There are many takes on what Jesus meant when He told His listeners, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). I think He was serious because He repeated Himself (John 6: 53 and 6: 56). When His listeners walked away saying, “This is a hard saying and who can listen to it” (John 6:60), Jesus did not ask them to come back; He merely asked Peter and His apostles “Do you also wish to go away? (John 6:67)
The Witness of a Devout Priest
This really is a hard saying. I had problems believing it myself. Catholics and Orthodox believe in the Real Presence, but even then, not many Catholics seem totally convinced of it. Usually at Mass, I was in the habit of going up to receive the Eucharist, walking back while a psalm was sung, and continuing to listen to the prayers of the Mass. But, as I look back on my own Mass attendance, I never got personally involved with the Mass. I could tell others that I really believed the Catholic Faith, but there was always some reservation in my mind.
One day I attended Mass in a city I was visiting, and I noticed that the priest saying the Mass was praying directly to the Eucharist. I could tell by the look on his face and the tone of his voice that he sincerely believed he was actually speaking to Jesus. That made a big impression on me. Of course, what the priest was doing is perfectly consistent with the truth that the Eucharist is at the core of the Catholic Faith. Up to that time, I never saw such an obvious display of faith during Mass.
Actually, who but God can make something like the Eucharist be true merely by saying so? Jesus really is God become man. That is what He claimed throughout His Gospel. I know this issue of the Eucharist caused a big division among Christians of all denominations that really want to place their faith in Jesus, but, like Jesus’ first hearers, many can’t believe He intended to do this. Was He really serious and wanted His words taken literally? Here is how I came to understand it.
Divinity in the Flesh
I believe God created everything in the universe merely by saying, “Let it be so”, and it came into being. So if Jesus, who is God in human flesh, says: “This is my body; this is my blood”, how can it be that He who created the entire universe simply with a word, could be ineffectual with these words? I took this teaching into my mind and into my heart, and it caused a big change in my thinking.
Jesus Christ is not merely the son of some tribal god of the Israelite people like some people argue. He is actually the divine Son of the only God that exists, the God of all human beings, all angels, and all possible living beings that could populate other planets in the entire universe (if God wanted to place any there). God’s divine Son, the Eternal Word, on behalf of His Father, created every single thing that exists and all the laws of nature that govern the universe. You have to think about this hard: the God who created heaven and earth is the divine Person who took on the human body of Jesus when Jesus was still in His mother’s womb.
Under ordinary circumstances, the closest contact I can have with Jesus, if He appears in person, is to make sure I am present when He appears. If He were to appear to a large gathering to speak to them, and were He close enough, I might actually see Him. If I were lucky, I might be close enough to speak to Him. If I were very lucky, I might even get to shake hands with Him.
In the next life, when everybody is in their resurrected bodies, the crowds would be even bigger than those in this present life. I can imagine very huge crowds flocking to get a glimpse of Him no matter where He travelled in the next life. My chances of actually seeing Him or shaking hands with Him would be so slim that I would have to consider myself very favored indeed if I had the good fortune to actually shake His hand.
Desire Finds Fulfillment in the Eucharist
I think the desire Jesus has to make close contact with us is the reason He gave us the Eucharist. Many times in His Gospels Jesus mentions how close He wants to be with each one of us. He and His Father knock at the doors of our hearts so they can enter and dine with us (Revelation 3:20). He wants me to love Him with my whole heart, my whole mind, my whole soul. The Church describes this close union with God as “The Mystical Body.” It’s mystical because it is a spiritual union rather than a physical one. The Church encourages us to develop this spiritual union within our souls as we try to make personal contact with the God who created us.
I think Jesus put this intimate union into concrete terms when He offered the Eucharist. The nutrients within the wafer, become metabolized into the chemicals within my own body, just like the food I eat. More importantly, His Divine Spirit enters into my body also and penetrates into my most interior chamber within my soul, where I hide my spirit, my person – me, so to speak – from the outside world. There He and His Father commune with me within my soul for as long as I desire. He already indicated He wants intimate union with me forever, if I’m willing. The more I think of it, the more I realize I am willing. What better way to consider myself a child of God, a sibling of Jesus. I think, realizing these things, I will find it easy to love God and obey Him like He commands all of us to do.
