Chapter Talk – Corpus Christi – June 14, 2020 – cycle-A
“The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:52). “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:54). What is Jesus saying in this excerpt from John’s gospel? What is he offering to his disciples and to all of us? Jesus offers his ‘flesh’; the Greek word for ‘flesh’ is sarx, bodily flesh. Is it just his bodily flesh and blood that he is offering, which are perhaps intimating his death on the cross? According to Raymond Brown, in his commentary on John’s gospel: “The Hebrew idiom ‘flesh and blood’ means the whole person” (The Gospel According to John, p.282). This meaning of the word ‘flesh’ gives us a clearer understanding of what Jesus is saying: ‘The bread that I will give is my whole person for the life of the world’. ‘Whoever ingests my whole being, remains in me and I in him.’ Jesus is offering his whole person for life…for the life of the world…for our lives…And this is not disconnected from the Word: “The Word was made flesh” (Jn 1:14)…We receive Jesus’ whole person, as well, through the Word he has spoken, lived, embodied and continues to do so. The first part of the liturgy is the ‘Word of God’ followed by the ‘liturgy of the Eucharist’.
The pericope from John’s gospel for this Sunday is the closest text we have in this gospel for the institution of the Eucharist. The three synoptic gospels all have Jesus at a meal where he offers his body and blood. And we have the earliest version of the institution of the Eucharist narrative from St. Paul in the first Corinthians reading. To emphasize Jesus’ self-gift, of his offering of his whole self for the life of the world, Pope Francis writes: “Jesus underlines that he has not come into this world to give something, but to give himself, his life, as nourishment for those who have faith in Him. This our communion with the Lord obliges us, his disciples, to imitate him, making our existence, through our behaviour, bread broken for others, as the Teacher has broken the bread that is truly his flesh. Instead, this means for us generous conduct towards our neighbor thereby demonstrating the attitude of giving life for others” (Angelus, June 22, 2014). Pope Francis hits the ‘nail on the head’ as he describes what Jesus is offering: Jesus gives himself…his life for those who have faith…Pope Francis then stresses what this self-gift of Jesus is asking from us: we who have ‘faith’ are to put our faith into action…To offer our flesh and blood daily means we live it through taking on the mind and heart of Christ (Phil 2:5)…his whole person, inner and outer.
To repeat this phrase from Pope Francis: ‘To imitate Jesus, making our existence, through our behavior’: Where would you localize the attitudes which inform one’s outer behavior? These attitudes are formed interiorly…Growing into the ‘mind and heart’ of Christ (Phil 2:5) begins within…within the heart. Here is what Pope Francis says in this same Angelus talk: “Every time that we participate in Holy Mass and we are nourished by the Body of Christ, the presence of Jesus and of the Holy Spirit acts in us, shaping our hearts, communicating an interior disposition to us that translates into conduct according to the Gospel. Above all, docility to the Word of God, then fraternity amongst ourselves, the courage of Christian witness, creative charity, the capacity to give hope to the disheartened, to welcome the excluded. In this way the Eucharist fosters a mature Christian lifestyle” (June 22, 2014). To repeat: Jesus’ self-gift at the Eucharist: ‘communicates an interior disposition to us that translates into conduct according to the Gospel’. The transformation that we participate in at Mass is to help shape our hearts and interior disposition…Conduct according to the Gospel means what? We can all recite passages that express what it means to be eucharist for one another and for our world: ‘Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God’ (Mt 5:8)…The ‘pure of heart’ in any given moment see as Christ sees. How many times must we forgive? Jesus says ‘seventy-seven times’ (Mt 18:22), a metaphor that means always. How are we to love? With the whole of our lives, the whole of our person: heart, soul, mind and body (Mk 12:29-30). Who are we to love? Our love must extend to our enemies (Mt 5:24), whether that ‘enemy’ is interior or outside ourselves. This love of ‘enemy’ includes the brother or sister that I quarrel with…whose ‘sliver’ I see while not looking at my own stuff…And it is evident, that when I don’t look at my own stuff, but just my sisters’ or brothers’ stuff, my sliver indeed becomes a ‘beam’ (Mt 7:4-5)!
Pope Francis underscores the importance of the Eucharist upon our lived lives. Daily we receive, we ingest God’s self-gift in Christ at the Eucharist. This gift is to awaken our consciousness and conscience. It is to pierce our hearts and minds so that we are not “merely hearers but doers of the Word” (James 1:22). We participate in God’s life at the Eucharist; this participation is to have an impact upon our daily lives. It is not to be a religious activity that we do and then leave it behind as we leave the church. Pope Francis continues: “The charity of Christ, welcomed with an open heart, changes us, transforms us, renders us capable of loving not according to human measure, always limited, but according to the measure of God. And what is the measure of God? Without measure! The measure of God is without measure. Everything! Everything! Everything! It’s impossible to measure the love of God: it is without measure! And so we become capable of loving even those who do not love us: and this is not easy. To love someone who doesn’t love us…. It’s not easy! Because if we know that a person doesn’t like us, then we also tend to bear ill will. But no! We must love even someone who doesn’t love us! Opposing evil with good, with pardon, with sharing, with welcome. Thanks to Jesus and to his Spirit, even our life becomes “bread broken” for our brothers and sisters. And living like this we discover true joy! The joy of making of oneself a gift, of reciprocating the great gift that we have first received, without merit of our own. This is beautiful: our life is made a gift! This is to imitate Jesus” (June 22, 2014).
Jesus’ whole life became a gift; this is what we daily celebrate and participate in at the Eucharist. As Christians, we are now this living body of Christ. Our lives, as followers of Jesus, are now to be a gift as well. To repeat these words of Pope Francis: “The joy of making of oneself a gift, of reciprocating the great gift that we have first received, without merit of our own.”
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess