Some years ago, I spent a summer teaching in a program called Totus Tuus. This was a program like VBS that taught children about the beauty of their Catholic faith. One day, I was talking about the Eucharist to the third graders, and a young girl raised her hand. She asked: If the Eucharist is truly Jesus, then why aren’t we called to worship, or love Jesus, in the chapel all the time? Why would we ever leave? Now it’s a funny question, true, but also very profound. Why do we leave? Why is it, that right after we receive the Eucharist today, we will all leave this church? Why don’t we just stay and adore our Lord…?
To answer this question, it is important for us to reflect on the experience of receiving Jesus’ precious body and blood in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus says to us today: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. This language, “remain in me” is an important theme throughout the Gospel of John. It points to the closeness, or the intimacy, that Christ desires to have with his disciples; that is, all of us here! So, the Eucharist is truly an encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus is pointing out to us that the Eucharist, is in fact, his presence among us. He says, he is the bread come down from heaven, the one who has come to give us life. When the Jewish crowds hear Jesus say this, they grumble and argue. But then Jesus says those words.. those trigger words that inform us that what he is about to say is really really important. He says to the crowds with emphasis: Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, has eternal life.
“All of us can understand that the presence of a friend nourishes us and gives life.” This, my friends in Christ, is what Jesus is accomplishing with us by making himself present to us through the Eucharist. Think, for example of a close friend who, perhaps you haven’t seen in awhile. Often times to catch up with this friend it will be over a shared meal together. And what we realize later, is that it’s our friend’s love and presence in our lives that is real food for us. It’s the experience of friendship that gives us life. How fitting then it is, then, that the Eucharist is given to us in the context of a meal, truly is an encounter with our Lord. It is a true experience of a friendship that is life-giving. It’s the place where Christ loves us, nourishes our lives, and hears our prayers. It is an intimate friendship; one not void of reciprocity. Because he is present!
And so, why do we leave after this Mass is over? Because, as we grow in our relationship with Christ, the Eucharist we receive actually changes us. “If Jesus is our beloved friend, then we will want to do what he wants and live for him and for his works and promises. And what does Jesus want? That we conform our lives to Christ by turning away from sin. That we love people, even our enemies, and do not judge or condemn people, but forgive them.” Jesus wants us to love others as he has loved us. In other words, the love of Jesus that we encounter through the Eucharist moves us outward. It directs us back out into the world, to those we meet every day in our lives, so that we can share, strengthened by Christ in the Holy Eucharist, God’s love to others. This is why we leave. Because we experience a love that we must share! And so we hear those words at the end of Mass: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, this is why coming together every Sunday is the heart of the Christian life. The Eucharist we celebrate together each week is where our hearts encounter the heart of Jesus Christ. But then, just like the heartbeat sends blood throughout the body, so does the Eucharist send us out to bring Jesus, the one we have received, into the world.
May the Eucharist we receive today, be a true encounter of Christ in our lives, and strengthen us to bring him out into the world.
In Christ’s Friendship,