In 1970 I was just ordained and I was serving at Our Lady of the Brook, a new parish in Northbrook, a northwest suburb of Chicago. Sr. JoAnn, our religious education coordinator, contracted a rare blood disease and she desperately needed blood.
So every Saturday morning, station wagons (remember those?) full of parishioners traveled to Mercy Hospital, located in a poor section of Chicago, to give blood for Sr. JoAnn.
One Saturday morning we were filling out our application cards to give blood when an unshaven, young man walked up to the counter and presented his application card to donate blood. The receptionist looked at the card and said: “I see the recipient line on your card is blank. I assume you are here to give blood for Sr. JoAnn.”
The young man frowned and said, “I don’t know any Sr. JoAnn.”
The receptionist then sized up how he looked. His clothes were tattered and ragged. It looked like he may spent the night on the Lake Michigan beach. “Ok, you’re here for the $35.00,” she said.
The young man was becoming upset and he said, “I don’t know anything about any $35.00.”
“Well young man,” blurted the receptionist, “You’re not here for Sr. JoAnn and you’re not here for the $35.00, who should we give your blood to?”
Without skipping a beat he replied, “Give it to the person in the city who needs it the most!”
Wow!! I was just 26 years old and I was learning firsthand what the Eucharist was all about. The young man was echoing the words of Jesus – to give his own blood and body to whomever needs it the most. His blood didn’t have or need a name tag.
In today’s Gospel (John 6:51-58), Jesus had just fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish. And now he throws them a gruesome challenge, “You’re going to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” They respond, “Gee, don’t say that! That sounds awful!”
Jesus replies, “Oh, you don’t like it? You have to eat my flesh and drink my blood. That’s what you have to do.” No wonder many of them walked away. Why would Jesus bring a group of people together who he wants to be his followers and tell them that they have to do something that is socially unacceptable? Eat flesh and drink blood, a sort of cannibalism. And then demand that they accept it on faith. And when they cringe, Jesus says it even louder. How do we explain it?
Well, Jesus and St. Paul in our 2nd reading (1 COR 10: 16-17) understood that “The Body of Christ” is the central teaching of our faith. Why? Because the Body of Christ on our altars and in our tabernacles is YOU & ME! When Jesus starts talking about the Body of Christ and eating his body and drinking his blood, he wants us to take his words literally and not symbolically.
I know that when we talk about all of us being the Body of Christ, it sounds like a poetic notion. We in America value our individuality so very highly. We like to express our individuality. Many of us feel our individuality is the most important thing that we have. But this is somewhat of an illusion.
What is most important is that we are all one body, all 8 Billion of us are part of one body. That’s the way God sees us. God doesn’t see us as a hoard of little ants running around on Planet Earth, busy, busy, busy all the time. God sees us as One Body. God sees us the way we see our own bodies. When we don’t feel well, we say, “I’m sick!” When we have a bad headache or a fever, our whole body is suffering.
Jesus wants us to understand that when we say, “AMEN!” when the Body of Christ is held up to us at Communion time, we are saying Amen to the fact that we believe that piece of bread is literally the Body of Christ AND that literally the congregation is the Body of Christ. It’s not just a nice little metaphor or a poetic thought.
It’s the way God sees things. The Body of Christ that we eat is so totally different than anything else that we eat. All of the other food that we eat BECOMES US. But when we eat the Body of Christ, WE BECOME THE FOOD THAT WE EAT! St. Augustine said 1,600 years ago that “When we eat the Body of Christ and drink his Blood, we become Christ,” literally, “we become Christ.” Hopefully, this is why during the pandemic we missed receiving Holy Communion so much — We want to BE the Body and Blood of Jesus so much.
When we leave church after receiving Jesus in the bread and wine, we are Jesus to one another. Because we receive Jesus, we are to be kind, loving, forgiving and compassionate for the day and the week. We are to live like the Body and the Blood of Jesus that we are.
Jesus shakes every one of us up when in Matthew 25 he tells us what Judgement Day will be like: “I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was in prison. If you did it to the least of my sisters and brothers, you did it to me.” This is why Mother Teresa inscribed the words, THE BODY OF CHRIST, in big letters, above the gurney where the sick and the dying of India were laid when they came in to her hospital. Mother Teresa saw what God sees.
At the tender age of 26 I learned from a disheveled young man who was giving his blood to whomever in the City of Chicago needed it the most, what the Eucharist was all about. His blood did not have a name tag other than the name, Jesus. The Body and the Blood that you and I receive, does not have a name tag either, other than the name of Jesus.
Special thanks to Logan Weaver for the photo.
What comes to YOUR mind and heart when YOU listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: “I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was in prison….You did it to me”? How do these words of Jesus affect YOUR attitudes and YOUR actions today?
JESUS LOVES THE OUTCASTS. JESUS LOVES THE ONES THE WORLD JUST LOVES TO HATE!!
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