Category Archives: Eucharist

If You Believe…

If you believe that Jesus:

  • Came to Earth as The Word made flesh (i.e. God)
  • Created the world by speaking it into reality
  • Walked on water
  • Healed the blind, deaf, mute, lame, leprous
  • Controlled the weather
  • Changed water into wine
  • Fed thousands with a few loaves and a few fish
  • Was transfigured before His disciples very eyes
  • Raised the dead (including Himself)
  • Rose from the dead in a glorified, spiritual, physical body (1Cor 15:44-49, John 6:61-63)
  • Ascended into Heaven

If you believe all of that, then why not believe that Jesus actually changed bread into His body and wine into His blood? (Matt 26:26-28) He spoke it into reality. He’s God, after all.

“He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him. As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eats me, even he shall live by me.” (John 6:56-57)

There should be no reason to disbelieve any of His words in John 6, unless you are regarding them “in the flesh.”

“The flesh” will profit you nothing. (John 6:63, Rom 8)

“His flesh” profits you everything. He gave it for the life of the world (John 6:51)

The words of Jesus are “spirit” and “life,” not “symbol” or “metaphor.” (John 6:63)  “Spirit” is very real and very life-giving.

Believe it.

The Eucharist: Living To Eat Or Eating To Live?

Some people think that going to church is what Christianity is all about.  That’s like saying that eating is what life is all about.  Eating (though enjoyable) merely keeps us alive so we can actually live life.  People who focus too much on eating end up obese and unhealthy.  They can’t live life as well.

People who focus their Christianity on “going to church” have a similar issue.  Mass is where we are spiritually fed so we can leave church and live the Christian life.  After Mass we are told, “The Mass is ended, go!”  We have been fed, now it’s time to get to work!  Many folks consider their church attendance to actually be their Christian work.  That’s like going to a job and only “clocking in” during lunch break.  Who would hire such an employee?

Imagine if soldiers never left their training grounds and mess halls during a war.  They would be very good at running obstacle courses, marching, doing drills, cleaning their weapons, etc.  They would not be much use in defending their country.  In fact, an invading force could simply take over.

Spiritual warfare is no different.  If Christians are preoccupied with “going to church,” who is out in the world “fighting the good fight?”  Who is out there putting God’s love into action, healing and defending the hearts that the enemy seeks to devour?  A lot of well fed soldiers are not much use unless they are willing and able to risk themselves and engage in battle.

Catholicism is meant to be shared with the world.  It was never intended to be a “private religion” we keep to ourselves.  The spiritual food we consume on Sunday is given to us to sustain and equip us for daily life.  That means that from the time we wake in the morning until the time we fall asleep at night we are to be conscience of the fact that we are Christians on a mission.  We are always disciples who serve a Master.  We need to resist the tendency to flip our “Christian switch” on or off as it suits us.  We can’t be Christian only when it’s convenient or comfortable or acceptable to others.

I’m not suggesting that we Catholics all become obnoxious, Bible-waving, verse-quoting, overbearing, over-zealous, Christians that people avoid like the plague whenever they see us coming.  I’m suggesting that we allow the gift of Himself that Christ feeds us at every mass to change our hearts into Christ’s heart.  Then we will not mentally leave Christ behind in the tabernacle as we leave church and go out into our daily, distracted lives.  We will actually be Christ in our daily lives.  Then, life won’t be all about eating.  Eating will be all about life.

The Ultimate Thanksgiving

When God fed the Israelites with manna from heaven, they eventually took it for granted.  They got tired of it.  They got bored with it, although it sustained their lives.  “Why can’t we have meat?”

When Jesus fed the multitudes with a few fish and a few loaves of bread, they took it for granted.  It wasn’t the wonder of the miracle that caused the crowds to follow him.  They followed him to feed their bellies.  It is no stretch to suppose that, if Jesus had provided an unending flow of bread and fish, the people would have eventually complained.  They would have grown bored with bread and fish.  “Why can’t we have lamb or steak?”  If the bread and fish still flowed from the basket today people would say, “Oh yeah, the bread and fish basket.  Been there done that.”

Jesus gave us more than lamb.  He gave us the Lamb of God.  He gave us himself.  “This is my body, this is my blood.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will abide in me and I in him.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life.  I give my flesh for the life of the world.  Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.”

Jesus provides an unending supply of himself to sustain us.  We take him for granted.  We get bored with him and we want something different.  We want better music, better programs, better preaching, better pews, better buildings, better parking, better feelings, better food, better fellowship and so on.  We seek to feed our bellies.  We care about our own flesh, not his.  Filling our fleshy appetites profits us nothing.  It is the spirit and the life of Christ that sustains us (Jn 6:63).

