Because of the relatively short extracts in the lectionary from the Gospel sometimes, like today, we have to look at the text which occurs immediately before in order to understand what the Gospel of today is all about.
We must recall that the Sunday Gospels for the last few weeks have come from an extended explanation of the Theology of the Eucharist which Jesus gave following on from the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand as found in the Gospel of John.
Just a few verses before today’s extract Jesus says, ‘Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.’ You can imagine that these words were very difficult for the people to understand. Jesus himself even says that the people might be shocked by his words.
His remarks were addressed directly to the Jews and were given as part of his teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum. But then the focus shifts and the response comes from Jesus’ own disciples forming the first line of our text today.
By switching the focus from the Jews to the Disciples the Evangelist John is actually emphasising the difficulty of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist. He is suggesting that while there might be no surprise that the Jews can’t agree to this teaching it is also something very difficult even for Jesus’ closest disciples to accept.
One of the main points of the extract given for us today is to emphasise the fact that that because of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist a number of his own disciples left him and returned to their former way of life.
We can understand that what Jesus taught about the Eucharist must have come as a shock to the Disciples and was difficult for them to understand. And even when they felt they had finally grasped it some of those Disciples would actually have found it quite revolting with all the talk about eating flesh and blood. It is understandable that a number would have left him over this.
Even today people find the theology behind the Eucharist very difficult to understand. This is why almost all of the Protestant Churches have watered down Christ’s actual teaching on the Eucharist. Some more Evangelical Protestant Churches have simply airbrushed it out altogether and others have accepted it only partly.
Their positions vary from at the one end the Eucharist being regarded as nothing more than a solemn meal with the Eucharistic elements having no particular significance going right through to a position at the High Anglican end of the spectrum where the Eucharist is regarded in much the same way as we Catholics treat it.
However, Christ himself is quite unambiguous when he says, ‘my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink’. These words can only be taken to mean that the Eucharistic species really do become Christ’s body and blood. This was the firm view of the Apostles and it remains the firm view of the Catholic and Orthodox wings of the Church ever since.
This teaching, however, remains very difficult to understand. We know the molecules of bread and wine do not change; there is no scientific experiment that could ever prove them to have become the body and blood of Christ. Yet this is what we believe has happened.
What we actually understand is that a mystical change has occurred. The Church teaches that the Eucharistic elements are changed at the level of their very being; their isness, if you like. There is no change in their touch or taste or in anything that can be perceived externally except that they now are no longer merely bread and wine but are the body and blood of the Lord Jesus.
This is a great mystery. But mysteries are there to be puzzled over, they are there to be embraced and they are there to be experienced. And it is the definite experience of the Church down through the centuries that the very best way to come as close as possible to Christ is through the frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist.
There are some remarkable words in the Gospel text given for today: ‘Then Jesus said to the Twelve, “What about you, do you also want to go away too?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.”’
This is a very important statement and indeed they are words that could have been uttered by almost any faithful Christian down through the centuries. You will notice that Peter does not say that he understands everything that Jesus has been saying about the Eucharist. But he is clearly expressing his belief that whatever it is that Jesus is saying must be right.
Peter is putting this not in terms of mere rationality but is expressing his deep down faith that it is only Jesus that has the answers to all the important questions and that there is no one else who can guide them more faithfully.
Peter’s conclusion that Christ is the Holy One of God is the same conclusion that countless faithful Christians have come to over the last twenty-one centuries. There is no one else who can give us a better understanding of the inner realities of life, there is no one else who knows the will of the Father better than Jesus. And this is surely because he is, as expressed so beautifully in the words of Peter, the Holy One of God.
While the Theology of the Eucharist is surely an intellectual puzzle and is something with which the great minds of the Church can grapple we ourselves don’t really need to do this. All we should do is to simply believe the words of Jesus that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink and then accept his invitation to feed on him in our reception of the Eucharist and so to enrich our lives and our souls.
By drawing close to Christ in the Eucharist we are able to share in the most intimate union with our Divine Saviour. We come to see the Eucharist as nourishment for our souls feeding us on our journey to eternal life.
Over the last few months we priests have been trying to stress the importance of receiving the Eucharist reverently at mass. We have been doing so because we think that the way we receive Holy Communion reveals a lot about the state of our faith.
If we enter deeply into the appreciation of this holy mystery then surely this will be reflected in the way we actually receive the Eucharist. If we have deep faith in the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament then we will not swan up to receive the Eucharist in any kind of casual way, but from our actions everyone will be able to recognise our great depth of faith.
So I urge you to examine yourselves and to think carefully about the reverence you show when you receive the Blessed Sacrament. Being observant of our own behaviour at this important moment can actually be something which deepens our faith and gives an authentic expression to our belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Digest of Articles from Catholics Blogs and Websites
August 23, 2015
Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time: John 6 Part 5–The Choice Is Ours
The battles were over. The promised land was won. There were no enemies left strong enough to route the Hebrews from the land. Now, the people who had defeated Jericho and beyond needed to establish their lives. But if they were safe from the attacks of pagans, they were not safe from the culture of the pagans. Their fathers had been attracted to pagan cultures and many had followed them before the crossing of the Jordan. Those were the gods beyond the river that Joshua referred to.
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
John 6: 60–69
This passage brings the sixth chapter of John’s gospel to a climactic conclusion. Jesus has fed a large crowd with bread and fish; he has revealed his divine identity as I AM by showing his power over the sea; in the synagogue at Capernaum he has revealed that he himself is the bread of life given by the Father—as the bread of his teaching and as bread of the Eucharist. Now upon completion of his teaching, many of his followers murmured, saying, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Jesus responds that human nature alone (the “flesh”) is of no avail in coming to believe and to have life in him. This faith and life is possible only as a gift of the Father.
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B— August 23, 2015
Today, after repeatedly insisting that His disciples must eat His flesh and drink His blood, Jesus asks, “Does this shock you?” Well, yes.
Gospel (Read Jn 6:60-69)
In the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus has been speaking to a mixed crowd. There were “the Jews” who had tracked Him down after the feeding of the five thousand. There were also His “disciples,” people who had already started to follow Him. Among these, of course, were the Twelve. It was common for rabbis in Judah to attract disciples; recall that John the Baptist also had disciples. These were men eager to learn and very probably spiritually hungry. At this particular time in the history of Judah, Messianic expectations were very high. Because of His remarkable and very public miracles, it is not surprising that Jesus had many “disciples.” What is surprising is how hard He made it for them to follow Him. …more
Does the Bible Support the Papacy?
It’s a slow news day, so take time to read this long apologetics article which shows how the Bible and Apostolic Fathers support the ministry of the Pope.
In a world where everybody seems to have the questions, but nobody dares to have an answer, Catholics believe they do have a source for some answers. We believe Jesus had authority directly from his Father to teach the truth, and that he gave some of that authority to his apostles. Catholics believe their bishops are the successors to the Apostles and that they speak with apostolic authority.
Ten Reasons to Pray the Rosary
Motivation is the key to carrying out any worthy enterprise. Great men and great women have clear goals and strong motivations. They know what they want and they have a clear plan before their eyes.
CEO’s in successful companies know what they want, have goals, deadlines, and concrete steps to attain those goals. Professional athletes have a determined determination to win. They study their opponents weak points, capitalize on their own strengths and play for victory. Therefore, to attain to any goal there must be a clear plan and strong motivations.