive you, no matter what. Just face the truth. That’s all you have to do.” Then we–bolstered in our confidence by this unmerited promise, freed from fear of the condemnation we deserve—we can face the truth.

Same thing with the Catholic Scandal of the summer of 2018. Sure, I might be tempted to think: A predator, a villain who belonged in jail on that very day—he ordained me a priest. So my priesthood… it’s weakened, or tarnished, or rendered meaningless.

But I can honestly say that I am not really tempted to think that at all. I actually think the opposite. Yes, I want to punch the man. For the evils he did to others. And for the fraud he pulled on us–all of us priests and seminarians who gave him the benefit of the doubt, and trusted him, and spent ourselves for years, helping him exercise his ministry.

But the dark human truth about the sinner who ordained me—it actually only makes the sacred mystery involved in the sacrament of Holy Orders all that more evident. Because the priesthood, the Mass, the holy Church—these things do not exist for this man’s worldly glory or that man’s power and influence. McCarrick may have lived for worldly things. But that’s not why the priesthood, the Mass and the Church exist. They exist because of faith—faith in God and His Christ.

We believe in God Almighty, Who sees all, knows all, and judges justly. We believe in His Son, the Divine Mercy. We believe in the sacraments He gave His Church. We believe in the Bread of Life.

The Trust of Christ

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The hillside. The crowd. Time to eat. And time to trust in divine Providence. [Spanish]

St. Andrew knew about the boy with five barley loaves and two fish. But he also doubted the Lord’s miraculous bounty. “What good are these for so many?”

Let’s focus on St. Andrew. I visited St. Andrew’s tomb in Amalfi, Italy, two weeks ago. Let’s examine St. Andrew’s part in this particular situation–with the hungry crowd and the provident God.

God provides. To obey and follow Christ means acknowledging that God owns everything, and I own nothing–not even myself. Lord Jesus sent His Apostles into the world with nothing but a walking stick. As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, recently put it, “the walking stick is the attribute of the pilgrim.”

The pilgrim announces the Kingdom of God simply by being a pilgrim. The pilgrim claims nothing for his or her own, but trusts in the heavenly Father. “Give us this day our daily bread.” God is God. God loves His children. He will always provide for His little ones. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

tabgha loaves fishes multiplication mosaicLord Jesus took this trust to the cross. He trusted His Father, unto death. “Into Your hands I commend my spirit.” And Jesus trusted rightly. Not in vain, or blindly, or foolishly. Heaven vindicated the Christ’s trust. On the third day…

This whole mystery of the trust of the pilgrim Christ–the trust in heaven which we see in the Heart of the Son of God at every moment of His pilgrim life–this whole interior gift of trust in Providence emerged into full view on that hillside, with the hungry crowd. And St. Andrew got nervous.

They had come by the thousands, trusting in the miracle-working rabbi, abandoning themselves to Him. He ordered that they… recline. He did not say, “Have the people start picking the nearby crops. Or boiling their shoes to make stew.” No. He told them to relax. God provides.

So they did relax. Except poor St. Andrew, who fretted. ‘These five loaves and two fish are enough for one family, Lord. But, gosh–look at this crowd!’

Now, St. Andrew’s fretfulness on the hillside didn’t last forever. On Pentecost, he received the spiritual gifts that fill a soul with total trust. In the end, St. Andrew got crucified himself, a martyr, like his brother St. Peter and the other Apostles. St. Andrew died with serene trust that the kingdom of heaven awaited him. He hardly knew what the kingdom of heaven involves, but he trusted that it is good. After all, by then St. Andrew had seen His Lord feed 5,000 men and their families with five loaves and two fish. He had learned to fear nothing–other than sinning against Christ by mistrusting Him.

Outside the cathedral in Amalfi which houses St. Andrew’s tomb, there’s a fountain in the piazza. Water flows out of nymphs and mermaids–all under the feet of a statue of the Apostle. Holding his X-shaped cross in his arms, like a trophy. The trophy of: trust in Christ unto death.

Charles Bosseron Chambers Sacred Heart of JesusTrust in Divine Providence doesn’t mean comfort in this world. It doesn’t mean always getting what I want, or what I think is best. The trust of the miraculous hillside means walking through life with empty hands. I had empty hands when I came into this world. And I will have empty hands when I go forth from it.

Trust in divine Providence means accepting that I do not know exactly what God will provide and when. He knows best. Will He provide me with a meal today, or will He provide me with a moment to offer up my hunger? Will He give me another day of life tomorrow, or is today to be my last?

I don’t know. We don’t know. God does. He wills to give me His Kingdom. And only He knows exactly what that kingdom is. The Kingdom of God has one castle, one throne room, one banquet hall–and it’s all hidden in the invisible interior depths of the Heart of Jesus Christ.

At every moment of our pilgrim lives, God offers us a way into the hidden kingdom. We never have to live anywhere else. We just have to accept that we have nothing and know nothing. God has everything and knows everything. And what He has and knows and is: it’s pure good.

Even More on John 6 and Sandwiches

Falafel_sandwich
Falafel in a pita!

