Tag Archives: Body of Christ

Why A Manger?

With Advent upon us, we begin a period of reflection, repentance and expectation. We await the coming of the baby in the manger. It’s a good time to contemplate the significance of the manger. Of all the places that God could have directed Mary and Joseph to spend the night, why a stall with a manger?

We often hear that it was a place of poverty and lowliness. It was a humble beginning. The God of the universe condescended to low estate to meet us where we are in our infirmity. This, of course, is true, but there’s even more to it than that.

Flash forward to the Last Supper. Jesus takes bread and says, “This is my body. Take and eat.” (Matt 26:26) Rewind back to the Bread of Life discourse in John chapter six where Jesus says we must eat His flesh to have eternal life. His followers asked in horror, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Rewind just prior to that and we see Jesus feeding thousands with a few loaves of bread and a few fishes. Not only were the people fed, but there were baskets of food left over. There was no shortage. There was plenty for everyone. Then Jesus informs them they must eat His flesh. Miraculously, there will be plenty for everyone.

It all began in a manger. Jesus wasn’t placed on the ground on a bed of straw or a pile of wadded up cloth. There is a reason the manger was specifically mentioned and emphasized. A manger is a container for food. This baby would be food. Like the Passover lamb, He was meant to be sacrificed and eaten. So, He was placed in a food trough.

But, how can one, little baby be food for the entire world? We might as well ask, “How can this man make so much food from a few loaves and fishes?” or, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” With God, all things are possible.

Our role is not to completely understand this amazing reality. Our role is to take Jesus at His word. We can walk away from it disturbed (like many of His followers did in John 6). We can try to rationalize it away as merely a metaphor. Or, we can embrace it like Peter and say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”

This Advent, as Nativity scenes begin to pop up here and there, remember the purpose of a manger. Remember the loaves and fishes. Remember that Jesus said, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) Remember that Jesus calls us to “take and eat” of Himself to sustain our eternal life.

Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I’m reminded that the word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek “eucharista” and means “thanksgiving.”

There is no better way to give thanks to God than to participate in the greatest act of worship possible: the sacrifice of Jesus. There is no better way to “make our bodies living sacrifices” (Rom 12:1) than to unite them to Christ’s sacrifice by receiving Him in the Holy Eucharist.

All of our own acts of worship fall short. No matter how sincerely we sing or how eloquently and emotionally we praise Him, we can never match the perfection of Christ’s worship. No matter how much we devote our lives to serving God, we will always fall short of Christ’s perfect service. So, in His mercy, He makes a way for us to unite ourselves, body and soul, to His own, perfect sacrifice.

The priest says, “The Body of Christ,” and we say, “Amen.” We receive the glorified Jesus. We dwell in Him and He dwells in us (Jn 6:56). We become united to the perfect, eternal sacrifice that Christ, the High Priest continually offers before the Father.

As a dear friend of mine recently said, “It’s all about a relationship with Jesus.” Indeed, there is no closer relationship to Jesus than the Holy Eucharist. We accept Christ into our hearts, and we accept Christ into our bodies. That’s intimacy. You can’t get more personal than that in a relationship.

Thank God for His mercy, His grace and His real presence in the Holy Eucharist.

Matter Matters

I used to think that being Christian was all about leaving this world to be with God “up there” somewhere.  In my mind, I had a vision of my soul leaving my dead body and floating up to Heaven to be with billions of other souls.  There we would have an eternal, spiritual party worshiping God.  At some point, my dead body would be all fixed up and reunited with my soul, but I didn’t really know why that mattered.  The point of this present life was to leave this world behind and “get to Heaven.”  Everything about the Christian life was “spiritual.”  Matter didn’t really matter.  In fact, matter was an obstacle that interfered with the spiritual.  “Material” people were not “spiritual” people.  I didn’t really see how the material and the spiritual were intimately connected by God’s design.

As a Catholic Christian, I now see things differently.  Rather than focusing on me rising up to a spiritual Heaven, I see that Heaven has already descended and merged with the material world (including me).  The incarnation is about God becoming a Jewish carpenter with a material, human body and human nature.  Redemption is about all of material creation being made new.  This transformation of creation is already happening.  For example, it happens every time a person is baptized.  The water (matter) is used by God to transform the person into a “new creature.”  Baptism, like all the Sacraments, uses matter to affect God’s grace.

The connection of matter and spirit is also evident in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in the Catholic Mass.  Baptized Christians look the same as other humans even though they are new creatures.  In a similar way, bread and wine appear to be bread and wine even though they have been transformed into the body and blood of Christ.  This is Heaven descending into the world of matter to transform it and heal it.  We are material and spiritual beings.  It only makes sense that we need to be fed by food that is both material and spiritual.  Why do people accept God being physically present in the form of a Jewish carpenter but balk at God being physically present in the form of bread and wine?  A look at Jesus under a microscope would reveal human flesh, but he is God.  Under the microscope we see bread and wine, but it is his glorified flesh and blood.  He is here!

