The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ [A]
Deuteronomy 8:2-3,14-16 + 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 + John 6:51-58
“… unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you do not have life within you.”
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There is a certain fittingness or aptness to God redeeming mankind through the Incarnation and death of God the Son. St. Paul points out to the Romans that “just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one man the many will be made righteous.” God is, if you will, into fittingness, aptness, and order, so it’s no surprise that the Father would choose to redeem mankind by the death of His Son made Flesh, rather than by, say, metaphorically snapping His fingers. But He was not limited to redeeming mankind by the death of the Son of God. The Father could have used any means He wished to redeem mankind.
Yet the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist reveals to us another reason why the Father chose the death of Jesus as the means of man’s redemption. This reason is the most loving reason possible, though at first glance it might not appear so. Being human, you may recoil from God loving you this much. God chose the death of Jesus as the means of man’s redemption so that you in turn could enter fully into the saving mysteries of Christ.
By way of contrast, imagine that God had chosen to purchase man’s salvation at a different price. Imagine that God had set the price of mankind’s salvation at ten billion galaxies. Or imagine that God metaphorically snapped His fingers to release mankind from the bonds of sin and death. Or imagine that God purchased man’s salvation at the price of every drop of water in all the oceans and seas of the earth. Where would that leave you (besides awfully thirsty)? It would leave you free. It would leave you redeemed. But it would not leave you with the ability to imitate your merciful Father. It would leave you as an adopted son or daughter of a God into whose likeness you could not grow.
Can you offer ten billion galaxies to God? Can you destroy death with the snap of your fingers? Can you collect every drop of water in every ocean and sea on earth? You cannot, because all of those actions are beyond the capacity of being human. But every human being can die.
Death is our means of entrance into the saving mysteries of Christ. What could be simpler? This is why at Holy Mass we profess the mystery of faith by chanting: “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again.” This is why Jesus, at His Last Supper, willed to institute the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the way to Calvary: so that there, accepting the Body and Blood of the Lord, we might have the strength to die to our selves: our fallen selves, so as to discover our true selves.
This is not easy to do. It may be simple, but it’s not easy. Those who work in health care may have perhaps seen a person on his death bed who dies not from his disease, but from exhaustion: who expends all his energy not in living his life, but in struggling against inevitable death. Sin occupies in our moral and spiritual life much of the same struggle. We don’t want to die.
This is why Holy Mother Church compels each of her children under pain of mortal sin to participate in Holy Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. By faithfully receiving the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we receive Jesus’ life, which gives us the strength to die: to accept death as the means to true life, or in the words of the Prayer of St. Francis, to believe truly that it is in “dying that we are born to eternal life.”
This death is a daily walk for the Christian disciple. Julius Caesar said (in the words that Shakespeare put on his lips), “Cowards die many times before their deaths. / The valiant never taste of death but once” [Julius Caesar II, 2]. But Julius Caesar, of course, was a pagan who met a gruesome death that befit a life filled with vices. The Christian who follows Jesus faithfully dies not only many times, but every day. It is this daily death, expressed within our vocation and our sacrifice of time and talent to our neighbor, that gives us hope for the hour of our death, and allows us to embrace that hour in peace. The strength to walk the Way of Christian discipleship—the Way of love that leads to eternal Love—flows through this Most Blessed Sacrament.