Flesh and Blood
Before becoming a believer, one of Tom’s non-Christian friends told him: “I heard that Catholic people eat flesh and drink blood every Sunday. It’s terrible that this thing still happens even today. Definitely horrible!”
“Who told you this ridiculous rumor? Nonsense!” Tom refused to believe it.
Then he discreetly went to a church to see what really happened. From the last bench close to the corner of the church, he heard the priest reverently read: “All of you, take this and eat. This is my body, which will be given up for you.” Then the priest took a cup and read: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood, which will be shed for you.”(Lk 22:19) Tom recalled the words of his friend.
After a while, he saw people walk to the priest to receive a small white bread and eat, then a cup and drink. His hair immediately stood on end. He was scared.
But from that day on, he began to ‘study’ what he heard as “flesh eating and blood drinking”. The truth was not exactly the same as his friend’s rumor. He discovered lots of things more interesting than that.
Now Tom is a Catholic Christian. His knowledge is more broadened, his soul is more at peace, his living attitude is more positive since he eats “the flesh” and drinks “the blood” of Jesus. He does not know how to explain what he has found inside to his non-Christian friend. Well, this mister does not actually care much about questioning his private life, but he sees him much more cheerful and peaceful than before.
Then one day, while holding the consecrated host (bread) in his hand, many unexpected questions suddenly flooded his mind: “Is this really the Lord? How can the God of heaven and earth be in this little fragile host that I am about to eat? Is it true that this bread becomes the body of Christ and this wine becomes His blood? If so, how does it happen? Why does God choose to be in the bread and wine? Why don’t they look like normal flesh and blood?” etc.
From then on, he struggled with these questions about the Blessed Sacrament. He felt confused; but fortunately, he was patient enough to do some studies on the Bible and Tradition to look for the answers.
Then came the moment when Tom found an answer for his questions as follows:
Before heaven and earth were created, there had been the Boundless Love, self-existent, that is called God in the Christian tradition. This Love overflowed and created all good things including men and women. This Love took care of their every breath, their every heartbeat, their every thought…. When they went astray, this Love was still present with them to accompany and help them. As time went on, the desire of this Love to share the best with them was manifested even more strongly. Then came the decisive moment when the Loving God decided to become Human to be with our humanity. This God-with-us took a human name Jesus (Mt 1:23; Luke 1:31). He lived with and lived for us humans. All His life can be summed up in one word: “love”, and “love to the end”. (John 13:1)
Continuing his studying the Bible’s pages, he encounters God’s heartfelt desire in Jesus when He prays: “Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us,… I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:20-24) This very strong desire of the God-made-man to be with each person to take care of them manifests itself till the last line of the Gospel: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Now Tom has understood. The answer to his difficult questions becomes quite simple: all lies in “the loving heart of God”. Receiving the consecrated bread and wine, he feels wonderfully confident and happy. “Is this really the Lord?” Yes, this is Him. “How can the God of heaven and earth be in this little fragile host that I am about to eat?” Well, God could create heaven and earth and do anything He wants. Being present in this bread should not be a difficult thing for God. “Is it true that this bread becomes the body of Christ and this wine becomes His blood?” Tom does not want to unnecessarily complicate the matter by long explanations. He just wants to witness that when he receives this consecrated bread and wine, he is amazingly nourished. His soul is more at peace and profoundly happy. No other food can give him this kind of nourishment. “If so, how does it happen?” The Tradition teaches that when the priest repeats the words of Jesus in the context of the Eucharist (Mass), the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The outside still looks like bread and wine but the inside has been changed. As for his little mind, Tom simply reasons the issue as follows: How it happens is the work of God. God always accomplishes what He says. When God said one Word, the whole universe was created. Then when He says “this is my body, this is my blood”, his Word certainly brings about the reality. “Why does God choose to be in the bread and wine?” This question makes Tom discover that God knows so well our human psychology. God chooses the dearest and most casual way to be present with us most profoundly and nobly. What would be dearer and more casual than eating and drinking?! And yet, what would be more profound and noble than self-giving?! “Why don’t they look like normal flesh and blood?” Tom now finds this question ridiculous. He wouldn’t dare to eat raw flesh and drink raw blood! God is really the best ‘psychologist’. God is fully present while He is excellently gentle. He is there in a hidden manner so that receivers will not be scared and lose their freedom. He does not need any glory but only wants to be with us men and women. The Lord is there in such a lovely and humble way.
Tom smiles with deep gratitude for this understanding.
My dear friend, at the end of the consecration of bread and wine, the priest repeats these words of Jesus: “Do this in memory of me!” (Luke 22:19; 1Cr 11:25) What Jesus does is to give Himself to be the nourishment of the eternal life for his disciples including ourselves today. Let us then pray that we be ready to become good nourishment for others.
Joseph Viet, O.Carm.