WHEN WE LEFT off last week, we were looking at this extended passage from which we are reading over the next several weeks, namely the Bread of Life Discourse in the fourth Gospel. The Evangelist, John, places this selection firmly in the middle of the first part of his Gospel, what most scripture scholars call “the Book of Signs.” As I mentioned previously, the signs performed by Jesus in the Johannine Gospels are cumulative; they build up, becoming greater and greater, from the first — the changing of water into wine at Cana — to the last and the greatest — the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
The signs also perform another function: All those who encounter the Lord Jesus are forced to make a choice. Either this man is divine and is the Lord or He is absolutely mad and they should flee from Him at once!
Right now, in the middle of the first part of John’s Gospel, Jesus gives this extended talk to the crowd. And, as is human nature when confronted with God and the things of God, some embrace Him and some reject Him. Some people found some of the things that Jesus had been saying altogether too much for them.
Here He is, standing in front of them, saying, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you cannot have life within you.” We, as Catholic Christians, hear that phrase and we can take comfort in it. We can bask in its beauty and revel in its richness, but objectively, it can sound pretty odd!
Imagine for a moment that you were one of the crowd. You never ever had heard this man, Jesus, speak, but you came out to hear Him because of all the signs He had been performing. Perhaps, you think, He might perform one of these signs today, and you might be amazed. And here He is in front of you, the great teacher, the one some say might be the long-awaited Messiah, and He’s saying these things which some later in this sixth chapter of John’s Gospel will describe as “difficult things.”
Difficult things, indeed! “Eat my flesh, drink my blood if you wish to have my life in you.” What is He talking about? Is He speaking metaphorically? Surely, He doesn’t mean that literally, does He? What does He mean by this life that is within Him?
As we will find out, the Lord Jesus is not simply speaking symbolically. He’s not just using a figure of speech, an extended metaphor. What He is speaking of is the gift of the Eucharist, His true Body, His true blood, poured out for you and me, for us and for our salvation.
Next week, we will begin to examine this gift and mystery of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist by speaking of what the Church teaches about the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ, of Transubstantiation and many other Eucharist doctrines. Following that, we can begin, in light of this Johannine passage, to speak about enhancing our prayers with the Eucharist, both at Mass and in Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
However, this week, I’d like to propose one question in light of this passage. When we’re faced with a difficult dogma or doctrine of the Church, how can we best try to understand it within the Church’s life? If we face a question about a particular teaching of the Church, how can we learn more about what the Church really teaches, not simply what others say about it?
One way is to ask someone who ministers in faith formation — a priest, deacon, religious or lay minister — to direct us to the sources we need to learn more about the topic.
Another sure way is the true gift that is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This universal Catechism is available online at usccb.org, and copies of this text are even found in bookstores. The U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, the American adaptation of the Universal Catechism, is also an amazing tool for growth and learning. For younger people, Pope Benedict XVI’s YOUCAT is a great version of the Catechism for teens and indeed for all of us!
Participating in parish, cluster and vicariate adult faith formation programs is also a great way to learn more about not only what the Church teaches but also why she teaches what she does. The Office of Faith Formation’s “Grilling with God” and “Theology on Tap” sessions are fun, informal and informative. The Pastoral Institute’s 10-week Theological Foundation classes are a great way for adults to approach faith in a new and challenging light. And think about all of the parishes that were blessed to offer Father Robert Barron’s “Catholicism” series with discussions afterward (See Father Lauder’s column, Page 23). We also have the opportunity to watch television series like Mysteries of the Church on NET-TV (shameless plug!) as well as so many other great shows on that network.
The key, I think at least, is to ask! We shouldn’t be afraid to find out what exactly is the Church’s teaching on scripture, faith and morals. When we find out, we need to try to make a mature, rational assent of faith to that teaching, if it is indeed a Magisterial teaching of the Church.
If we want to put out into the deep, we need to have an educated, informed clergy and laity, who know and who can express our Church’s teachings, even when they are, at times, difficult and complex. Theology is a sacred science, and we should, as believers, try our best to apply this study of our faith and religion in our daily lives.
Readings for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 16: 2-4, 12-15
Psalm 78: 3-4, 23-24, 25, 54
Ephesians 4: 17, 20-24
John 6: 24-35
A former faculty member of Cathedral Prep Seminary, Elmhurst, Father Cush will begin studies for a doctorate in Dogmatic Theology this fall in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas while living at the Casa Santa Maria of the North American College.