The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”  It is the realization of what was foreshadowed by the manna and the fish and the loaves.  There is more than enough for everyone to partake of until the end of time.  It sustains us because it is Christ.  The word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.”  There is no better way to give thanks to God than to receive his Son, Jesus Christ.  We must not take the Eucharist for granted.  We must not become bored with receiving Jesus.

The Verse That Stood Between Me And The Eucharist For 20 Years

When I left Catholicism, I had to change my thinking about Communion.  I had been taught that the bread and wine became the body and blood of Jesus at Mass.  Bible-only Christians told me this was a false doctrine “invented” by the Catholic Church.  They told me the bread and wine were only symbolic.  They were quick to point me to the one and only verse that seemingly pulled the rug out from under the Catholic teaching of transubstantiation.  For 20 years that verse stood between me and the Holy Eucharist.

At the Last Supper, Jesus clearly says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.”  In John chapter six we see the Bread of Life discourse, during which Jesus tells his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life.  This teaching really disgusted and offended the people that heard Jesus say it.  The more they objected to what Jesus was teaching, the more graphic and realistic Jesus made his words.  To drive home the reality, Jesus even made a point of using a word that meant “chew” or “gnaw” the way an animal would eat (Tōgō in Greek).

“Not to worry,” I was told by my Bible-only friends, “Jesus is only using a metaphor, he’s not seriously expecting us to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  That would be gross.”  They called my attention to John 6:63 at the end of the discourse where Jesus says, “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.”  “See?” my friends would say, “It’s all just a spiritual metaphor.  Jesus even says that the flesh doesn’t matter.  The bread and wine are only symbolic, like when Jesus said he was a door or a vine.”  At the time this explanation made sense to me.

What my friends did not seem to notice, however, was that Jesus did not say, “My flesh is of no avail.”  What Jesus said was, “The flesh is of no avail.”  They are small words but they make an important distinction.

Jesus said, “The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh,” and then he told us to eat his flesh.  He also said, “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  So, why would Jesus go through all the trouble of saying how important his flesh was only to “negate” all those words with “my flesh is of no avail?”  (As if he was saying, “Just kidding!  My flesh isn’t really important after all!  Just seeing if you all were listening!”)

Which is it?  Does his flesh matter or not?  Of course Jesus’ flesh matters!  God sent his Son “in the flesh.”  His flesh was crucified.  Jesus gave his flesh for the life of the world.  The flesh of Jesus avails much!  Without it we are hopelessly lost.

The other point my friends did not mention is that “Spirit” does not mean “symbolic.”  The Spirit is what gives life.  When God created the world the Spirit moved in a life-giving fashion.  When Jesus said that his words are “Spirit and life” he did not mean that the bread and wine are “symbolic.”  God’s words have a real effect, not just a symbolic effect.  “Let there be light” is one example.  The way that Jesus changes bread and wine into his body and blood is through the power of the Spirit.  This is why Jesus says, “What if you were to see the Son of man ascending to where he was before?”  In other words, Jesus is saying, “Why are you offended at eating my flesh and drinking my blood?  I can make anything happen.  I am God.  Just wait until you see me rise from the dead and ascend into Heaven!  Would you believe that?”

So, Jesus did not say that his own flesh was of no avail, and he did not say there was anything symbolic about his words.  What, then, is “the flesh” that is of no avail?  It is our flesh!  Our pitiful, little, faithless, human reasoning is of no avail!  Jesus makes this clear when talking to the Pharisees in chapter 8:15.  They object to Jesus saying that he is the Light of the world so he tells them, “You judge according to the flesh.”  It is our human tendency to rely only on our own reasoning that is of no avail.  Jesus was telling them not to get caught up in how disgusting and gross it all sounded, but to have faith.  He would make it happen by the power of the Spirit.  Just as the Jews consumed the sacrificial lamb at Passover, Jesus would allow his followers to consume the sacrificial Lamb of God that fulfilled Passover.

The words of Jesus are Spirit and life because Jesus is God and the creator of everything.  When Jesus holds up bread and says, “This is my body,” it is the same Jesus that said to the dead Lazarus, “Come out of the tomb.”  He is the same God that said, “Let there be light.”  He is the same Jesus that cured the blind and the lame and created everything that exists.  It is no problem whatsoever for Jesus to change bread and wine into his own body and blood.  He is God.  It is we who have the problem believing it.  That is why so many of his followers left him that day.

Anyone offended by the idea of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood is looking through the lens of human reasoning rather than the eyes of faith.  That’s what John 6:63 is all about.  In verse 64 Jesus sums it up: “But there are some of you that do not believe.”

He Is Here! He Is With Us!

