Deuteronomy 8: 2-3,1 – 4-16 + Psalm 147 + 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17 + John 6: 51-58
June 11, 2023 at St. Agnes & St. William Churches in Naples, FL
A couple of weeks ago, I was having dinner with a couple here in Naples. The conversation wandered around from our neighborhoods to education, and then somehow to the Gospel of John. We skipped over golf, baseball, and the weather as my host told me that he found the Gospel of John almost impossible to read. I laughed and said that it’s, sort of like trying to read Thomas Merton or Catherine of Sienna. With a laugh he agreed, and I went on to point out that the three writers had something in common. They were mystics, and you can’t read the writings of mystic like you read the newspaper or a novel. John has Jesus say things that people understand in the simplest way, at “face value.” With that he invites the reader or listener to think more profoundly until they get caught up in unexpected depths of insight which lead to union with Jesus. We always have to look deeper and wonder what Jesus was trying to say.
In Chapter Six, verses of which we have just proclaimed, Jesus speaks about eating and drinking, simple things that we know are necessary for life. We know that what we eat becomes a part of us, part of our very flesh and blood. Go a little deeper, and we might consider that the most intimate connection we have in life is with what we eat. Then John draws us even deeper by revealing the desire of Jesus for that kind of intimacy with us by comparing our reception of food to our reception of him as he then says: “I dwell in you.” Then comes the real astonishing thing as he says: “And you dwell in me.” It is an invitation into a profound relationship we call, “communion.”
When we sit with this wonder and contemplate what John says, the mystical experience is beyond words. We have to venture beyond what we see as bread into what we are offered, communion with God in and through Christ as members of the Body of Christ. We stumble around with words to express this mystical gift. The scholastics liked to call it Transubstantiation. However, that idea, that complicated metaphysical word, focuses solely on what we see and tries to explain how that bread becomes the Body of Christ. What good is that. It does no good at all to know how this happens if we do not move on to what it means, and who it is.
What we need these days is a focus on how the very flesh and blood Christ becomes our flesh and blood. The biggest challenge for us goes beyond repeating the words of Thomas: My Lord and My God before the Holy Eucharist. The biggest challenge is to experience and live in that intimacy Jesus invites to share. The first step into this mystery is the consecration at this altar. If we don’t make the next step it’s all for nothing. Seeing the Holy Eucharist as our greatest treasure must lead us to consume that Eucharist and enter into the very real relationship that Jesus shares with the Father. It does not happen by looking. The gift we have been given, the eucharist we see, is not some thing, some object. It is a person! This opens a relationship that is both personally unique and mutually inclusive. “I dwell in you, and you dwell in me.”
I do not see how it is possible to enter into this intimate, life-giving relationship without it changing how we look to others. If they do not see very one whose body and blood we share, something has gone terribly wrong with God’s plan. If we cannot look at others and see the image of God, then we are far from communion. This feast, and the mystery it reveals must draw us ever more deeply into being who we were created to be.