By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
Andrew Zimmern is one of the most renowned culinary experts in the United States. However, that is not exactly why his name has become so familiar. In 2006, he made a documentary called “Bizarre Foods of Asia” which was so well received that besides being repeated frequently on television, it became a series in 2007. The series, “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,” and several take-off series, take the audience to cities and countries across the globe where he shows how different, often exotic and occasionally “bizarre,” foods are cultivated, prepared and eaten. One of the most interesting parts of the series is watching him break out of our comfort zone and sample the various delicacies. Every once in a while, he eats something that can make the audience cringe but which, in the culture he is visiting, is quite normal.
This in mind, it is not hard to understand the quarreling among the Jews in today’s Gospel when Jesus speaks of being the living bread and inviting His followers to eat His body and drink His blood. The seemingly dracularian directive to “feed on me” would be culturally shocking at any time and to any culture unless they were familiar with the Eucharist. No doubt many in the crowd listened carefully to Jesus’ teaching because He had not yet disappointed them. They knew there was something special about Him, already wondering if He might be their long-awaited Messiah, and so were willing to hear more, to hear the explanation of what these bizarre words meant and come to become the Eucharistic people. But those who could not accept Him in faith, could not accept this teaching.
Being a people of the Eucharist, this meal is at the center of who we are as a Church. The gathering place for most families is the table and so it is within each parish family, we gather at the altar to feast on Christ’s Body and Blood — a memorial that identifies us as His disciples who understand that “feeding on Him” is not an invitation to cannibalism but to the faith-filled trust that He is present in the Eucharist, that the substances of bread and wine are no longer simply the food of men but the sacred banquet through which we are given the promise of a place in the kingdom. A meal which transforms us as it was once itself transformed.
In 1826, Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote in “Physiologie du Gout” (The Physiology of Taste) the phrase, “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirais ce que tu es,” which translates, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” The basic theory would be used in the 1920s when American nutritionist Victor Lindlahr, in a rally against unhealthy foods, rephrased it as, “You are what you eat.” If you eat healthy food, you will be healthy. If you eat unhealthy food, you will be unhealthy. That seems rather simple to understand. So, what if you eat holy food? As we unite ourselves to Christ in the Eucharist, literally carrying His body within our own, are we not being given the grace to be transformed into that which we have consumed? Through the Eucharist, Christ invites us to become more like Him and so receive the gift of heaven’s promise.
When I was a student at Cathedral Prep, the wall behind the altar was red with a quote from St. Thomas Aquinas written in gold, “O sacrum convivium! in quo Christus sumitur: recolitur memoria passionis eius: mens impletur gratias; et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.” This translates, “O sacred banquet! in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory to us is given.”
Today we celebrate the The Body and Blood of Christ, the sacred meal that unites us to Christ and one another. May the Eucharist renew our hope in the promise of a banquet yet to come.
Readings for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14B-16A
Psalm 147: 12-13, 14-15, 19-20
1 Cor 10:16-17
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.