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Cathedral Church of Saint Catharine of Siena, Allentown, PA

Cathedral Church of Saint Catharine of Siena, Allentown, PA

For three weeks now the Sunday lections have centered around the Bread of Life discourse found in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. This began with the miraculous feeding of the multitude near Bethsaida in Galilee, and continued with the Lord announcing himself as “the bread of life” by the lake of Capernaum. As we have seen, the Johannine description of these events is explicitly Eucharistic; the link between the feeding of the five thousand and Christ’s pronouncement point not simply to one who has come to provide natural, but supernatural sustenance. The timing of these events with the Jewish feast of Passover suggests this all the more keenly: the coming sacrifice of Calvary is to be understood alongside the Lord’s proclamation, “I am the bread of life.” Thus, in the Most Holy Eucharist we find both the action of the cross, re-presented for us on the altar, and the bread of life, who nourishes us and sustains us on our pilgrim way.

This points us to the uniqueness of Christ’s message. Throughout the gospels, and particularly in the Gospel according to Saint John, we hear the Lord proclaim, “I am”.  “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8: 12); “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved” (10: 9); “I am the good shepherd [who] lays down his life for the sheep” (10: 11); “I am the resurrection and the life” (11: 25); “the true vine” (15: 1); “the way, and the truth, and the life” (14: 6). In all of these we do not find simple statements of identity, but of being. With the words spoken to Moses from the burning bush, “I am who I am”, Christ reveals not what he does, but who he is: not one being among many, but being, that is God, himself (Ex. 3: 14). He instructs us that is it only in knowing him, that is in having a personal-passionate relationship with him, that we can hope to come to know Almighty God, “the fullness of Being and of every perfection, without origin and without end” (CCC 213).

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we find this beautifully explained: “For a Christian, believing in God cannot be separated from believing in the One he sent, his ‘beloved Son’, in whom the Father is ‘well pleased’; God tells us to listen to him. The Lord himself said to his disciples: ‘Believe in God, believe also in me.’ We can believe in Jesus Christ because he is himself God, the Word made flesh: ‘No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.’ Because he ‘has seen the Father’, Jesus Christ is the only one who knows him and can reveal him.” (CCC 151). And because Christ is uniquely the one who can reveal the fullness of the Godhead to us, it follows that it is uniquely by means of incorporation into his life—in his mystical body, the Church—that we can come to have a relationship with him; the incarnate Word, who brings divine revelation to its zenith. Through baptism and communion with the Church, her institutions and her teachings, we come to know Almighty God and receive an invitation to the eternal banquet of life with him, in the company of the angels and saints.

This brings us back to the divine gift of the Most Holy Eucharist. Christ, the Word made Flesh, comes to us in this life as the bread of life—as God, hidden under the forms of bread and wine. Almighty God makes himself small, that we might receive him: “Less, under the form of bread than under the figure of man; less in the Tabernacle than at Bethlehem; less on the Altar than on the Cross; least, above all, in my heart.” (De La Bouillerie, Meditations, 85) Thus it is through our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in Eucharistic adoration, and in receiving Holy Communion (worthily and well), that we come to know the Lord and are prepared for that eternal banquet. Here our hearts are enlarged by the burning love of his heart, and filled with his presence, transfigured into his divine life. Eucharistic piety, then, can never be the reserve of a few, but must be the centre of every Christian life. Union with God—the essence of that life—demands a relationship with the incarnate Word, by whom alone we can known the fullness of the Godhead. It is he who gives himself to us in the Mass and in Holy Communion, and he who abides with us in every tabernacle of every church.

How, then, do we grow in this Eucharistic life? Saint John Vianney, the saintly curé of Ars whose feast the Church celebrated last week, gives us some rather stark advice: “I throw myself at the foot of the tabernacle like a dog at the foot of his Master.” In order to learn how to love the Most Holy Eucharist, that is in order to learn how to love Christ, we must first spend time in his presence. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we glimpse the Godhead and adore him. In Eucharistic adoration we prolong and intensify that worship, strengthening our personal encounter with the Lord and so appreciating more fully the gift of his love (SacCar. 66). As Saint Augustine writes, “No one eats the flesh without first adoring it.” Thus, it is only by means of adoration that we can learn the way to union with God: the sacrifice of Christ which leads us to meet him, and know him, and become more closely conformed to his life. It should not be beyond any of us to spend dedicated time each week before the tabernacle in silent meditation and prayer; whether that is simply arriving early for the Sunday Mass, or making a visit to the church on the way to and from our daily tasks.

For us to know Almighty God, then, it is essential to know in a personal and intimate way the person of Christ, “for in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2: 9). We find Christ principally in the Most Holy Eucharist, the fruit of his sacrifice and the means, through baptism, of our participation in the life of the triune God. Thus it is here that we are bound to be; it is before the Eucharistic altar that we learn what it is to be a true child of God, and it is in adoring the Lord in the tabernacle and in receiving him in Holy Communion that we grow in that knowledge, and thus enter into a more perfect union with his eternal life. This is the life for which we long; the life of the kingdom of heaven; the life of the eternal banquet with Christ and the saints. If we truly desire his eternal presence in the next life, then in this we must prepare the way, acknowledging Christ as our universal King and Lord, and adoring him, who came that we might have life, and have it in abundance (Jn 10: 10).

This homily is part of a series on the Bread of Life discourse, delivered in Washington. You can read the complete set by clicking here.