In these words we hear St Thomas Aquinas meditating on the mystery which lies at the heart of our Catholic Faith: the holy Eucharist. At the Last Supper, Our Lord Jesus took bread and wine, and declared “This is my body, this is my blood. Do this in memory of me.” Today, in John’s Gospel, he insists that he himself is the Bread of Life. Over the next three Sundays, we will hear Our Lord become more and more insistent that he really means what he says.
“Did you fail to hear properly what Jesus taught?” asks our Second Reading. “Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution.”
These words of Jesus force each one of us into a battle between faith and common sense.
Common sense looks at a communion wafer and sees nothing but a disc of baked flour. Certainly we can bless, break and share the wafer and tell the story of what Jesus did so many years ago. No miracle is needed for us to simply speak and remember.
Faith hears the words of Jesus. This is the same Jesus who fed 5000 people with a few loaves, calmed a storm, walked on water, raised Lazarus from the dead and himself appeared risen on the third day after being nailed to a Cross. This is the Jesus who took the bread and said “This is my body.” The power of God at work in Jesus is quite capable of making these words come true.
What do we know for certain?
The wafer does not change its shape, smell, texture or taste when it is consecrated by a priest. If we were to send a portion off to the local food science labs, they would tell us that it is nothing but baked wheat.
Jesus said “This is my body.” For this reason, when any Catholic minister gives communion, the words spoken are: “The body of Christ.”
Who are we to say that it is not his body? From the earliest days of the church, we have held on to this truth: “It looks the same but what it really is has changed.” So what our Church has taught since the beginning is that the consecrated elements are no longer bread and wine, but the body and blood of Christ. What we eat is NOT bread, but Jesus. What we drink is NOT wine, but Jesus.
Surely that goes against common sense?
Perhaps… but common sense does not always lead us to the truth.
Common sense says that freely-moving objects slow down. But Isaac Newton saw beyond common sense, realising that in empty space things go at a constant speed, and came up with his famous Laws of Motion, on which classical physics is founded.
Common sense says that something goes faster if you throw it forward from a moving vehicle. But Albert Einstein saw beyond common sense, realising that light moves at a fixed speed, and came up with his famous Theory of Relativity, on which modern physics is founded.
Common sense says that something that looks and tastes like bread must be bread. But we are called to see beyond common sense, realising that Jesus has declared this to be His own body, and trusting His word over the evidence of our senses. This indeed needs a “spiritual revolution” in our minds. If you can bring yourself to reject common sense, you too will be as stupid as Newton or Einstein.
Because we believe that what was bread has become Jesus, we show great honour to the Blessed Sacrament, by bowing our knee on entering and leaving this place of worship, and by keeping a living flame burning at all times.
Because we believe that what was bread has become Jesus, we have the great privilege of being able to pay a visit to Our Lord in any chapel where the Body of Christ is kept. Of course we can pray anywhere at all, and God hears us; but if we choose to go specially to a place where the Body of Christ is kept, we give God greater honour, and at the same time we make an act of faith that Jesus is truly present. We express this faith in a more public way by placing the Body of Jesus on the altar exposed for worship, or by holding a procession with the Blessed Sacrament in a public place.
In today’s Gospel, the crowds went to look for Jesus. What about you? Perhaps in these summer months, you may have a little more free time than is usual? Why not choose to visit a church or chapel where you can honour the Body of Jesus with a short visit? Is it not the most natural thing in the world to visit someone we love? If we don’t sense Our Lord’s love coming to us in return, that makes our act of love even greater, as if we were visiting a resting friend in hospital or gazing lovingly at our own child sleeping. Like the Israelites of old, we are exiles; when we reach heaven we will see Jesus perfectly. For now, approaching the Blessed Sacrament is the closest we can come.
Even if you find it difficult to overcome your common sense, make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament anyway – and accompany it with the prayer of the disciples, “Lord, I believe – help my unbelief!” Pray for God to grant you a spiritual revolution in your mind, and surrender your need to understand how it works. I don’t understand how it works. I simply know that the Lord of the Universe once said “This is my Body” and it was so, just as the Lord said, “Let there be light,” and all that is came into being.
The work that God expects us to do, is to believe in His messenger, the Christ. Each week in the parish we pray “Lord, use me as you will.” If we have doubts about the Eucharist, it is His will that we work on those doubts so we can believe in Jesus.
It was by faith, not by common sense, that I became a Catholic. “Do this,” said Jesus. The many Protestant Churches did it but said it wasn’t really his Body and Blood. Jesus said it was. “Take and eat it.” So I became a Catholic. Now, as a priest, I “do this” so that you can do that.
When I first became a Catholic, I was not familiar with the hymn written by St Thomas Aquinas. But in retrospect, I am happy to make it my own:
Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.
A fuller list of Early Christian Teachings
Wikipedia on Transubstantiation (the church’s technical term for “What it is changes, even though it appears to stay the same.”)