The Real Food and Drink
by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will life forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us (His) flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who are and still died, whoever eats the bread will life forever."
For years St. Catherine of Siena lived on the Eucharist alone. No, she was not following some trendy 14th-century weight loss plan. In fact, she did not even choose this practice. Her body simply could not take any food other than the sacred host. Nor did she suffer any ill effects of this. On the contrary, she had tremendous energy. As is typical in the Catholic life, the extraordinary reveals the significance of the ordinary. St. Catherine's miraculous nourishment reveals the super-abundance available in the Eucharist to every communicant. God permitted St. Catherine to receive that grace not to set a standard of everyone but to reveal what is already true: The Eucharist more than satisfies our hunger. It is the real food.
"For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink." (John 6:55) Jesus' words communicate the simple but profound truth of Eucharistic nourishment. We can understand these words in two ways. First, He obviously means them in response to the doubts of the crowd. They had already asked, "How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?" (John 6:52) He responds straightforwardly by saying, in effect, "My flesh really is good and my blood really is drink."
Second, His words reveal the true meaning of food and drink - of nourishment. Msgr. Ronald Knox observes that Our Lord does not only use worldly things to illustrate divine (e.g. that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed). Jesus also treats earthly realities as mere shadows compared to the divine. Thus He tells the Samaritan woman that the water she seeks is - in a sense - not really real. He offers the real water - "Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst." (John 4:14) Likewise, those vines that the Apostles saw in the countryside? They are only images of the reality. "I am the true vine," He says. (John 15:1)
So also He teaches us about food and drink. We can understand Him to mean, "My flesh is the true food, and my blood is the true drink." We commonly think that we have nourishment, food and drink, in this world and the Eucharist is kind of like that. Jesus says the reverse. This world's nourishment, the food and drink we take in daily, is a mere image of the true food and drink of the Eucharist. Thus, if we understand that bread nourishes the physical body, we should realize that the Eucharist nourishes the soul in a more profound sense.
Now, we should not attempt St. Catherine's Eucharist diet. That was a singular grace given to her. But we should learn from it that the Eucharist more than satisfies. It nourishes super-abundantly. What prevents us from experiencing the spiritual nourishment of the Eucharist? Our lack of faith; we do not depend on the Eucharist enough. The more we rely on the Eucharist spiritually, the more it will nourish us. We tend to treat holy Communion as a nice aspect of our life, and we perfunctorily get up and go to Communion probably every Sunday. But do we cultivate a hunger for it? Do we realize that we need holy Communion more than we even need bread? Do we take Him at His word that "unless you eat the flesh of the son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you?" (John 6:53)
Of course, we must take care of our bodies and eat properly. But in the end, for the salvation of our souls and redemption of our bodies, the body and blood of Christ in holy Communion is the only nourishment we need - the real food and drink.
Please consider a tax deductible gift to support this web site.
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index