Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Body and Blood of Christ a Hard Teaching

A few years ago, a friend of mine was attending an inter-faith religious service in a nearby town. When it was time for Communion, the minister leading the service explained how his denomination usually conducted the ceremony. At the end of his explanation, he threw in a snide comment: “And of course, we’re not into cannibalism like the Catholics.”

My friend, who is Catholic, kept quiet for the rest of the service, but when it was over, he attempted to talk to the minister, hoping to ask him for an explanation of his comment. The moment my friend mentioned that he is Catholic, the minister abruptly turned and walked away.

Certainly, the man’s behavior toward my friend was rude. But ignorance also played a role. He probably was so certain for so long that Catholic doctrines are simply wrong, that he was rusty on explaining exactly why. That minister probably would have a hard time explaining this week’s gospel reading.

This weekend we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, and the gospel reading is from John, chapter 6. Jesus declared to the crowds, “I am the living bread that came 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.”

Not surprisingly, those in the crowd were stunned at Jesus’ words. They obviously thought, like our rude minister friend, that cannibalism is not such a good thing.

Jesus, however, did not correct their literal interpretation of His statement. He instead reinforced His message by saying FOUR MORE TIMES that people must eat His flesh and drink His blood.

Many in the crowd were horrified. Jesus’ startling words seemed to promote cannibalism. Our rude minister friend has a lot of company, as a sizeable portion of that crowd 2,000 years ago walked away in disgust at the idea of eating the flesh of another person.

But here’s the thing: the last time I looked, the 6th chapter of John’s gospel is still contained in all Christian Bibles, even the Bibles from which rude ministers do their preaching. I’m curious how these folks explain that Jesus was speaking figuratively when it is so abundantly clear that He was speaking literally.

Isn’t it interesting that people who interpret the entire Bible literally, suddenly get all figurative when it comes to John, chapter 6?

Add to that the words of St. Paul, who wrote, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord….For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

How can you sin against something that’s just a symbol? And why would he say, “…recogniz[e] the body of the Lord” if it’s just plain old bread?

The burden of proof is not on Catholics to justify our belief in the Real Presence: Jesus’ body and blood, soul and divinity, truly present in the Eucharist. The burden of proof is on those who don’t believe in the Real Presence to explain what in the world Jesus was talking about when He said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” 

I’m not trying to be rude. (I really don’t have to try, most of the time it just comes naturally.) 
I’m just trying to point out that snide comments about cannibalism are no substitute for an honest and open discussion. On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we really ought to have a civil conversation. Jesus made it clear that this topic is too important to gloss over or ignore.

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