Why do we eat? We get hungry, and we eat to stave-off starvation. Plus, hopefully we find the experience pleasant. Also, we can commune with our fellowman very fruitfully over a meal together. The common meal makes the family.

Now, what if bodily death meant The End? The End of all this eating?

We nourish our bodies daily, but to what purpose—if bodily death means a total Sayonara? After all, our bodily death comes inevitably—no matter how well, and how sociably, we eat. Why stave off starvation then? If death means The End, then the whole business of staving off starvation for a few short, seventy or eighty years seems like a pathetic, desperate exercise in futility.

And if bodily death spells Todo Finito, then why try to eat well? Why cook well? Why try to make eating pleasant? I guess you could answer: Because tomorrow we will die, so let’s enjoy today with good savors on our tongues! But that seems empty and pathetic, too. The sweetness of a good meal loses its appeal when we think of ourselves as mere random conglomerations of chemicals.

paniniAnd if bodily death ends everything, then why eat together? Why build a family or friendships? None of it will last; our loves will die with our bodies. If bodily death means Tutto Chiuso.

My point is: The idea that bodily death ends everything—that idea is foreign to our experience of eating. The entire human enterprise of the table: it presumes that eternity somehow lies within our grasp. Somehow; we can’t conceive exactly how. But we know that human communion over dinner touches eternity somehow.

In other words, we feed on material food, yes—because we are material boys and girls. But we feed also on love, and on hope for friendship lasting forever. Hope and love make human meals human, as opposed to animal trough sessions.

Jesus Christ came from heaven to restore and fulfill human life. Yes, He brought something altogether new to the world. But His newness is not foreign to our human ways. His newness brings about the perfection of our present stumbles and flawed attempts at the greatness that fundamentally does belong to us.

We need to feed on the resurrected, immortal Body of Christ in order to eat anything else in peace. When we eat His Body with a clear conscience, what nourishment do we receive? How about the assurance of the hope that love lasts forever? How about: Eternal Life?

When we have that kind of confident hope, every plate of tamales, every lasagna, every bowl of pho we share means the coming of the Kingdom of God.

More on John 6, Sandwiches, Etc

The holy angels have no bodies. They “feed on” truth, on God, by gazing upon Him with their purely spiritual minds.

Ecce Agnus DeiWe human beings, on the other hand, feed on truth and bread, since we have souls and bodies. We need both truth and bread to survive and thrive. Without this nourishment, we perish.

God feeds on nothing other than Himself; He possesses infinite life. He is obviously immortal—He’s eternal, the eternal source of all life–spiritual life and material life.

We understand from Holy Scripture that God formed mankind from the dust of the earth for the sake of giving us immortal life. Originally He made us to feed on the truth, and on the material largess of the earth–without ever experiencing the disintegration of the flesh.

But we disobeyed His law and fell away from the eternal source of life, leaving us to face the struggle to survive and the dissolution of our bodies back into dust.

God, infinitely merciful, became a man Himself, to unite our flesh with His life-giving power. He underwent our bodily death in His flesh. Then He conquered that death, rising again to a life no longer limited in any way by struggle or impending death.

But that’s not all: His work of uniting His death-conquering life with our flesh included the institution of the Mass and the Church. By instituting the Mass He instituted the Church, and vice-versa. The Mass is the life of the Church.

And the Mass is the way, perfectly suited to our human nature, by which we can feed on God. We cannot feed on Him like the angels do, since we do not see Him with spiritual eyes like they do. We need a bodily way to feed on the Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of the Christ. That way is: the Holy Mass.

John 6 Ecumenism

Pope Francis Jay Wright Villanova ball
Now the Pope owns the NCAA Championship ball!

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life. (John 6:27)

We kept the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council a few years ago, between 2012 and 2015. But maybe some of Pope Francis’ more-recent teachings lead us back to the Second Vatican Council again.*

Here’s one question: Was Vatican II overly optimistic in focusing on what Protestants and Catholics have in common?

One side would say: Yes, Vatican II was wrong there. It was a betrayal of sacred Catholic Tradition and the Council of Trent to affirm that Protestants and Catholics share the same faith in Christ.

–But isn’t that’s going too far? There’s only one Jesus. And we all personally know Protestants who truly and sincerely believe in Him. So Vatican II was not altogether wrong to emphasize what we have in common.

On the other hand, the other extreme would say: No, Vatican II had no misplaced optimism whatsoever. Christian re-unification is right around the corner, if only we could get over ourselves!

–But that’s going too far, too. No reasonable observer can deny that, in spite of a lot of common enterprises, and a lot of good intentions, the last fifty years have not seen a whole lot of real ecumenical headway. Quite the contrary.

Ross Douthat To Change the ChurchDuring the third week of Easter we read from John 6 at Holy Mass. Seems to me like we Catholics could lay down this marker, and live at peace with it:

We believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And we believe that He makes Himself present on the altar at Mass to be our food unto eternal life.

