Dear friends! The Gospel begins today with these verse: “The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” Once upon a time, in 1960 to be specific, a religious persecution broke out in the territory of the Sudan in Africa. A Christian, black student named Paride Taban fled the danger and went to Uganda. While there, he studied for the priesthood and was ordained. When things settled down in Sudan, young Fr. Taban returned to his homeland. He was assigned to a parish in Palotaka. BUT his congregation found it hard to believe that he was really a priest. These people had never had a black priest before. They had always had white priests, who gave them clothing & medicine. Young Fr. Taban was from the Madi tribe and had nothing to give them. He was poor like them. To make matters worse, Fr. Taban had to introduce them to the changes of the Second Vatican Council. These changes bothered the people greatly. They said to one another: “This young black priest turns our altar around and celebrates Mass in our own language. He cannot be a real priest.” Only after a great deal of difficulty did the people of Palotaka finally accept Fr. Taban.
Jesus was in a predicament similar to that of Fr. Taban. When he said that he was from heaven and gives himself as the Bread of Life, they were scandalized and thought that his outrageous assertions were heretical and blasphemous, totally false and lies. But did Jesus change his opinion because of people’s grumbling and murmuring? No. He said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves…” and continued to insist saying, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Jesus’ dialogue with the Jews no longer deals with manna, but with his very person: the revealer who brings us God’s salvation. His words remind us of the centrality of the Eucharist as the primary source of our spiritual nourishment. Jesus knows quite well that we need both spiritual and physical food for life’s journey. He offers both to us.
It is often said that it is better to give than to receive, but it is usually more difficult to receive than to give. The person who gives is in charge, independent, and has the satisfaction of helping and supporting another. The person who receives is in a different situation. The one who receives becomes indebted to the person who gives. A bond of responsibility is formed. This is why usually in giving and receiving we try to make things mutual. We all know the experience of exchanging gifts and feeling a bit uneasy when we realize that someone has given us a gift that is much nicer than the one we bought for them. We understand when someone is presented with a wonderful gift and says, “I can’t accept this.” To accept would make the person too indebted to the other. Receiving a gift changes us. It binds us in responsibility to the one who gives.
Receiving something of great value changes us. It binds us to the giver. It makes us responsible. That is why when we receive the Eucharist we should understand what has been given to us and what that gift entails. When we receive the Eucharist, it makes us profoundly indebted to God. It also makes us responsible to build God’s kingdom, to see that God’s will is done on earth.
To obtain the life of Jesus from the bread he gives, we must first believe in his word that he himself is in the bread. This is the belief of the Church which she has never changed. Even the threat and revolt of Luther against it did not shake her faith. In the first century, Christians said this, the Church of the Middle Ages said this, the pre-Vatican Church said this and the post-Vatican Church also says the same. The church can never explain it how. A little boy asked the electrician: “What exactly is electricity?” The electrician said: “I really do not know, son. But I can make it give you light.” Likewise, the Church cannot explain how Jesus is in the Eucharist, but she can make it give us the life of Jesus.
Let us appreciate Christ’s presence in the Holy Eucharist: the Holy Eucharist is “the Body and Blood, together with the soul and Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” Eucharist a) increases our intimate union with Christ; b) preserves, increases, and renews the Sanctifying Grace we received at Baptism; c) cleanses us of past sin and preserves us from future sins; d) strengthens the theological virtue of Charity in us, thus enabling us to be separated from our disordered attachments and to be rooted in Christ; and e) unites us more deeply with the mystery of the Church.