By Vir Christi
If you ask any Christian, they’ll tell you that they seek the eternal joy of Heaven. That’s what we’re all striving for in the next life, right? If we could fully comprehend how wonderful Heaven will be, we’d never let ourselves be separated from Jesus. Yet, when Jesus gives the Bread of Life discourse about the Eucharist in the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, many of His disciples find this teaching so difficult that they abandon Him on the spot. Jesus even turns to the Twelve and asks them, “Do you also wish to leave?” All of us at one time or another have wondered about Jesus’ question in our own lives.
What a silly question, we think to ourselves. Who in their right mind would walk away from Jesus? In the Eucharist, Jesus offers the means by which we can grasp at the eternal joy that for generations God’s people could only figuratively grasp at. Who turns their back on that? And yet people did! It seems so strange to us, particularly given what we as Catholics know about how central the Eucharist is to our faith. And yet the question remains:
Do you also wish to leave?
Are You Ready for the Growth?
In Chapter 5 of John’s Gospel, right before the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus has an encounter with a cripple at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15). Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be made well?” What a strange question for Our Lord to ask! At first glance, isn’t there an obvious answer? Yet, the crippled man doesn’t directly answer Jesus’s question; instead, he makes excuses as to why he hasn’t been healed. Why is it difficult for this man, and for us, to want to be healed by Christ?
The Eucharist is difficult because it doesn’t allow us to remain in our comfort zone. When we have wounds, physical or spiritual, we have a tendency to allow ourselves to get comfortable with them. We allow excuses to be made for them, or we convince ourselves that we can’t grow past a certain point because of our wounds.
The Eucharist is spiritual food that brings healing to those wounds, slowly burning away our spiritual weakness one little encounter at a time. It forces us to face the reality that God is making every one of us a little more into a heavenly creature with each reception of the Eucharist. And with that transformation comes greater responsibility, because as we all know, “to whom much is given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). It’s scary, because it means letting go of what we know to make room in our hearts and hands for what Jesus is giving us.
Are you ready for the growth?
Are You Ready for the Hardship?
After Jesus finishes laying out the teaching on the Eucharist, some people respond: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60) This question is tellingly asked not by the masses, but by disciples. That’s an incredibly important distinction. These are people who have given up their homes, families, careers, and everything to follow Jesus. They aren’t part of the inner circle, but they’re just the next step out from that.
Jesus lays this teaching before them as an invitation for them to go deeper. They’ve seen the miracles He performed, they’ve heard many of His other teachings, and now He is giving them The Teaching: the one toward which He’s been building His entire ministry, and which will set up the New Covenant grounded in love. What a choice faces them! If they accept, they will be drawn into an even deeper sense of holiness and intimacy with God, the like of which Moses only ever dreamed. If they decline, it’s not as though God will reject them, but they will be standing outside of the upper room peering in rather than being in the room as God wanted.
Those disciples choose to leave Jesus and return to their former way of living. We sometimes scoff when we read that passage, because we simply can’t believe that someone who knows the truth of the Eucharist would walk away from it. And yet how many times has God laid something hard in front of us in Adoration that we’re reluctant to hear? How many times has God clearly presented us with a choice that, if we accept, will lead us deeper into holiness and we’ve calmly walked away from it? Maybe it’s believing that only you can fix a friend’s problems, when God is quietly telling you He has someone else in mind. Maybe it’s a challenge to confront a habitual sin that you’ve been lax about. Maybe it’s leaving behind someone who leads you into sin. All of us have faced those challenges from Our Lord at some point in our lives.
The Eucharist is hard because as you’re drawn closer to Jesus, you lose the desire to resist walking away from what He’s asking of you. And what He’s going to ask you to do is hard. Friends will reject you, family members will whisper about you as that weird overly Catholic relative, and many more will simply fail to understand you. Are you ready to be loved by Christ so fiercely that, little by little, none of that will eventually matter and every hole that’s left in your life will be filled with the love of Jesus? This is both the gift and the challenge of the Eucharist.
Are you ready for the hardship?
Are You Ready to Really Encounter Jesus?
The radical love that Jesus offers us is scary. It’s a love that doesn’t just see all of our virtues, but also disconcertingly lays bare the smallest detail of our faults. There’s no running or hiding; everything is simply on full display in our souls for Jesus to see. The Eucharist draws our sins and our faults to the surface as poison is drawn from a wound, and that’s an incredibly uncomfortable experience. It means looking at old memories you haven’t revisited in years because you remember the pain they caused you. It means owning up to where your fault lies in relationships that have gone bad, as well as forgiving yourself for those times when there was nothing you could have done differently. If that doesn’t scare you silly, it should. Anyone who doesn’t think that this process was just as frightening for the great saints is deceiving themselves.
Do not be afraid! As overwhelming as this process may sound, Jesus desires it for each of us. It’s in drawing out those sins and faults that we are truly set free to be the sons and daughters of God that God desires us to be. Not a shadow or a mockery of that image, but the total reality of it. That is the joy and the gift that Jesus promises us in the Eucharist. It’s terrifying, but so is leaving the world of the known and the comfortable. It’s an invitation to be loved as you’ve never been loved before. That is the truth, and as Our Savior promises us, the truth will set you free.
Do you wish to be well? Do you wish to be free? Jesus thinks you have the strength to accept His healing. Come to Him, and find the joy and freedom through the Eucharist, the spiritual food that only He can give.
Lord, may we have the courage to answer Your challenge to us as Simon Peter did: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Vir’s heart has been on fire for the Church from day one, and he dreams of the day when Constantinople will be a city again. He has a competitive drive satiated by sports and board games, but is also just as happy to sit down and read a good book for hours on end.
Well done, Vir Christi – thank you. Deacon Tom