The greatest stumbling block to following Christ is found in the Gospel of John, Chapter 6. The central matter of this chapter is “The Bread of Life Discourse,” which begins at verse 22 and extends to verse 71, the end of the long chapter. In the first twenty-one verses, Jesus multiplies the loaves and walks on the water, setting up St. John’s teaching on the Eucharistic. The people were not upset about the wonderful meal of fish and bread. And only His closest disciples knew anything about the late-night walk on the water. The stumbling block came when He began to tell them about His Body and Blood.
The challenge of the Eucharist
The Discourse takes place in Capernaum. When his followers realized He had left the far side of the Sea of Galilee, they got into their boats and headed back to Capernaum looking for Him. When they saw Him, Jesus told them – point blank – that they were looking for another free meal. He gives them a hint and tells the people not to “work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27a).
Work for the food that endures for eternal life. The Church and our Tradition teach that this “food that endures” is the very Body and Blood of Jesus. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus tells them. “Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (v. 35). People began to complain because He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (v. 41). They questioned His lineage; He was the son of Joseph, they said. They knew His father and mother. How could He be who He said He was?
Jesus spells it out for His followers in verse 51, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this breads will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Again, in verses 55-56, He becomes more graphic: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
St. John reports that many of His disciples who were listening at that time said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (v. 60). As a result, many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him (v. 66). Scripture does not report how many left Him that day, only that there were many.
The message has not changed
What Jesus said was too hard for many of His disciples then, but has that changed for His disciples today? There are obvious controversies regarding the distribution of Communion. These controversies weaken faith and understanding; such controversies disrespect the teaching of Scripture, which warns that whoever partakes of the Eucharist unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. “A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).
How is this passage from First Corinthians to be interpreted? Is the Eucharist the Body and Blood of the Lord? Does one literally bring judgment on himself if he eats or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily? Does receiving the Eucharist unworthily promote sickness, infirmity, and death, or was that a scare tactic of St. Paul written specifically to the Corinthians? Does that teaching really apply to us modern people, or are we to “spiritualize” the Scripture and conclude that the author is referring to “spiritual sickness, infirmity, and death?” I only ask this question because I have often heard similar responses from Bible scholars regarding other passages of Scripture that may affect persons today, if understood in the light in which they were written.
Zeal for souls
More to the point: Are we to teach conversion to family and friends? Is there an urgency to see loved one come back to the Church and be converted, now, while there is still time? If you see someone slipping off the boardwalk into the ocean, would it seem reasonable to stop the person? Should one intercede if one sees another about to take a mouthful of poison, or hold a loaded pistol to their head in jest? I ask these questions because we must face the reality of Christ’s intentions when He gave His followers the bread that is His Body, and the wine that is His Blood. These are salvation.
The Church is under heartbreaking attack and has been so since 3 p.m. on that first Good Friday. The Church is under attack by indolent, scandalous clergy, and even respected leaders within, as well as suicide bombers, torturers, murderers, and defamers without. Whole parishes are being wiped out in some parts of the world because the people are holding to their faith in Christ.
The sacrament of unity and witness
Through pain and conflict, ever strong and ever true, Christ our Savior remains present in the Holy Eucharist: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. He is also present in His faithful witnesses ready to die for what they believe.
In the Code of Canon Law, canon 898 states that, “Christ’s faithful are to hold the blessed Eucharist in the highest honor. They should take an active part in the celebration of the most august Sacrifice; they should receive the sacrament with great devotion and frequently, and should reverence it with the greatest adoration.”
Turn your attention to the Tabernacle; make time for Christ; find time to worship before Him Who is present in every Tabernacle in every Catholic Church around the world. Christ is present in the Eucharist, always and forever, until we see Him Face to face in glory. Let the urgency of His words resonate in your heart.