Sometimes I hear non-Catholics say, “If I believed what you Catholics supposedly believe about Jesus being really, physically present in the Eucharist, I would be at the church every day down on my face in worship.  Since you Catholics don’t do that, I don’t think you actually believe Jesus is really there.  It must not be true.”

Well, I have to admit that there are many Catholics that fail to appreciate the real presence of Christ (body, blood, soul and divinity) under the appearance of bread and wine.  Their lack of appreciation does not prove anything except that they lack appreciation.  Lots of Catholics fail to appreciate their spouses, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t married.  What about the Catholics that do appreciate the real presence?  Why are they not constantly down on their faces in worship?

First of all, there are times when we do bow down and worship.  However, to do so constantly would not be in keeping with what Jesus told us to do.  Jesus told us to go and preach the Gospel.  In fact, at the end of each Mass we are told to “Go.”  We have worshipped, received the Bread of Life, and now it is time to take Jesus out into the world.  To huddle around the church all day on our faces would not be following Christ’s marching orders.

The Apostles spent lots of time with Jesus, but they weren’t constantly falling on their faces in his presence.  The Apostle John is known to have lovingly laid his head on Jesus.  That’s more of a calm, comforting, assuring kind of posture that illustrates how a Catholic can be all day long, even in the very physical presence of Jesus.  We can “rest in the presence of the Lord.”  Even after Jesus was transfigured and revealed his glory the Apostles didn’t follow him around groveling on their hands and knees all the time.  Jesus didn’t expect them to, either.

There are certainly times when Catholics prostrate themselves in worship to God.  Some Catholics could stand to do more prostrating.  Too many take for granted the gift that God has given them.  Unfortunately, that’s human nature.  We can become complacent and unappreciative in any relationship.  God’s nature, however, is to send his only Son to become the Bread of Life.  He remains true and his heart remains on fire for us.  There are plenty of Catholics that do understand and appreciate the Eucharist.

I think sometimes there are people that use the complacency of some Catholics as an excuse to avoid the truth of Catholicism.  No matter which Christian church we enter we are likely to find people that are enthusiastic and people that are apathetic.  The attitudes of people do not determine truth.  Truth is truth whether people appreciate it or ignore it.  If we look for Catholics that are complacent, we will find them.  If we look for Catholics that are on fire for God, we will find them, too.  Always we will find Christ really present in the Holy Eucharist of the Catholic Mass.  Jesus told us, “I will be with you until the end of the world.”

The Real Transformers

I never had a Transformer toy when I was a kid.  I spent some time playing with the ones my nephews had, though.  Some of them were easier to “transform” than others.  I remember watching some of the cartoons.  I liked the Transformers movies pretty well.  The mechanically inclined part of me always thought is was cool the way all those parts shifted around to create new machines with different appearances.  Appearance is generally what we think about when we hear the word “transformation,” like a magician changing a rabbit into a dove or something.  It’s different because it looks different.

A friend of mine shared with me how happy she was that her son had recently accepted Christ and was going to be baptized.  I rejoiced with her.  There is nothing better than eternal life.  After all, finding eternal life is what this present life is all about.  The next time I laid eyes on her son I saw a Christian where previously there was no Christian.  But, he looked like the same person.  He may have had a different expression on his face.  Maybe he got a haircut.  He may have been making better choices in his life.  He may have shown more joy than he used to, but I still recognized him as being my friend’s son, even though he had been “transformed.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 reads, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”  He is a “new creature?”  Some translations use the words “new creation.”  Wow!  That is a major transformation!  In other words, what he “is” is not what he “was.”  But, to the human eye he still looks like the same person.  In fact, I would bet that, if looked at under an electron microscope, his skin, blood and bone cells would look like regular human cells.  He would still smell the same after a hard day’s work.  He would still taste like a man to any dog that bit him.  His vocal chords would still produce the same voice that his friends and family recognize.  And yet, he is “a new creature?”  That’s a more impressive transformation than Optimus Prime!  This must be some kind of supernatural process that changes the substance of something without changing the appearance of it.

I have yet to meet a Christian (Catholic or non-Catholic) that has a problem accepting Paul’s words “he is a new creature/creation.”  However, I have met numerous Christians that have a problem accepting the words of Jesus, “this is my body, this is my blood.”  Why do we take Paul at his word but dismiss the words of Christ?  Why can we so easily accept that we are transformed when we are saved but hardly accept that God transforms bread and wine?  Does Paul’s “is” have more power than Christ’s “is?”

