Feast of Corpus Christi-June 26, 2011
St Justin Martyr was born about the year 100 and became a Christian in the year 132. Before his conversion, he studied the various philosophies of the time. Through his inquiries, he eventually found that Christ had the answers to his questions. He wrote explanations of the faith in Jesus Christ. In his first writing on the faith he wrote about the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. He said:
This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God's Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.” "First Apology", Ch. 66, inter A.D. 148-155.
Even before that, before the end of the first century, we have St. Ignatius of Antioch who said: "Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox in regard to the grace of God which has come to us. They have no regard for charity, none for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, none for the man in prison, the hungry or the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead." "Letter to the Smyrnaeans", paragraph 6. circa 80-110 A.D.
The Catechism makes a challenging point about the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus that we are celebrating in this Solemn Feast: Jesus’ first announcement of the Eucharist divided the Disciples just like the announcement of the Passion and Cross scandalized them (1336). The Catechism is referring here to this section of the Gospel that we read today where they are quarreling and asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
What has just happened in the Gospel account is that Jesus has told them that He is the “living bread come down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51).
After the question, “How can he give us his flesh to eat,” Jesus instructs them, again. He says, my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink, and if you want to have life, and to live forever, and be raised up on the last day, you will believe me.
And you will feed on me, believing what I just told you.
Yes, the Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. “It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division.” (CCC 1336) Do you understand these words? The Holy Eucharist never ceases to be an occasion of division! Division!
Again, what the Catechism is referring to here when it talks of division is this point about the true meaning of the Eucharist. The truth that Jesus is really present in the Holy Eucharist is a teaching that is hard to accept. That is what many of the disciples said the first time it was ever taught. And, so, they left him. “Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”
It seems to me that they were acting with a certain amount of integrity here when they decided not to follow Him anymore. One understands that these words of his are pretty outrageous. This fellow, the Carpenter’s son, whose feet get dirty just like everyone else’s, is saying he is the living bread from heaven and that we have to eat his flesh in order to be able to be saved from eternal death. So, at least, those who thought that this teaching was foolishness did not waste time with Jesus anymore. At least, they did not pretend to believe or go through the motions when they did not believe that Jesus would be really present, body and blood, soul, and divinity, under the appearance of bread and wine.
Well, let’s face it. This really does take what he has been saying about the Kingdom of God to the limit. If you have been following him and listening to him, seeing his miracles and signs of his authority, and you do not believe what he is saying here, all of a sudden your whole world is turned upside down. Look, in John’s Gospel, he has just performed a miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes. Now, you have to say, that was a great trick. How’d he do that, we wonder? He has built up a convincing case, so far. But the people who left decide that this is too unreasonable. This teaching, that He is really bread, is, for them, absurd and, so, they make the only conclusion they can make: They can no longer believe him when he talks about who he is. He is not who he says he is and this Church, or whatever he has going, is a sham.
This teaching on the Eucharist is not some minor point. Jesus says the Eucharist is who he is. He says He IS the Eucharist. (I am the living bread come down from Heaven).
The Eucharist is Jesus! On the altar, when the priest says the words of consecration--this is my body, this is my blood—bread and wine are changed into the real presence of Jesus. Jesus is there for each of us, really present. He is there for you, to be present to you, to receive you, to love you. The Eucharist is Jesus. I have to agree with the Catechism on this, this teaching is an occasion of division.
Jesus remains present under the appearance of the bread and wine. This is why we have a tabernacle for the reservation of the Eucharist. This is why we call this a sacrament, because the truth is present under the appearance of bread that we have reserved. We honorably reserve his Divine and Human Presence there for adoration and prayer and for bringing Him to the sick. He is there all the time. That’s what we have a light there—a sign of the Divine Presence of Jesus, not because we have blessed some bread and put it in there.