During some previous crisis in the Church – and crises do seem to come with some regularity — I asked my mother why she remained a Catholic. “Holy Communion,” was her immediate response. That resonated with me. The Holy Eucharist is the center of my spiritual life. Is it yours as well? Receiving Holy Communion creates a sense of intimacy with Jesus – feeling his presence deep within us. Holy Communion provides us with food for the journey – like Elijah we can walk with the strength provided by the sacred meal up to the mountain of God. Holy Communion is medicine for the sin-sick soul, as Pope Francis reminded us. Receiving the Eucharist is not a reward for being good but the dose that we need to fix what ails us. Receiving Holy Communion is a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet. The ancient tradition of calling the Eucharist the “bread of angels” reminds us of the eternal life we will share in glory. Holy Communion shapes and forms us as Church. As we approach the altar together to receive the Body of Christ we become the Body of Christ. These are some of the ways that Holy Communion grounds my spiritual life.
St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians suggests another aspect of Eucharistic spirituality. “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” Receiving Holy Communion is about the death of Jesus in a particular way. Jesus, of course, made that same connection. The gift of the Eucharist happened at the Last Supper, on the day before he died. Jesus broke the bread as a sign of his own body to be broken on the cross. Jesus offered the cup as a “covenant in my blood” in imitation of the blood of the lambs which preserved Israel from the angel of death that first Passover night. The Holy Eucharist, therefore, connects us very directly with Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross.
That suggests that we can think our Eucharist devotion as a repast. According the dictionary, a repast is the meal shared by family and close friends after the funeral. The point of this tradition is to offer those who were closest to the deceased the chance to grieve. At a repast we tell stories of the beloved departed and laugh and cry together. We remember that even though they are no longer here, they are not really gone. So if we are proclaiming the death of the Lord by receiving Holy Communion then at least part of what is going on is grieving. We trust in God’s providence but it is still appropriate to feel the loss of a loved one. Certainly that was the case with those followers of Jesus. But the lesson that St. Paul wants us to understand when we think about Jesus is that though the loved one dies, the love does not die. Which is why the Apostle appends to his admonition: “we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” Until he comes. Receiving Holy Communion reminds us that death does not get the last word. Just as Jesus was not held by death, neither are those we have lost. Jesus is coming in glory joined with the mighty army of the faithful departed.
So receiving communion means many things: personal encounter with Jesus, waybread for the journey, spiritual medicine, a Heavenly Banquet, the Bread of Angels, the Body of Christ, encounter with the mystery of the Cross, hope for glory. We have to be careful, however, not to make the Blessed Sacrament my personal possession, something about me and Jesus. When we look at the Gospel for this day, this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi, we find another aspect of the Blessed Sacrament. When the apostles are confronted by hungry people they want those people to take care of themselves. “Let them go to the surrounding villages and farms and find provisions.” Instead, Jesus says, “Give them some food yourselves.” You can imagine the puzzlement of the Twelve. Go grocery shopping for 5,000! We’re going to need a bigger cart. Jesus did not, of course, mean what the Apostles immediately thought. He meant, give what you have, your little bit, your five loaves and two fish, and God will supply the rest. All of which serves to remind us receiving Holy Communion also pushes us into loving service. To emphasize this message St. John in his gospel does not even have an account of Jesus breaking the bread and sharing the cup. Instead, when Jesus gathers the disciples at the Last Supper in the fourth Gospel he washes their feet. “If I who am master and Lord have washed your feet, so you must in turn wash one another’s feet.” The Eucharist includes within it this note of service. Gandhi once said: ‘There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.’ Since the Body of Christ comes to us in the form of bread we are challenged to make sure that the spiritual nourishment we have received in the Blessed Sacrament is translated into physical nourishment for those who are hungry. We do this not by buying groceries necessarily but by giving our little bit. Do you have a little bit of time? Give it away by visiting those who are sick or shut it. Do you have a little bit of patience? Give it away by listening to someone who is feeling lost or alone. Do you have a little bit of wisdom? Give it away by mentoring a young person to steer them on the right path. Do you have a little bit of peace? Give it way to those tempted by violence. You get the idea. The problems of this world can seem overwhelming, too much for the likes of you and men. But as a Eucharistic People, if we give away the little bit of Jesus that we possess we find that God will multiply it to feed the multitudes. As the great African Bishop used to say when holding up the Sacrament – behold who you are; become who you receive.