Where to Place Our Focus
I have wasted so much time in this life with trivia that will do me no good. I have wasted time believing worldly fables about extraterrestrial life forms and the presence of early primitive man-apes, like Bigfoot still lingering in our forests. I think it is possible that God might have created intelligent life forms on other planets, but I no longer want to waste time on the crazy speculations of our culture. The stories about Bigfoot and Sasquatch are convincing if the details within the stories are really true, but I no longer think they are. Developing a one-on-one relationship with Jesus would satisfy my curiosity. He can infuse knowledge into my mind about how and why He created the universe far better than earthly scientists can. I can ponder anything I am curious about, and He can inspire me with an awareness of what is really true and not let me be confused about the wild speculations of the world.
To try to understand all that had interested me in my life and to put it into perspective, I had to mentally step back like scientists and philosophers do. I had to observe the world with a critical eye and try to figure out for myself what is really genuine and absolutely true and what seems to be not quite as genuine but rather constructed somehow. The world is constantly changing, so it is logical to speculate how it began – like The Big Bang Theory – and wonder where this constant change is leading to – The Big Crunch Theory perhaps! These theories have been conjured up by brilliant minds and suggest that the world as we know it is not permanent. It had a beginning and will have an end.
A Trinity of Persons
Creationists argue that God created the entire world from nothing. So let us speculate on what God was like before anything was created. God is not composed of mass or matter like we are, and He is not subjected to the known laws of nature. God is a pure spirit. He is not measured by length, breath, depth or pinpointed at some point in time as we are. These dimensions are all part of the created universe. God is everywhere within the created universe, but He is also outside the universe because you cannot place a pure spirit into the constraints of time and space. God is unlike anything we know. He created everything that exists, except Himself, and there is no logical room for another God to exist along with Him.
This God that everybody professes faith in is not some mountain god of the Hebrew people. He is not a god conjured up by people desperate for something to believe in. He is actually the living and true God. He is so different from us that He would have to make a revelation to teach us about Himself. He did, in fact, make a revelation. His revelation is that He is love and that He is not a single person but three Persons in one nature. Each Person loves Himself and loves the other Persons.
It was like this for all eternity before God created the world. If you are looking for something that is absolutely real, God is real. It is His nature to exist. He is God. There is nothing else like Him. The world, the entire universe and all the laws of nature that govern the universe are not things that exist in their own right. Their existence depends on the creative power of God who, for His own reasons, created the entire universe. The love He has for everything and everybody He created can help me appreciate the goodness He wants all of us to exhibit to one another far better that the political hype and venom directed toward others that that so overshadows everything that is done in this life.
The Divine Plan: Our Redemption
God originally wanted Lucifer and the angels to teach humans about God, but Lucifer rebelled and refused to do it. One third of the angels joined in his rebellion. They do not inspire faith and obedience among humans, but rather darkness, lies, and sin. God’s remedy was to cast Lucifer out of the position of “bright morning star” (Isaiah 14:12) and overcome Lucifer’s kingdom by sending His own divine Son in human flesh. This God who created everything now desires an intimate relationship with each human being through the Eucharist, which destroys the works of Lucifer and the rebellious devils (1 John 3:8).
Jesus said, after He predicted the fall of the Jerusalem Temple, that He would build a new Temple of human beings, and that He would dwell within them similar to the way He maintained a physical presence within the Jerusalem Temple. He will maintain a physical presence within His Church, His Mystical Body, to the end of time. As Jesus Himself put it: we are stones within His Temple. I would certainly cherish that relationship with the God who created me.
What if I didn’t believe Him? What if, when I die, I find out that all He said is really true? I would feel very uncomfortable after my death trying to barge into such an intense close union with Him because, when I was still in this life, I had refused to believe Him. I think I will be glad that I believed on faith what I could not verify as true because, when I leave this life, I would already have that relationship.
If I had not taken it all on faith, probably the closest I could ever get to Him in the next life would be to wait in line to shake His hand.