We are transformed by Christ and made into new creatures, even though our outward appearance remains the same.  Bread and wine are transformed by Christ into himself, even though their outward appearance remains the same.  Both require faith in Christ to believe.  That which “is” is not what it “was,” even though it still looks the same.  This is the stuff of miracle, not metaphor.  The Spirit gives real, eternal life through faith, not symbols that we can only regard with “the flesh” of our mind and our senses (See John 6:63, 8:15).  Contrast what Jesus calls “the flesh” with what he calls “my flesh which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)

There is nothing better than eternal life.  Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:54)  At the Catholic Mass, the bread and wine looks, feels, sounds, smells and tastes just like bread and wine, but it is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.  Jesus instituted the Catholic Mass at The Last Supper (Mark 14:22-24).  Christ’s transforming words still have the same power today.

Do we believe we are transformed into new creatures?  Why not believe the bread and wine are transformed into our Lord?  Lord, I believe; help my unbelief (Mark 9:23-24).

 

(This reflection was inspired by this post by Stacy Trasancos)

Catholic Show And Tell

When someone says, “Evangelization,” most people probably imagine some combination of preaching, door knocking, handing out Bibles and tracts, and asking people if they have accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.  Or, if one is less inclined to boldly approach people with questions about their inner spiritual life, there is always “lifestyle evangelization” which allows one to quietly go about living without all the awkward, confrontational aspects of talking to others about Jesus.  The hope is that someone will be inspired to turn to Jesus by observing a pious Christian life.  How do Catholics evangelize?

Saint Francis of Assisi is usually credited with having said, “Preach always.  Use words when necessary.”  We are to evangelize with a combination of lifestyle and words.  If we are not living a life of genuine, Christian love, then our words lose credibility.  We also need words to describe why we live as we do.  We need to be able to articulate Catholic Christian ideas.  We need to show and tell the world why it is important to be a Catholic Christian.  Anyone can be nice.  Atheists and Agnostics can be nice.  Why be a Christian?  Why be a Catholic Christian?  Now more than ever, it is necessary to use words.

Peter, our first Pope, said, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:” (1Peter 3:15).  We don’t have to be out in the town square with speakers and a microphone, but we need to be ready to use words.  We need to know the Catholic Faith well enough to provide more than a blank stare or evasive maneuvers when someone asks us what we believe.  We need to know what we believe, why we believe it, and what difference it makes.

During my Evangelical Protestant phase things were a bit different.  All I needed to do was summon up enough courage to invite someone to church (not always easy for an introvert like me).  The preacher would generally take it from there.  The service was primarily focused on the sermon.  Most sermons contained at least some reference to the human need for salvation through Christ and, at the end, an invitation to pray “the sinner’s prayer” or come forward and “accept Christ into your heart” (like at a Billy Graham crusade).  The preacher did all the heavy lifting.  All I had to do was get a person to go to the service with me.

The Catholic Mass is not an Evangelical service.  Although the Bible is read and a sermon is preached, the focus of the Mass is the Eucharist.  Christ instituted Christian worship at the Last Supper.  The Last Supper was the first Mass.  Mass is the 2000 year old celebration of Christ’s sacrifice for believers to participate in, not an evangelical service designed to recruit nonbelievers.  Unless a Catholic is able and willing to explain the Mass to a visitor, that visitor is likely to be rather confused by the experience.  If more Catholics became adept at explaining the Mass, it would be more effective to invite people to church.  This, of course, necessitates Catholics themselves understanding the Mass.  Many simply do not understand.

Catholics need to get serious about living out the Faith.  As Pope Francis recently said, it does no good to simply wear Christianity as a label.  Catholics need to learn the Faith before we can live it out and effectively share it with others.  We are not ready to “give answers” if we don’t know the answers.  We can’t expect the clergy to do all the heavy lifting.  The Second Vatican Council was focused on getting the laity involved in spreading the Gospel, not just doing readings or distributing Communion or being ushers.  Catholics need to read the Bible and the Catholic Catechism.  We need to study our Faith either at home or in classes.  There are countless resources available to us in the form of books, DVDs, Bible studies and the internet.  We have no excuse for ignorance of our Faith.

We need caring and sharing.  We have to genuinely care about people and care about the Faith in order to share the Faith.  When we care about a person, we desire to know more about that person.  If we care about Jesus, we will seek to know Him more.  The best way to know Jesus is to know the Church.  As Saint Joan of Arc said about Jesus and the Church, “They are simply the same thing.”  Know the Catholic Church, know Jesus.

The best way for Catholics to evangelize is to begin by knowing what Catholics believe, why we believe it, and what difference it makes.  We can invite people to Mass, but first we must prepare to explain the experience.  If we have children, we must teach them what the Mass is about.  The best way to learn something is to teach it.  We don’t need to be theologians or clergy to evangelize others.  But we at least need to know the basics of what we are doing and why we are doing it.  Understanding the Mass is a good starting point.  By evangelizing others, we might find ourselves converted.

At the end of every Mass we are told to “go.”  Let’s go and make disciples.  Let’s do Catholic show and tell.