Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Eucharist: Metaphor or Literality

It seems that many people today think that Jesus was using a metaphor when He said “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.”  They say that eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Jesus means absorbing his teachings and living by them, rather than literally eating His flesh and drinking His blood.  They say that in other verses in Scripture, Jesus refers to Himself as a “gate” and his followers as “sheep,” or Himself as a “vine” and His followers as “branches” without actually meaning these things literally.  He also says things like “I am the light of the world” and “you are the salt of the earth” intending “light” and “salt” to be metaphors. 

But the discourse in John, Chapter 6, is different.  Most of His followers took him literally.  They said “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  They also said “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”  They apparently knew that he meant for them to eat his body and drink his blood as a literal action.  For that reason, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”  There is nothing in this dialogue to indicate that this was a metaphorical teaching.  His apostles stuck with him.  Peter, for example, said “We have come to know and are convinced that you are the holy one of God.”  Then, of course, it became clear at the last supper what exactly he intended when he instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.  I can just hear his twelve apostles saying, perhaps with relief, “Ah, we will eat his flesh and drink under the appearance of bread and wine.  Now we understand what a beautiful thing He is doing for us.”

St. Paul reinforces the literality of this when he said, in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord … Whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgement upon himself.”  There can be no doubt that Jesus’ meaning here was literal.

The Eucharist is a sacrament of the Catholic Church and, if you believe that the Catholic Church is the one true Church, then only the Catholic Church can consecrate the bread and wine so that it transubstantiates into the body and blood of Christ.  What a beautiful, wonderful gift we have in the Catholic Church.  In no other institution can the miracle described in John, Chapter 6, be fully realized.  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Conflicting Belief Systems: "What is Truth?"

On the first Good Friday nearly 2000 years ago, the Jews presented Jesus to Pontius Pilate hoping that Pilate would condemn him to death for making himself their king.  To his credit, Pilate anxiously tried to discover the truth.  Was Jesus the king of the Jews or not?  He questioned Jesus.  Jesus’ famous response was confusing:  “You say I am a king.  For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate’s comeback demonstrated his obvious frustration:  “What is truth?”  (Quotations are from John, Chapter 18.) 

Right now I feel a little bit like Pilate because I am frustrated by what some people feel is the truth about modern day issues.   My question is this: how can intelligent people disagree on what is true even when all the evidence is laid out in front of them? 

Examples:  Does God exist or did everything in the universe and on earth simply evolve with no supreme power?  Was Jesus Christ the Son of God, or just a good man?  Is the Catholic Church today the true Church founded by Christ or just one denomination out of thousands for us to simply choose?  Is the Eucharist the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, or just bread and wine?  I’ve given MTT about these over time and you may have sensed that I get frustrated just like Pilate.

Then there are modern day examples in politics that constantly frustrate us.  A Facebook friend recently posted his thoughts following Justice Scalia’s death:  “I do not relish the passing of anyone, but he did NOT represent my principles and belief system -- on almost any subject.”  Ah, yes, the debate between conservative belief systems and liberal belief systems.  For example, is the pre-born child a human being and thereby covered by the Constitution as deserving of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or is it just a glob of cells that doesn’t become a human being until birth?

Yes, I seem to find myself asking "What is truth?" every day.  I always have an answer, and I get frustrated that  other people don't arrive at the same answer.  My answer always seems like the obvious one.  Why can't others see it?  I don't have the answer to THAT.  I guess I just have to say that my belief system is what it is and it is different from theirs.  That's when I turn to prayer:  Lord, I pray for the human race and where it is headed.  I know that you will come again some day.  Please intervene in the meantime and help us conform to your will.  Amen.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Lenten Meditation

I’ve read that the book The Imitation of Christ by Thomas `a Kempis is the most widely read devotional next to the Bible.  I acquired this book several years ago in what I think is a most unusual place:  the Southeast Community College Bookstore in Lincoln, Nebraska.  It was among the required reading for an English course taught at the college.  I’m not a Literature expert by any means, but I’m thinking it was selected by the instructor not because of its deep Catholic theological messages but because it is a classic literary work.  I thought it might be useful to look at today because it may generate some good MTT for Lent, which began yesterday, February 10.  It did not disappoint.  I have selected an excerpt here for your Lenten meditation.

“It is good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing.  It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradiction, to be misjudged by men even though we do well and mean well.  These things help us to be humble and shield us from vainglory.  When to all outward appearances, men give us no credit, when they do not think well of us, then we are more inclined to seek God who sees our hearts.  Therefore, a man ought to root himself so firmly in God that he will not need the consolations of men.”

I think we can all relate.  How many times have friends or co-workers misjudged you “even though we do well and mean well.”  This has happened to me on several occasions in my life and caused extreme stress to this day, even though it happened years ago.  Was I inclined to seek God?  Yes!  Each time, I ran to a local chapel and prayed and prayed.  Was I humbled?  Yes, and shielded from extreme self-pride and boastfulness (vainglory)!  Though far from perfect today, I find myself "firmly rooted in God" such that I don’t often care anymore what others think of me.  And I think that that is a great grace.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Do Not Persist in Your Unbelief

In the Gospel read at Mass yesterday, Wednesday, February 3, Jesus, accompanied by his disciples, came to his hometown of Nazareth to preach in the synagogue.  (Mark, 6:1-6)   In other words, he visited the town in which grew up where everyone knew him, and knew his father and his mother and his close relatives.  Here, despite coming in with the amazing reputation seen elsewhere in the Scriptures because of the long string of miracles and preaching authority, he was met with skepticism.  They couldn’t believe that this “boy” from their hometown had any sort of special authority.  Mary and Joseph were their neighbors.  Mary and Joseph had relatives who were natives of Nazareth.  Everyone knew the family well.  Jesus grew up with their own children, played the same games and ate at their own tables.  And now here he is preaching to them about the kingdom of God?  You can almost hear them saying “I don’t think so.”

Jesus could read their thoughts.  He called it a lack of faith.  And because they lacked faith, he could not perform the miracles he was known for.  Except for a couple of healings, he left the town without performing any special acts or deeds. 

It reminds me of the times we pray for a particular special favor (a miracle?) and get turned down.  The message is that unless we have faith, there will be no miracles.  So perhaps we ought to strive to first work on our faith … to pray for the gift of faith … to ask God to remove all doubt about his existence and his willingness to help us.  Think about his love for us.  Think about our surroundings, the universe, and the complexities of life.  Put your fingers into the nail holes and your hand into his side.  Then, as Jesus told Thomas after the Resurrection:  “Do not persist in your unbelief.”  God exists, he loves us, he saves us from our sins, and he wants us in heaven with him for all eternity.  Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe.  THEN, pray for your special miracle.