Unimagined Intimacy and
Life by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will life forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us (His) flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "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, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who are and still died, whoever eats the bread will life forever."
Christ’s entrance into this world through the mystery of the Incarnation made possible a brand new kind of intimacy with God. God the Father sent forth His only-be-gotten Son who chose to “pitch a tent” and dwell among us.
Christ’s faithful followers were able to sit at His feet, experience His powerful gaze, feel the warmth of His love, listen to Him proclaim fundamental truths about God and human existence, and watch Him serve humanity with tremendous compassion. The Incarnation was a gift without price to our world.
Fortunately, God, in His infinite wisdom and love, hand-crafted a way for faithful Christians of every age to experience intimacy with God through Christ, which continues to transform stony hearts and make saints out of sinners. Jesus gave to the Church the most precious gift of His body and blood, soul and divinity, at the Last Supper.
In Our Lord’s own commentary on this gift in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, He teaches: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” When we have faith in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, we are offered the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet and experience His powerful gaze, feel the warmth of His love, listen to Him proclaim eternal truths, watch Him bandage our wounds, and offer Himself to us as our nourishment. Jesus provides a beautiful and mysterious, yet concrete and real way to remain “in Him.”
At Mass, this experience of God, the eternal Word, stooping down to us, offering His life to the Father as a ransom for our sins, and extending to us the opportunity to eat His body and drink His blood, infuses new life into the Christian. How could it not? When we are brought into the very presence of God and experience His personal concern for us, we are given a new lease on life.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Interestingly, because the Eucharist is Christ Himself and Christ is our life, when a Christian refuses this invitation, he refuses God’s gift of life. “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.”
The great saints of the Church have understood the meaning of this supreme remedy for mankind, which satiates our need of intimacy with God and the new life that comes from Him. St. John Bosco, the father and teacher of youth, developed an amazingly effective educational system for serving young people. He taught that the columns of his educational edifice are the Eucharist, penance, devotion to Our Lady and love for the Church and its pastors. It is worth noting that this saint put the Eucharist first. In fact, Don Bosco strongly encouraged the Church to change the custom of the day and allow young people to come more frequently to holy Communion.
St. Francis of Assisi also had a strong devotion to the Eucharist. He requested special permission from the Church’s pastors to have a priest from the order join him regularly when he was off for extended retreats in out-of-the-way hermitages so that he could participate regularly at Mass. In a letter to the General Chapter of the friars, Francis wrote: “Kissing your feet with all the love I am capable of, I beg you to show the greatest possible reverence and honor for the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ through whom all things, whether on the earth or in the heavens, have been brought to peace and reconciled with Almighty God.”
Everyone longs to be close to God and to know Him personally and intimately. It is arguably the greatest longing of the human heart. In His infinite wisdom, Christ satisfied this longing when He instituted the Eucharist, the great gift entrusted to the Church at the end of His time on this earth. In the Eucharist, Jesus gives us the privileged blessing of unimagined intimacy and life. May God set our hearts on fire with a burning desire to attend Mass frequently and be united with our precious Lord in holy Communion.
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