It seems to us that these two aspects of the faith—namely the Resurrection and the Real Presence—are really one aspect. It makes absolutely no sense to separate them. And why would anyone want to?

_________________

*I have been reading Ross Douthat’s To Change the Church. Douthat illuminates things enormously, I think, by outlining the two alternative understandings of the past 55 years of Catholic history, “liberal” and “conservative.” But there’s more to the story, I think. And I want to try to bring it to light, as the opportunity allows.

How does He give us His Flesh to Eat?

How can this man give us his flesh to eat? (John 6:52)  …Click for Español.

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.”

bassano last supperHe 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.

Jesus says that His flesh is true food and His blood true drink, and that this food and drink, this sustenance, gives the true life–eternal life, not subject to death. This food involves eternal, divine “nourishment,” if we might dare to put it this way. The Father, from all eternity unto all eternity, “nourishes” the Son with divine life. Just so, the Son gives divine life to those who feed on His living Body.

Now, back in the synagogue in Capernaum, the inquiring listeners asked: 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.

priestBut how?

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 the 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 for us to eat?

Yes, His flesh is uniquely life-giving; it offers the “nutrition” of God. But we would not seem to be equipped to consume the living 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 suited to our capacities. The life of God Himself, given to us as an edible morsel of food, a sip from the chalice.

And this second aspect of the miracle—the fact that God Almighty comes to us in such an unassuming, humble manner; that God gives us Himself in such utter silence and powerlessness: Nothing could be quieter, more gentle, more unassuming than a Host. Amazing, yes. 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 willingly die so that men have life.

So, likewise, 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 this 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.

He wills only gently to feed us. With Himself.

Hungry?

snickers hungry

God gives bread from heaven.  Jesus Christ, His Body, Blood, soul, and divinity.

It’s not cannibalism, because He lives.  And we don’t transform the food from heaven into our substance, like we do with hamburgers and salads and stuff.  With the Food from heaven, the digestive process works in the other direction.  He assimilates us to Himself.  We become a part of the Body that we eat, when we receive Holy Communion.

Now, we Catholics love the world.  We love the people of the world.  We hope for a better future, even in this life–a better human future for the earth.  Not naively:  We don’t hide our eyes from the effects of original sin.  But we nonetheless believe in the fundamental goodness and beauty of man, the paragon of all animals, who God has made little less than the angels.

But I think we can qualify our admiration for mankind by saying:  We believe in the fundamental goodness of man, when he receives adequate nourishment.  We’ve all seen the Snickers ads.  When man begins to starve, he grows desperate.  Reason goes out the window.  Same thing can go for whole communities, when there’s no food.  We become a tragic, disfigured version of ourselves.  A whole nation can lose the ability to think straight.

Now, what about a starvation diet of the Bread from Heaven?  When our beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord absent themselves from the sacred assembly?  They wind up spiritually starved, for lack of divine nourishment.  Can we expect rational thought, calm restraint, and sanity, under such circumstances?  Hardly.

Praise the Lord, when it comes to the heavenly Bread, we don’t face scarcity in these parts.  Yes, we have a priest shortage in our diocese.  But every county has at least one Sunday Mass.  No one need starve.

Let’s make sure that we keep ourselves well fed, so that we can stay healthy and maintain our calm, rational composure.  Then, we will have the strength and clarity of mind to help our poor brothers and sisters who, for some strange reason, see fit to starve themselves, rather than make a good confession and come to the table to eat the Body of Christ.

John 6, St. Augustine, Confirmation

 

After feeding the 5,000, Christ withdrew to mountain solitude.  Because the people wanted to carry Him off and crown Him king.

Let’s hear St. Augustine on this…

He who feared to be made a king was a king, reigning eternally with the Father.  He was a king not made by men, but making men kings, in the kingdom foretold by the prophets.  Christ being made man, made believers in Him Christians, who are members of His kingdom, incorporated therein by His Word.

This kingdom will be made manifest after the Last Judgment, when the brightness of the saints will be revealed.  The disciples and the multitude, however, thought He had come to reign now.  They would have taken Him by force to make Him king, which would have anticipated His time.  But His time is a secret.

st-augustineWe could spend all day discussing these few Augustinian sentences.  But let’s focus on something that we could easily pass over, and which is especially important during these days of our young people receiving Confirmation.

Christ being made man, made believers in Him Christians, members of His kingdom.

We have to focus on the fact that, for St. Augustine, the word Christ was of course not simply an empty title for Jesus.  It means:  The Anointed.  The Anointed is, according to the Old Testament, a king.  The anointing in this case is not mere oil, but the Holy Spirit—of Whom oil is perhaps the most potent symbol.

The Incarnation means that people who believe in God believe in Christ, a man crowned with God. God Himself, the Holy Spirit, is the God-man’s Crown.  And that same Crown adorns the brows of those who believe—“Christ”-ians, Anointedians, anointed with God the Holy Spirit.

It’s all invisible.  For now.  It will become visible precisely when God wills it so.  In the meantime, we see the invisible crown in the honesty, fortitude, generosity, faith, and hopefulness of the “Christ”-ians who wear it.