If we look at today’s gospel we see one of the most powerful promises to each of us. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”
That is a promise. This is the powerful truth of the Eucharist. We know that this is the day we celebrate the Eucharist which Christ gave us at the Last Supper. This is his Body and Blood, and the powerful sacrament is a powerful promise of our eternal life.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us a unique teaching on the Eucharist that explains that this sacrament itself is a message to us from Christ.
The Catechism teaches that the hardest Catholic teaching for people to accept is the resurrection of the Body. It teaches that many people have an understanding of the eternal life of the spirit.
St. Paul teaches in 1 corinthians 15 that if Jesus did not resurrect from the dead body and spirit, then we are wasting our time. Those are powerful words because He went to his execution proclaiming Jesus’ bodily resurrection.
The Catechism explains that the promise Jesus gives us in John 6 is embodied in the Eucharist. This sacrament made of Earthly elements is transfigured into the Body and Blood of Christ and reminds us who receive it that our Earthly body will be transformed through the action of God into a resurrected glorified body. So the Eucharist on top of being a sacrament is a message to us, that we too will be transformed, we who eat his body and drink his blood.
This is a power reminder to us.
Now one of the issues today that affects our church is that there are rules in receiving the Eucharist and people get lost in the rules. Something that is important to know about the rules of the Catholic Church: if you follow the rules perfectly, you will live perfectly the minimum standard of Catholicism. So the rules are there to show us not so much what not to do, but to guide us to pray to the Lord to help us to conform ourselves to his desire so that we may be what he created us to be.
This is what is important: because there are people who believe that they cannot receive the Eucharist and there is no reason for them not to receive. For example: people who are divorced. Divorce by itself is not a reason for not receiving the Eucharist. Yet, there are plenty of people who feel they are unable to receive communion just because they are divorced. They may be seated among us and feel they cannot receive, that is incorrect.
There are reasons for not receiving the Eucharist, but these reasons are not to condemn people, Jesus himself said he did not come to condemn, but to help people to conform to reality of the gift. The power of the Eucharist that will transform these Earthly bodies to the glorified bodies of eternal life.
The reality is that The Father sent His Son to the world that we would be transformed and brought to eternal life. What is important then is that we receive this gift on His terms not ours. That is why we need to be prepared to receive the Eucharist. It is not the sinless or the saints for whom this Eucharist is our gift, remember the sacrament itself is a teaching, what is Earthly will be glorified and made divine. So, the perfect do not receive. But at the same time you cannot make the Eucharist out of Doritos and beer, I say that specifically because I have been asked to do so, obviously I said no. You make it out of the earthly elements of bread and wine. We too have to offer ourselves on God’s terms not ours. We cannot say I will receive the Eucharist on my terms, not God’s, that does not work. This is why we prepare ourselves to receive it.
Those who are not able to repent of a sinful life or are in a situation that is contrary to teaching of the Church and choose not to change are not ready to receive the Eucharist, but the Eucharist itself is a call for that person to repent and then to receive and be transformed by receiving. The call is there. It is an invitation to begin the slightest prayer asking for the grace of conversion, a grace, the church teaches we all need. The response to the call is the key factor in the preparation to receive.
One of the most powerful examples of this is Dorothy Day, cited by Pope Francis when he addressed congress. The San Francisco Native and baptized episcopalian grew up in Chicago and then worked as a journalist in New York living a bohemian lifestyle as she fought for socialist and communist ideals. She was the inspiration for the character Josie in her atheist playwright friend Eugene O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten The New Yorker’s Erin Overbey reported that she had a reputation for drinking the local mobsters under the table.
She was encouraged into an abortion by a fellow bohemian boyfriend Lionel Moise who disappeared after the abortion and then she lived in two marriages, the latter common law.
She, through God’s grace, was transformed and came to convert to her Catholic faith. She became deeply devout a powerful voice for the poor throughout the 20th century. One of the most powerful elements of her story is that she actually prayed on the steps of the Vatican during the Vatican II council and as each bishop and cardinal walked by she said to them “You better do the right thing.” Her favorite spiritual reading was Thomas A. Kempis’ the Imitation of Christ.
She exemplifies the reality of the Eucharist, it is a call to conform our sinful lives to the powerful gift and message of the Sacrament. The sacrament is not a prize for the holy but a call to the sinner to open him or herself to God’s grace. It calls us to be open to the transforming power of God’s grace through the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist. It touches us changes us and like the bread and wine into the Body of Blood of Christ transforms us into saints to which we are called to be.
Photo: Camp Coyote, Kuwait (Feb. 2, 2003) -- Chaplain Bill Devine from Boston, Mass., gives U.S. Marine Corporal Joseph Duarte a wafer during communion services during Catholic Mass at the Camp Coyote Chapel in Kuwait. The Marines are deployed to Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt Paul L. Anstine II. (RELEASED)