Engaging the Gospel – John 6:41-51

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – John 6:41-51

Jesus says, “the Bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world.”

Benedict XVI considers “how we can ‘feed’ on God, live on God, in such a way that He Himself becomes our bread…God becomes ‘bread’ for us first of all in the Incarnation” of Christ, and in its “ultimate realization: Jesus’ act of giving Himself up to death and the mystery of the Cross.”

Indeed, “what underlies the Eucharist” is this “sacrifice of Jesus, Who sheds His Blood for us, and in so doing steps out of Himself, so to speak, pours Himself out, and gives Himself to us…The offering of His Body on the Cross” is made accessible to us, really and tangibly, in the sacrament of Holy Communion (Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, pp. 268-69).

Because bread and wine have themselves been subjected to a kind of death in their preparation, the Lord has chosen fitting elements to veil His presence in the Eucharist:

Earthly bread can become the bearer of Christ’s presence because it contains in itself the mystery of the Passion…the grain of wheat first has to be placed in the earth, it has to ‘die,’ and then the new ear can grow out of this death…The same is true of wine. It too contains the Passion in itself, for the grape had to be pressed in order to become wine (pp. 271-72).

Let us always remember that the Eucharist makes present, brings us into, the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross (Catechism paragraphs 1366-67).

Jesus emphasizes that eating His Bread leads to eternal life. The Eucharist is therefore “a pledge of the life to come” and “an anticipation of the heavenly glory” (paragraph 1402).

As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in the early second century, we “break the one Bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ” (quoted in 1405).

Question: Have I reflected upon Jesus’ total self-giving in the Eucharist?

Engaging the Gospel – Fifth Sunday of Lent

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year B): Gospel – John 12:20-33

Jesus emphasizes the centrality of the Cross, in His saving mission and in the lives of everyone who would follow him.

Jesus’ “redemptive passion was the very reason for His Incarnation” (Catechism paragraph 607). Through the “great Paschal mystery – His death on the Cross and His Resurrection – He would accomplish the coming of His kingdom. ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself’” (542).

“This gathering is the Church, on earth the seed and beginning of that kingdom” (541) — “born primarily of Christ’s total self-giving for our salvation” (766).

Jesus calls us to follow His example of total self-giving, affirming that only by dying to ourselves can we enter eternal life. In so doing, the Lord offers each one of us “the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the Paschal mystery” (618).

We experience this reality most profoundly in the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. In Baptism, the descent into the water signifies “the descent into the tomb” (628), our “burial into Christ’s death,” from which we rise up “by resurrection with Him, as a new creature” (1214).

Having “become members of Christ” (1213), we are called to “become God’s fellow workers and co-workers for His kingdom” (307). We offer ourselves in union with the Lord’s sacrifice:

In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of His Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with His total offering, and so acquire a new value.

paragraph 1368.

By embracing our own crosses, we advance in the spiritual life and grow closer to Jesus: “The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle” (2015).

Question for reflection: How has dying to myself helped me to follow Jesus more closely?

Thanksgiving

The term “Eucharist” is derived from the Greek for “thanksgiving.” This form of prayer reaches its apex in the celebration of the Eucharist, in which we participate in Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father, in a salvific work that encompasses the entire cosmos.

As the Catechism explains, “in the work of salvation, Christ sets creation free from sin and death to consecrate it anew and make it return to the Father, for His glory.”

Because Christ is the Head and we are the members of His Body, we too are integrally involved in this action. When we make our own offerings at Mass – of our time, resources, and most of all ourselves – all are taken up and absorbed into Jesus’ perfect sacrifice of thanksgiving.

But our thanksgiving is not limited to the Mass itself. Anything that we experience can become an occasion for thanksgiving. Although it is obviously easier to render thanks in happy circumstances, we should also learn to thank God even in our trials. St. Paul exhorts us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:18).

By offering thanksgiving to God in the midst of difficulties, we grow in trust, knowing that the Lord is ordering all things for our eternal welfare. In this way we keep our earthly lives in the proper perspective of our ultimate destiny.

God did not have to create us at all, or share with us His own divine life. If we maintain a spirit of gratitude for God’s great works of creation, redemption, and sanctification – which we could never merit on our own – we can better shoulder the burdens of daily life.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2637-38.

Jesus’ Passion and Death

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 595-637:

  • Jesus’ Passion — from the Latin word for “suffering” — and His death on the Cross were not caused by chance or circumstances, but rather formed part of the mystery of God’s plan.
  • From all eternity, God foreknew how individual human beings would act according to their free will; yet out of pure love, the Father still chose to send the Son, and Jesus willingly embraced His self-sacrifice for us.
  • Sin brought death into the world, but Jesus used His own death to conquer death, defeat the power of evil, and liberate us from both sin and death.
  • Jesus absorbed the whole horror of the world’s evil when taking our sins upon Himself; His mental and spiritual anguish, as witnessed in the agony in the garden, added immeasurably to the excruciating physical pain He suffered.
  • Jesus died for each and every individual human being who has ever lived, and will ever live, over the entire sweep of history — for each one of us personally, not just for a faceless mass of humanity in general.
  • Hence all of us, as sinners, are the authors of His Passion; for this reason it is wrong to focus blame on the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time, or any other individuals who were involved in His trial and crucifixion.
  • After Jesus died, He descended into the realm of the dead to free the spirits of the holy ones who had been waiting for the Savior to open the way to heaven; this signifies that Jesus’ redemptive action extends to people of all times and places.
  •  Jesus is able to bring about perfect atonement for our sins, and reconcile us with God, because He is both God and man; therefore Jesus is the unique and definitive sacrifice.
  •  Jesus completes and surpasses the sacrifices of the Old Covenant: He is the Lamb of God slain for us in the ultimate Passover (Paschal) sacrifice, and He fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant, whose death brings about redemption.
  • Jesus instituted the Eucharist as a perpetual memorial of His once-for-all sacrifice: at the Last Supper, He anticipated His voluntary offering to the Father, and with the command to “Do this in memory of me,” He established the sacrifice of the New Covenant.

Live Your Faith

We reflect on Jesus’ suffering, not only to feel sorrow for our sins, but to absorb the depth of His love for us.

He could have redeemed us in countless other ways. Yet He chose to go to the furthest extremity, sparing nothing, pouring Himself out entirely, that we might never doubt His love.

It is this very sacrifice, accomplished once for all, that we experience at Mass — not by repeating what happened at Calvary all over again, but by Christ’s single sacrifice being made present to us, so that we enter into the mystery of our redemption.

This understanding of a “memorial” is deeply rooted in Sacred Scripture. We glimpse it in Israel’s celebration of Passover, which is not a simple act of calling to mind, but a making-present of the saving events that had already occurred in time.

Let us respond to Jesus’ great love by dedicating ourselves unreservedly to Him.