The Word Encountered
“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”(Psalm 34:2)
Wisdom offers herself as our food and drink, a table spread for us, a banquet: “Come, eat of my food, and drink the wine I have mixed.” True wisdom nourishes the whole person. It empowers us to leave foolishness and deception behind.
Ephesians portrays the Spirit as the real answer to our thirst. Quenched, we no longer “act like fools and wallow in ignorance.” The Spirit inebriates; it does not debauch. It unlocks the voice in grateful song: “Give thanks to God the Father always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
But what is true wisdom? What is real fulfillment? More basically, what is real? These questions are the hidden agenda in Jesus’ encounter with the crowds in the fourth Gospel. His claim is this: “My flesh is real food and my blood real drink.”
And real food and drink are what “real presence” and “transubstantiation” are all about in our sacrament of the Eucharist. What is at stake is what we believe to be most real in our lives. What is true nourishment? And what words best designate the real and true?
It so happens that in our own history, influenced by Greek categories and various refinements of medieval philosophers like Aquinas, the word “substance” has been linked with reality. “Substance” indicated the deepest reality that abides through all flux of external appearance or change.
To say that the Eucharist involved “transubstantiation” was to say that the reality of the consecrated bread and wine, despite appearances of color and material composition, was the “body, blood, soul, and divinity” of Jesus.
The “real presence” of Communion was Jesus Christ in his full mystery.
He is the sustenance of our lives, the nourishment of our faith. He is our truest food and drink. “I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread shall live forever; the bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”
Those who heard him speak these words objected to them: “How can he give us his flesh to eat?” And the objections still go on, even as we trudge our way through the twenty-first century.
Although the category of “substance” may not be the issue, real food is. What, indeed, is our real bread and drink—in the most profound sense of the word “real”?
We find in the Gospel for next week that, after Jesus spoke of these things, many of his followers rejected his teaching. “This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?”
When some of his disciples abandoned him, he asked the Twelve: “What about you, do you want to go away too?” And Peter said: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
The question abides. What about us? Do we too want to go away? Are the words too hard for us? Or might we be inspired by the great song of long ago: “O food of wayfarers, O bread of Angels, O manna of heaven-dwellers. Feed those who are hungry. Do not deprive of sweetness the hearts of those who seek you.”
John Kavanaugh, SJ
**From Saint Louis University