I have to admit that there was a time when I struggled with belief in the mystery we celebrate today: that the bread and wine at Mass are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus, that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, body, blood, soul and divinity. Like the Jews in the gospel today many find this difficult to accept, even though it’s one of our central mysteries of our faith. As I persevered in my struggle to grasp this mystery, I realised that my problem wasn’t an intellectual one, but that my temptation to unbelief was based in fear. I mean if I really accepted that this is Jesus it changes everything; it changes what I think about God; it changes what it think about myself; it changes what I am called to become. If this is really Jesus giving himself to me, in this complete way, then I will have to change—or rather he is going to change everything if I allow him.
This lead me to a point of decision: I could no longer live with the contradiction—on the one hand choosing a sinful, selfish way of living, and on the other hand, believing and receiving this most beautiful and good and loving gift of Jesus in the Eucharist. I began to appreciate the wisdom of the Church’s teaching that requires us to abstain from the Eucharist if we are in a state of serious sin, if we have not gone to confession for a long time—because the contradiction tears you apart.
Why so many refuse to believe and stop coming to Mass, is not because they find the reality of the Eucharist unreasonable or impossible to comprehend, but because they are afraid. They are afraid that Jesus is going to take away their freedom, to curtail their life style, to suck all the enjoyment out of life. The opposite is the reality, however—often all the ways we try to satisfy our hunger for life leave us in a state of spiritual starvation. Only Jesus can satisfy our deep hunger. Trust in Jesus, trust in his word: “Whoever eats me, [eats my flesh and drinks my blood] will draw life from me” (Jn 6:57).
There is a story told of a young Jewish boy who refused to go to school. His parents tried everything, from punishing him, giving out to him, to bribing him, but none of this worked. Eventually they went to their Rabbi for advice, and he told them to bring the boy to him. When they boy came to him the Rabbi did not speak a word—he simply took the boy in his arms and embraced him. After that the boy returned to school, there was no more problem. This is what the Eucharist is for us—its God’s physical embrace that transforms everything. When everything else has failed, when we’ve tried every other way to find the meaning of life, and when we’ve tried to fulfil that hunger inside us with everything else, we discover that it’s only in the loving embrace of Jesus in the Eucharist that we are given life. It here we discover the thing that we don’t even know we are searching for.
Consider that at each celebration of the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is made present. In a very real way Jesus hangs before us with his arms outstretched on the Cross, as if ready to embrace us. In this supreme act of love he sacrifices himself for us, he surrenders himself to us in the form of bread and wine—“This is my body given up for you.” When we contemplate the depth of his love in this way how can we reject this, or become indifferent to it? Not to come here to worship at the Eucharist, not to open ourselves up to this GIFT is an injustice to not only to God, but to ourselves also. Sometimes we can think of coming to Mass as a burdensome obligation imposed by the Church or God. But the Eucharist is for you, the Eucharist is the source of your true life—“This is my body given up for you.” With these words of the Mass Jesus addresses us as a community and each one of us personally. Jesus wants to gives himself to you in this most intimate and complete way, to enter into the depth of your being. He wants to draw you into a relationship with himself that will transform everything for you, until you realise I’m home, I’ve found the one that my heart hungered for all this time.
Do not be afraid any longer; Jesus is waiting for you here in the Eucharist, waiting to embrace you and transform your life in ways that you can’t imagine.