Eucharist – Face Suffering with Divine Strength and Wisdom
In our Catholic Church, we believe in the REAL PRESENCE of Jesus in the Eucharist. The Gospel of St John 6:51-58 that we just heard proclaimed clearly and beyond any doubt supports this infallible doctrine of the Catholic Church. In today’s Gospel, Jesus proclaimed very clearly, “I am the Living Bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is My Flesh, for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:51). The question we need to ask ourselves is, “How deeply do we believe in this divine Truth of Jesus?”
This is a true story of one of my relatives Bernadette, who was suffering very severe and was in constant pain from her pancreatic cancer. She shared that her pain was so excruciating; that no amount of morphine would ease her pain.
Bernadette in the last two years of her life converted to the Catholic faith. Her faith in the Eucharist was very strong and her love for Our Lady was very deep and personal. Even as she was suffering from incontinence and constant loose bowels movements due to her illness, she was convinced that as long as she prayed to Mother Mary to care for her, nothing would happen to her and with deep faith and trust in the Lord her bowels would hold up till after she returned home from her daily Mass. And this was precisely what happened at each of her daily Mass attendance. Her doctors had given her three months to live, when she was diagnosed with the aggressive cancer. However, she survived for some 13 months.
All of us at different times of our lives have fallen sick . . . some illness causes much pain and suffering; we cannot eat, sleep and the most difficult illness are those that cause constant pain like gastritis; ulcers in the stomach, . . . during such times, we pray and wish we were well again . . . as our pain and sufferings prevent us from living ordinarily: whether it is cooking can caring for your children, or going to work to earn a living for our families, or even to do the many things we have to do as a priest.
When I was sick last month with some food poisoning, I began to reflect on how good it is to have good health and valued the gift of good health even more. This is so that I could continue to live normally and serve God in the ways that I used to. And so, when I recovered, I was deeply grateful to God, and thank God for the good health that I now have, and become even more conscious that the gift of good health and the gift of life are to serve God more wholeheartedly, selflessly and humbly by putting Him at the centre of my life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when we are blessed abundantly it is because God wants us to use His divine gifts to praise Him, to reverence Him and to serve Him. And as such, a life that is not lived in such a manner is not worth living.
This is because we are then merely extending our existence and days of our life on earth; without any purpose of living . . . A life that is lived without the true quality of being lived for God is surely going to be somewhat routine, mundane and boring. And, when such lives face anxieties and crises, (whatever they maybe), one can easily loose hope in life. And, if such a person is not able to find the strength to persevere, in its extreme form of suffering, one would become depressed and suicidal.
However, if our faith in the Eucharist is like that of Bernadette, in our true story, we would surely experience our life’s pain and suffering differently. In all her excruciating sufferings, Bernadette never complained; she merely shared very plainly that her pain was unbearable. Nevertheless, she would very quickly add that, “Jesus is with me . . . especially when I receive Him at Mass, and when Mother Mary comes to console me.”
For Bernadette, her deep faith in the Eucharist, clearly testifies that when we believe in Eucharist, we will surely, like Bernadette also find not only spiritual nourishment for our soul, but also physical and emotional healing and strength to persevere in the pains, sufferings and challenges of our lives.
Jesus in today’s Gospel also explicitly proclaims, “The Bread that I shall give is My Flesh, for the life of the world.” And when Jews complained, “How can this man give us His Flesh to eat?” Jesus reaffirmed even more strongly by saying, “I tell most solemnly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you will not have life in you. Anyone who eats My Flesh and drinks 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.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in Jewish cultural/religious background, (Lev.7:14), life is in the blood. In the Old Testament to drink blood is blasphemous; it is so horrifying that such a sin would incur the penalty of being excommunicated and cut off from being a member of the community perpetually, as the Book of Leviticus (Lev. 7:27) says, “Every person who partakes of any blood shall be cut off from his people.” And so when Jesus demanded that His followers drink His Blood, He knew that His demands were repulsive and blasphemous. Yet, He proclaimed the Truth of the Eucharist clearly and unequivocally, that “My Flesh is real food and MY Blood is real drink”.
To this Jesus also added, “He who east My Flesh and drinks My Blood, will live in Me and I live in him.” In other words, those who eats His Flesh and drinks His Blood will share a unity and oneness with Him, that makes us become more like Him . . .
And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that regardless of whether people have strong faith in the REAL PRESENCE of Jesus in the Body and Blood in the Eucharist or not, let us ourselves, NEVER forget these passages of St John’s Gospel 6:51-58 where Jesus proclaims that to receive His REAL BODY AND BLOOD IN THE EUCHARIST is to receive the essential nourishment we need in our earthly life.
This isso that we can NOT ONLY face our pains, sufferings and challenges of our lives with the divine strength of Jesus, as Bernadette in out true story had shown us, BUT more importantly, that in the living in such wisdom of being in UNION with JESUS, through the Eucharist, we will surely then gain the ETERNAL LIFE that Jesus in today’s Gospel assures us when He proclaimed, “Anyone who eats MY FLESH and drinks MY BLOOD has Eternal LIFE and Happiness.
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.