I no longer focus on “getting to Heaven.”  I focus on Heaven coming into this material world to transform it and me.  This is what the incarnation is all about.  This is what the Holy Eucharist is all about.  After God created everything He said it was good.  It is still good, but it needs healing.  Jesus came to heal all of creation, including you and me.

The incarnation did not suddenly stop after Jesus ascended to Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit.  He promised to send the Holy Spirit as a teacher and a guide, but he also promised he would not leave us orphaned.  He promised he would always be with us.  He would never leave us or forsake us.  If he is only here “in spirit” then his physical body is missing.  The physical presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist means that Jesus is still the Word become flesh and he is still “God with us.”

During my many years in non-Catholic churches I often felt like something was missing.  I realize now what it was.  Most everything was spiritualized and subjective.  There was less sense of how connected matter and spirit actually are.  For example, The Lord’s Supper seemed like a very reverent Memorial Day ceremony.  It was a time of remembering what Christ did 2000 years ago.  Remembering is not a bad thing.  Folks are typically quite moved during such services, as I was.  Remembering is not the same as participating, however.  Holy Communion is not ONLY for remembering what Jesus did, regardless of how moving it is to remember.  Communion is for physical as well as spiritual communing with God and with each other.

The Mass is where Heaven descends to this material world and allows us to merge with it, not merely remember it.  “…Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven…Give us this day our daily bread…”  It is the will of God that we on Earth be physically and spiritually connected to Heaven through the incarnate Christ, the Bread of Life.  This happens DAILY all around the world in the Catholic Mass.  This connection between Heaven and Earth is an objective one.  That is, it happens whether or not the believers “feel” it happening.  It is not a subjective experience that flows from how moved or inspired the participants are.  Christ makes it effective, not the feelings of the believers.  A vaccine “works” by virtue of its objective, physical connection to the patient.  Similarly, the Holy Eucharist “works” by virtue of its objective, physical and spiritual connection to the recipient (not our subjective feelings, strong as they may be).  Jesus saying, “Take and eat, take and drink” is like a doctor saying, “Take this medicine.”

So, these days, I think less about us going to Heaven and more about Heaven coming to heal us daily.  One day, all things will be made new.  Right now, the process is underway.  We simply need to accept it and participate in it.  Going to the doctor includes following the doctor’s orders to take your medicine.  Accepting Christ includes following his command to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  That’s how the spiritual merges with the material every day.  That’s the incarnation, “God with us.”  Christianity is as much about the material as it is the spiritual, because we are material and spiritual creations.  That’s why all seven Sacraments matter, and that’s why matter matters to the Christian.

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.

What Friends We Have!

“What a friend we have in Jesus…”  In John chapter 15 Jesus tells his Disciples that he does not consider them servants but friends.  Afterwards, he commands them to love one another.  The love and friendship of God is both vertical and horizontal, like the cross.  This is why Jesus can say, “Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do it to me.”  So, while a relationship with Jesus is obviously paramount, it in no way excludes the importance of other relationships.  On the contrary, a relationship with Jesus must include relationships with others.  Such is the nature of the Church, the “family of God.”  Being a Christian is never only about “Jesus and me.”  Whether we sin or behave righteously, it affects others.  We are one Body.  We are to be friends with Jesus and with each other.

Who among us would hesitate to confide in good friends when life is difficult?  Would we think twice about asking friends to pray for us?  People commonly post prayer requests on Facebook to “friends” they hardly know.  It can be even more consoling when we know that a close friend or a holy person is praying for us.  A close friend knows us well and can empathize.  A holy person’s prayers are very helpful, according to Scripture.  When the person praying for us is both a close friend and a holy person, it is a powerful combination.

Enter the Saints.  They are ready and willing to pray for us.  They are as holy as can be, and, through Jesus, they know us well.  They are family.  The fact that they have departed from this life does not exclude them from the family of God, it seals their place in the family.  Their love for humanity has been perfected.  They are not dead but are more alive in Christ than we are.  They are not aloof or disinterested in our present lives.  Nor are they secluded in some heavenly, sound-proof chamber that prevents them from knowing our plight.  They know our plight, have endured it, and have been victorious through Jesus Christ.  They are in Christ, not compartmentalized from him somewhere.  Hence, they know us because Jesus knows us.  The Saints are friends of God and they perfectly obey the command, “Love one another.”  They love Jesus and they love us.

To believe that praying to the Saints is idolatry is like saying that asking your friends to pray for you is idolatry.  To “pray” is simply to “ask,” as in, “Pray tell us, how will they fare while you are away?”  Just because it is an old use of the word “pray” does not mean it is “idol worship.”  We ask (pray) the Saints to pray for us because they are righteous, because they are part of the Body of Christ and because we are commanded in Scripture to pray for one another and to love one another.  Nowhere does the Scripture teach us to stop loving and praying with those who are in Heaven.  Scripture does tell us it is wrong to participate in the occult practice of conjuring up spirits.  Catholicism is not a big séance.  The Church does not condone superstition.  We do not ask Saint So-and-so to ring bells or make knocking sounds to communicate with us.  We simply request their prayer intercession.

