19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B (2021): 1 Kgs 19:4-8; Ps 34; Jn 6:41-45
Sunday, August 8, 2021
· Growing up, my brothers and I watched a lot of Japanese animation, aka Anime. The first animes we watched were dubbed from Japanese into English. Dubbing loses a lot of the original feel of the anime, as the dubbed voices often don’t match the expressions of the characters or the dialogue is altered to match their mouth movements at the expense of what is actually being said.
· In time, we made the switched from watching these shows dubbed to the original Japanese language with accompanying subtitles. We came to appreciate the original voice actors and actresses as they made the animated characters more authentic and the subtitles provided a more accurate translation of the original Japanese.
· In a similar way, to read the Scriptures in English is like getting the dubbed version. Now the translation is very accurate and precise in the version we read every Sunday at Mass, but we miss nuisances and subtilties that are found in the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek spoken in the biblical times.
· Notably, this is found in chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel when Jesus begins to speak of the Bread of Life as His flesh. Some English translations of this chapter have tried to suggest that Jesus was speaking of a symbolic understanding of the Eucharist as his flesh, and that it was not real flesh he was speaking of but was a purely symbolic and quasi-spiritual way of saying how he was present in the breaking of the bread.
· Yet such an interpretation would be a betrayal of the original Greek text of St. John’s Gospel. The Greek word for flesh and the verbs used to describe the consuming of this bread turned to flesh in St. John’s Gospel are quite shocking, as Jesus speaks of one needing to gnaw or chew on his meaty flesh, terms often used to describe how an animal consumed flesh and not the common way one spoke of a human being eating meat.
· The imagery here is very graphic and it is little surprise that his audience took offense at his choice of words, for pious Jews knew that to gnaw on bloody raw flesh was a grave sin against God, not to mention being a rather repulsive way to consume meat.
· Yet Our Lord intentionally used these words to describe what the Bread of Life is, not as a safe and pleasant symbol of faith, but a shocking and challenging reality of being his very self, his body, his blood, his soul and his divinity.
· Jesus drew a line in the sand for his disciples, either they accept his words as true and being spirit and life or to walk away as he would not be willing to compromise on what He said.
· Yet Our Lord in his infinite wisdom and perfect plan for salvation knew that while the Eucharist is truly his body and blood, that the manner in which this sacrament is to be received would need to be one humanity could accept and embrace with love. He knew that few, if any, were to see pieces of his flesh and cups of his blood at Mass that they would not taste and see the Goodness of the Lord!
· Rather, He who created the universe found the perfect way to give us His Body and Blood. He would take humble bread and gracious wine and through his divine power transform them into his very self. We call this miracle Transubstantiation, where the substance, the very essence and ontological reality of the bread and wine, is transformed into his true body and blood, while the accidents or appearance of bread and wine remain.
· If this is difficult to understand, fear not, for this teaching of our faith has challenged Christians from the very beginning and will continue to challenge believers until the very end of time when the Eucharist will cease once Christ returns in glory and we know perfect and everlasting communion with Him.
· One way I like to tell children preparing for their First Communion about this miracle is that the Eucharist is like looking up into the sky on a bright sunny day and seeing if you can count the stars above. You certainly cannot as they are veiled by the blue sky, but we know that stars are up above. We cannot see them, but they are always there.
· So too with the Eucharist, we cannot see the person of Jesus Christ when we look at what appears to be bread and wine, but Jesus is there, even if we cannot perceive him with our senses but can know and believe in faith that He is with us when we look behind the veil of bread and wine to see with clear spiritual sight the true and living Christ.
· We will never be able to exhaust the mystery of the Eucharist in this life, and even the firmest of believers may have moments of doubt and uncertainty that the Eucharist is truly his body and blood. This is all the more reason why we need to receive the Lord, to help us believe in those moments of unbelief and help to see how much the Eucharist transforms our lives.
· As the angel once told Elijah, “get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you,” so too we must eat the bread of life if we wish to complete ethe journey of faith in the promised home land of Heaven. Without the Eucharist, it will not be possible to walk the narrow path of salvation for we will have relied solely on our own strength and not the eternal depths of encouragement that come from communion in the Body and Blood of Christ as the sure means to come to life everlasting.
· As the psalmist affirmed, we are to taste and see that the Lord is good, may every holy communion we make be an opening of our hearts to know and believe that this is true.