September 21, 2017, 8:18 pm
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Are we cannibals?

JESUS said to the Jewish crowds: “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.”

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.

“Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

***

This Sunday is the beautiful Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. In the gospel of St. John we read Jesus saying: “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal...”

What did Jesus mean with these words? Protestants generally read this metaphorically since they say that if Jesus meant his words literally, then that is tantamount to cannibalism. Is this objection correct? The Catholic understanding is more profound for the following reasons:

First, in cannibalism, the person consumed is, generally speaking, killed. Jesus is not killed. We receive him in his resurrected body and we do not affect him in the least. In fact, he is not changed in the slightest. He changes us! This is far from cannibalism.

Second, in cannibalism, only part of the victim is consumed. One does not eat the bones, sinews, etc. In the Eucharist, we consume the total Christ but only under the appearances of bread and wine. This is what can be called a sacramental consumption. This is essentially different from cannibalism.

Third, in cannibalism, the accidents of blood and flesh are consumed. One must tear flesh, drink blood, etc. In the Eucharist, we only consume the accidents of bread and wine. This is not cannibalism.

Fourth, in cannibal ism, one only consumes a body, not a person. The person and the soul of the victim would have departed. In the Eucharist, we consume the entire person of Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity. One cannot separate Christ’s body from his Divine Person. Thus, this is a spiritual communion as well as a physical consuming. We become one with Christ on a mystical level in this sacrament. This is far from cannibalism.

Fifth, in cannibalism, one only receives temporal nourishment that is fleeting. In the Eucharist, we receive the divine life of God through faith and receiving our Lord well-disposed, i.e. we receive everlasting life (cf. John 6:52-55). This is essentially different than cannibalism.

Finally, in cannibalism, once one eats the flesh of the victim, it is gone forever. In the Eucharist, we can consume him every day and, as mentioned in No. 1, we do not change him one bit. He remains the same.

One always has to be careful when applying terms and concepts to God. Many people miss the mark with regard to the faith because they make the mistake of applying terms in a human way to God who is infinite. We could speak of Mormons who claim God, the Father, has a physical body because the Scriptures speak of God’s “back parts,” in Exodus, or “the hand of Lord,” the “eyes of the Lord,” etc. You’ve probably heard the classic rejoinder to these Mormon claims: “Psalm 91 refers to God’s ‘feathers and wings’. Does this mean God is some sort of bird?”

The error here, of course, is rooted in interpreting texts that were not intended to be used in a strict, literal sense, as if they were.

The Eucharist still remains a Mystery of Faith. Catholic Carechism #2837 states: “The Eucharist is our daily bread. The power belonging to this divine food makes it a bond of union. Its effect is then understood as unity, so that, gathered into his Body and made members of him, we may become what we receive...This also is our daily bread: the readings you hear each day in church and the hymns you hear and sing. All these are necessities for our pilgrimage...

“The Father in heaven urges us, as children of heaven, to ask for the bread of heaven. (Christ) himself is the bread who, sown in the Virgin, raised up in the flesh, is kneaded in the Passion, baked in the oven of the tomb, reserved in churches, brought to altars, furnishes the faithful each day with food from heaven.”

Happy Feast Day of God!!!

***

– Fr. Jesus M. Malit, SSP
– (June 18, 2017)
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