My mother in law died 12 years ago. When she was alive, she had a long haired pet cat. This cat was black with white patches, and he had four white paws that made him appear as though he was wearing boots. So she named him Bootsy. Bootsy proved to be a great companion to her. He would follow her from room to room, and he would sit contentedly by her side.
Near the end of her life when cancer forced her into the hospital and then a nursing home, we brought Bootsy home with us. One day, while she was in the nursing home, my mother-in-law asked to see Bootsy one more time. We were a bit concerned as to how Bootsy would react in a strange environment and with my mother-in-law sick in bed. But when we brought Bootsy into her room and he heard her voice, he jumped up into her bed and lay contentedly by her side. And he stayed by her side all the while we were there that day. Late that day my mother-in-law turned to my youngest daughter and asked her if she would take care of Bootsy for her when she was gone. So when my mother-in-law went home to be with the Lord, my youngest daughter honored her dying wish and adopted Bootsy. And Bootsy proved to be a great companion to her also.
Bootsy passed away a few months ago and his passing was a sad event for all of us because he was the last living reminder of the continuing presence of my mother-in-law. It was as if his passing made her death final.
I thought about that as I read today’s Gospel. In this Gospel passage, Mark describes the events of the Last Supper during which Jesus initiated the Eucharist. Jesus knew that His own death was just hours away, and facing the fact of His own imminent death, He too left one last request with those who were closest to Him. His dying wish was, “This is My Body. This is My Blood. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19)
Even though the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus has been taken up into heaven to be with His Heavenly Father for all eternity, He promised that He would be with us always. In fact, the very last line in Matthew’s Gospel quotes Jesus saying, “Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.” (Mt 28:20) And He even left us with a tangible sign of His continuing presence. For the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus is visibly present to us in the Eucharist.
But if we look upon the Eucharist with a worldly frame of mind, we will not be able to understand or appreciate the Sacrament. For example, when Jesus was speaking to the Jews he said, “I am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread he shall live forever. The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:51) But they could not understand and they disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” (Jn 6:52) Jesus reaffirmed His statement to them saying, “My flesh is real food and My Blood is real drink.” (Jn 6:55) As a consequence, most of the Jews in that audience ended up distancing themselves from Jesus and the Eucharist because the sacramental language made no sense to them. And this problem that these would-be followers of Jesus had is still with us today.
If we approach the Eucharist with a materialistic mentality, we will fail to understand. And in this failure we miss the wonderful gift of God’s love. The Eucharist is true food and drink, but at the same time, it is very different from every other kind of food and drink.
Saint Augustine writes of having received a vision of Christ. And in that vision Saint Augustine said that Jesus spoke of this great difference between the Eucharist and every other kind of food and drink. In this vision, Christ told him, “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me.” (Confessions of St. Augustine, VII, 10, 18)
My dad used to always quote the dietitians by saying, “You are what you eat.” We all understand the process by which normal food nourishes us and is absorbed into our bodies. The food we eat literally becomes us. But Jesus said that by consuming the Eucharist, we will be changed into Him. That statement, “You are what you eat”, is never more true than in the Eucharistic experience.
But what does it mean to be changed or transformed into Christ? In his book, The Purpose Driven Life (pp. 171-173), Rick Warren addresses this question.
In all of creation, only human beings are made in God’s image. Like God, we are spiritual beings. Our spirits are immortal and will outlast our earthly bodies. We are intellectual. We can think, reason and solve problems. Like God, we are relational. We can give and receive real love. And we have a moral consciousness. We can discern right from wrong. The Bible says that all people, not just believers, possess part of the image of God. But let me be absolutely clear. We will never become God, or even a god. This desire to be a ‘god’ shows up every time we try to control our circumstances, our future and people around us. But as creatures, we will never be the Creator. God doesn’t want you to become a god; he wants you to become godly — taking on his values, attitudes and character. God’s ultimate goal for your life on earth is not comfort, but character development. Paul states, “We will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” This is God’s plan; that we are to become like Christ. ”Becoming like Christ is a long, slow process of growth. Spiritual maturity is neither instant nor automatic; it is a gradual, progressive development that will take the rest of your life. Paul said, “This will continue until we are … mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.”
Why do many of us who receive the Eucharist not experience more of this radical transformation? Maybe the following story will shed some light on this question.
A team of Russians and Americans were on a common expedition. Among their store of food was Russian black bread. It was tasty, but hard to chew. During one of their meals, one of the Americans bit into a piece of this bread, and when he did so, he snapped off a tooth. He threw the bread away and growled, “Lousy Communist bread”. One of the Russians responded with, ‘It’s not lousy Communist bread, it’s rotten capitalist teeth”.
If we do not experience the transforming power of the Eucharist, it’s not because there was something wrong with the Eucharist. It is more likely that there is something wrong with our faith. Let us, therefore, approach the Eucharist with a more lively faith in the real presence of Jesus. For it is only then that we can truly experience God’s saving power and transforming love.
Jesus’ dying wish to us was, “This is My Body. This is My Blood. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19) Unlike a beloved pet whose life is as temporary and as fragile as our own, the gift of the Eucharist is eternal.