For the past three weeks, I have pondered the reflection, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world.” I wonder how to approach this reality; this mystery. We know that Jesus gave his body and blood for the world two millennium ago, but what does it mean today? I find myself asking the same question over which the Jews quarreled so many years ago, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” What does this mean? Theologians have asked this question many times over the centuries. It is an overwhelming mystery and it is an everyday struggle for mankind. I hope and trust that I will gain a deeper understanding of its meaning with the passing of each day as I live out this monastic life.
In the institution of the Eucharist we hear “Take and eat, this is my body. Take and drink, this is my blood.” Jesus did this in the context of a simple meal. He often used food as a means of sharing the intimate moments of life Jesus blessed and broke bread before large crowds who listened long hours to his word. Jesus blessed and broke bread shortly before Judas handed him over to his suffering and I am guessing that Jesus blessed and broke bread at the end of a long day with his disciples gathered around him.
Henri Nouwen says “the Eucharist is the most ordinary and the most divine gesture imaginable.” This is the truth of Jesus who was so human, yet so divine; so familiar, yet so mysterious; so close, and so revealing! We have a Jesus who “being in the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, a man who humbled himself, even to accepting his death, death on a cross” (Phil 2:18) Jesus didn’t hold anything back, he didn’t cling to anything, including his own body. Benedict also recognized that as his followers we are not to cling to anything, including our own bodies. “Monks are not allowed to have neither their bodies nor their wills in their own power.” (RB Chap. 33) This is certainly a sobering thought in a first world country such as ours where individuality is so prized.
The only way this is possible is through the mystery of God’s total self-giving love to each of us. Jesus doesn’t say, believe in me. He says consume me; absorb me and I will provide the nourishment to meet all your deepest needs. The only way that we can heal the suffering of this world is by living in community; the body and blood of Christ.
In the words of Pope Francis, “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church that is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” And in the words of St. Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body now, but yours, no hands, but yours, no feet, but yours. You are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion looks out on the world.” Let’s us go and be “bread” for the world.