St. Michael's Parish - Cobourg

Eucharistic Presence

The Gospel of today is a continuation of the one we have read last week. So, let us reflect again in the words of Jesus. He says: "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is useless, the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63).

Some people say that these words mean that Jesus was not speaking of his real flesh. But it doesn't make sense. First, because we have already proved last week that Jesus was really speaking in a real sense. He cannot deny today what he said last Sunday. It is the same Jesus, it is the word of God. Second, because in the institution of the Eucharist he will make a reality his words. Finally, he is not saying that he was not speaking about his real flesh.

Let us hear his words again: "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is useless, the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life".

What do we do when in the Scripture we find something we don't understand? We have to study, we have to reflect, we have to ask those who have studied before us. The problem may be this: "Why Jesus said that the flesh is useless, if he himself was saying that we have to really eat his flesh?"

- St. John Chrysostom explains the text in this way: The words that Jesus has spoken have not to be understood in a fleshly, material sense. He doesn't want them to eat his flesh in its natural appearance of flesh (like cannibals may do), but under the appearances of bread and wine. His words have to be understood in a spiritual sense. So, because he is not talking about eating his flesh in its natural appearance, the flesh, understood in that sense, is useless. And because he wants to be understood in a spiritual sense, he adds: "the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life".

- St. Augustine explains the text in another way. He says that the flesh of Jesus, considered separated from the spirit (his divinity), is useless. In that sense Jesus says that it is useless. But because of the spirit, because of the union of the flesh of Jesus to his Divinity, the flesh of Jesus gives eternal life. So it is useless if we take out the spirit, but in union with the spirit, it is most useful, in fact, it produces eternal life: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:54). The flesh, in union with the spirit, is most useful for us, and that's why "The word became flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14).

- We can also add something. The flesh by itself is useless, if we don't eat the body of Christ with a spirit of faith. "For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1Co 11:29), says St. Paul. There is no profit for the one who eats the flesh of Jesus but does not believe that he is really present. We are not justified just for the fact that we externally eat the body of Christ, but because we do it in a spirit of faith.

Am I saying that if anyone does not believe, he doesn't receive the body of Christ? No. The real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist does not depend on the faith of the person who receives it. Jesus is there not because of our faith, but because of his words; he said: "This is my body" (Matt 26:26). So, that is his body. But the fruits of the Eucharist in us do depend on our faith. Let's put an example: a given medicine or pill produces different effects if the person who takes it is ill or not. The medicine is the same, but the effects are different, because of the different disposition of the person. The same happens with the Eucharist: the same body of Christ produces different effects according to the disposition of faith of the person who receives it.

St. Paul says: "The bread we break, is it not communion with the Body of Christ?" (1Co 10,16). Let us ask the Lord for a deeper faith in the Eucharist, so that we can take the best advantage of our communions. Let us ask the Lord for the grace of doing always good and holy communions. Fr. Andrew