The Word Encountered
“I myself am the living bread.”(John 6:51)
Strengthened by God’s sustenance, Elijah, even though he felt like dying, walked forty days and nights to the mountain of the Lord. Such is the bounty of God.
We too are beneficiaries of God’s miraculous nourishment. It is the eucharistic sign of Jesus. “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, for you to eat and never die. I myself am the living bread. ... If you eat this bread, you shall live forever; the bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
A mighty claim. God would be our food, our ultimate provision. God actually wants to inhabit our flesh, make us tabernacles. And think what a powerful profession of faith it is to believe this. Our “Amen” is a radical assertion of dependence and desire. “You are our food and drink. You are our sustenance. You are what nourishes us.”
The people around Jesus knew just how radical the matter was: “Do we not know his father and mother?” “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?” “How can he claim to have come down from heaven?” The appearances confound them. How can it be? He is familiar. How is it possible? He is commonplace. How can he be from heaven? He is flesh and blood like us.
The Eucharist, like the Incarnation, is a scandal to empirical observation and technical reason. If that is our bottom line, we may as well forget all matters of faith. Forget the matters of hope and love as well. Even the exhortation of Paul—that we be forgiving, compassionate, and imitators of God in our love—is sheer mindlessness if only seeing is believing.
Our contemporary struggle with belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is a quarrel over transcendence. Only the here is real. Only the now is actual. Only the observable is knowable. Only perishables can sustain us. The immediate feeling. The experience at hand. The pain pressing. The pleasure welcome. Our problem is not just believing that God could inhabit bread. It is believing that God could inhabit us.
We have trouble believing anything transcendent about ourselves. “Can anyone ever say ‘forever,’ anyway? Is there anything possible left of us after our body decays? Is there anything more to us than satisfactions of power and money?”
It may be arduous for modem minds to believe the proposition that God could be our food and drink. It is just as difficult to believe anything wonderful about ourselves, to hope that there is anything more to sustain us than matter chewed, drunk, and digested.
And yet our faith is just that—faith. Faith that there is more than surface and superficiality. Faith that the transcendent takes flesh. If somehow we have become locked in a state of mind in which the “real presence” is impossible to accept as a gift of God, nothing wondrous will be possible for us. There is no point to the journey, no answer to the quest of our minds, no final satisfaction for the hunger of our hearts.
John Kavanaugh, SJ
**From Saint Louis University