We can “know” many Saints and relate to them by virtue of the lives they lived and the writings they may have left behind.  We can know of their struggles, their weaknesses, their strengths and their victories.  There are Saints from all walks of life and of all ages.  Whoever you are, there is a Saint that you can identify with on a personal level.  Obviously, Jesus knows what we go through.  Because he knows us, he has also provided other friends for our journey.  These are friends who have run the race, fought the good fight and won the victory by God’s grace.  They have much to teach us.

I encourage you to find a Saint whose life you can relate to on a personal level.  While it is inspiring to reflect upon the Saints as great heroes of the Faith, it can be even more helpful to learn how God helped them with their human vulnerabilities and weaknesses.  Jesus wants us to know that his command to “be perfect” is not out of reach.  Saints are not the exception.  Saints are the standard we are called to.  We are all called to be Saints.  Being more personally acquainted with one who has endured familiar struggles and “made it” is a tremendous spiritual help.  That’s what friends are for; to help each other be Saints.  If you haven’t done so already, become personally acquainted with a Saint or two.

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens the countenance of a friend. (Proverbs 27:17)

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.”

Just How Personal Is Your Relationship With Jesus?

There are lots of people that say they have a personal relationship with Jesus.  Only God knows for sure who does and who doesn’t.  I’m certainly not here to judge.  Lately I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be in a personal relationship with someone.

A personal relationship is reciprocal.  When two people are good friends, for example, they trust each other with a lot of personal stuff about each other.  That’s what makes it “personal.”  There are things they know about each other that mere acquaintances probably don’t know, at least not as well as they do.  If I know a lot about a person, but that person knows little or nothing about me, that’s a one-way relationship, and that’s not very personal.  Someone might be able to find a lot of personal information about me on the internet or by rooting through my trash, but that doesn’t mean we have a personal relationship with each other.

A good example of a personal relationship is a marriage.  Spouses know a lot about each other.  The longer they are married, the more they know.  There may even be things they wish they didn’t know.  As a marriage therapist, I see it all the time.  In addition to knowing each other, spouses also know each other’s families.  Sometimes knowing the spouse’s family is a happy, joyful experience.  Other times, it can be quite trying.  In-laws can be very supportive or very frustrating to a marriage.

The point is, being married makes you a part of each other’s families.  It comes with being in a very personal relationship.  When a couple is dating, one common sign that things are becoming more serious (personal) is the meeting of the parents.  If you want your date to know your parents, and your parents to know your date, your dating relationship is likely becoming quite personal.  Most people want the one they love to be accepted and embraced by family members, especially parents.

So, what about you and Jesus?  If you are a Christian, then you are a member of the Church.  The Church is the Bride and Jesus is the Bridegroom.  Paul talks about this mystery and how marriage relates to the relationship of Jesus to the Church.  Jesus already knows everything about you, but how much do you know about him?  How “personal” is your relationship?  Jesus knows all about your parents and your family.  Have you met his parents and his family?  How familiar are you with the person of Jesus?

The Apostles had very personal relationships with Jesus.  We don’t know how long Joseph his stepfather lived, but we do know that the Apostles knew Jesus’ mother, Mary.  She was part of the family.  She knew Jesus better than anyone.  Her relationship with Jesus was the most personal of all.  For the Disciples, a personal relationship with Jesus included having a personal relationship with his mother.  Jesus affirmed this relationship from the cross when he told John (the disciple Jesus loved), “Behold your mother,” and told Mary, “Behold your son.”  From that moment, John took Mary into his home.  That is a very personal relationship.  To know and love Jesus is to know and love his mother, Mary.

Notice that Jesus did not tell John to “Worship my mother and become an idolater.”  Nor does the Catholic Church tell people to do so.  The Catholic Church simply recognizes that having a personal relationship with Jesus includes his whole family, and that his mother holds a distinctive place, not only as the mother of Jesus (God), but as the greatest disciple of Jesus.  Mary is like the moon which reflects the light of the sun.  She reflects the light of her Son, she does not emit her own light.  Knowing Mary personally is simply part of knowing Jesus personally, just like knowing one’s in-laws is part of knowing one’s spouse.

Many Christians sing a song that says, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the Family of God.”  Who is that family?  It includes more than just the other Christians here on Earth.  The family of God also includes Mary and the other saints in Heaven (the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us).  They are all alive with Christ, and getting to know them better is to know Jesus better (more personally).  No matter who you are, there is a Saint that you can relate to and become a prayer partner with.  “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much,” and the saints in Heaven are as righteous as can be.  So, we Catholics ask them to pray for us and with us.  We don’t worship them or “conjure up the dead.”  We just include them in Jesus’ personal family of God.

Do you know Jesus personally?  Is your relationship with him reciprocal?  He knows your family.  Do you take time to get to know his family?  Do you know Mary, his mother, like the Apostles did?  Have you “taken her into your own house?”  If not, you might consider reevaluating just how personal your relationship with Jesus is.  Being a Christian isn’t just about you and Jesus.  And it isn’t just about you, Jesus and your local Christian buddies.  Being a Christian is about the whole family.  It’s a spiritually interpersonal relationship that transcends this present life here on Earth and centers on the person of Jesus Christ.