Although it was nice to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption last weekend, it did interrupt our series of readings from John 6 and the crucial verses that form the foundation of the Catholic understanding of the eucharist: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you…For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” This teaching came in response to the question, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” That question would not be answered until the Last Supper when Jesus took bread and said, “This is my body, which will be given for you”; and he took the cup of wine and said, “This is the cup of my blood, which will be shed so that sins may be forgiven.” Thus he gave us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink in palatable and familiar form, by changing bread and wine into his body and blood while the appearances of bread and wine would remain. This the Church calls “transubstantiation.”
This was followed by the command, “Do this in remembrance of me.” What Jesus did then was, therefore, to be perpetuated until the end of time. From the Ascension forward the Church has faithfully celebrated the eucharistic sacrifice. For centuries the Mass has been celebrated daily; our participation is obligatory on Sundays and holy days of obligation. Nevertheless too many of our fellow Catholics fail to participate on even this minimal basis. How do they excuse themselves from the Lord’s command to do this in his memory? How can they forget the teaching, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you”? (John 6:53) Encourage your relatives or neighbors who have not come to Mass for a while to join you, especially if they just got out of the habit during the covid restrictions. Invite them to taste again and see the goodness of the Lord. (See today’s Responsorial Psalm refrain.)
Today’s First Reading and Gospel call for a decision. Upon their settlement in the Promised Land, the Israelites are called to decide who will be their God: the God who settled them in that land, according to his word as promised to their ancestors; or the gods of the various peoples among whom they were now living. Joshua called for this decision because some of the Israelites were worshipping the gods of their neighbors, in violation of the First Commandment. The God of Abraham had revealed himself as the one true God, as Moses taught: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!” (Deuteronomy 6:4) He demanded undivided loyalty. Joshua leads the way: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
After hearing Jesus’ incredible assertion in what would have been last Sunday’s Gospel that his flesh is true food and his blood true drink, many listening decided that they could not accept such a “hard saying” and no longer followed Jesus. (Today’s Gospel) Finally the Twelve (Apostles) are asked to decide whether or not to believe Jesus, whether or not to remain in his company. They make the leap of faith: “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
We are called to make the same leap of faith whenever we come to Mass. Its true nature as the re-presentation of the sacrifice of our redemption can only be known by faith. We respond on Sundays to the proclamation of God’s Word with our Profession of Faith. Finally our “Amen” in response to the communion minister’s acclamation of “The Body of Christ” and “The Blood of Christ,” is our acknowledgment that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink, being presented to us under the appearances of bread and wine. These are indeed the “words of eternal life”: for “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:53)
Pray the rosary this week for the people of Haiti who have experienced a devastating earthquake and a tropical storm. Let us be grateful for all of our blessings, and pray that we may be kept safe from severe weather and damaging storms. As always, pray for peace.
May God bless his people with peace.