The Whole ChristMay 6th, 2013
Have you ever come to a point where something you thought you knew became a thing that you realize you never really knew like you thought you did. I know this might seem like a convoluted question. And maybe it is. I just chalk it up to the mystery of Jesus Christ.
Recently I was preparing prayer for a parish staff meeting. The daily Gospel reading for the prayer was part of the Bread of Life Discourse in the Gospel of John-namely John 6: 44-51. Jesus says “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 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.”
So I started to think about this reading, meditating upon it, thinking about the usual things like Eucharist, meal, sacrifice. I wasn’t sure what I wanted the focus of our prayer to be. Possibly on the paschal mystery but at this point nothing grabbed me. Tiring of the same old, same old, I knew I wanted to be a little more exploratory and go deeper with a new angle.
When Jesus says “I am the living bread…whoever eats this bread will live forever…the bread I will give is my Flesh for the life of the world”- I thought of the enduring presence of Christ down through 2000-plus years. Jesus is present now, but not in the historical reality of being his own human person, not in his actual physical body. I thought of the indwelling spirit of Christ in each person who has ever lived since Jesus ascended into heaven. It is an eternal presence. It’s the Holy Spirit and it’s the Eucharist. It is real. It is real presence and it is forever. And it is for the “life of the world.” It is for us and for all-time!
Jesus is for us, with us, in us, and is present in our lives from now on-never away. We are never alone. For me, this is a deeper way to think of real presence. I read in a simple catechetical publication entitled Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion: A Parish Formation Program published by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati a reference to “the whole Christ” as that which we receive in terms of real presence. This is something which St. Augustine taught. When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, it is his whole self, body and soul, the eternal Christ, human and divine. It comes from the total self-offering and self-giving of Jesus to each of us.
Imagine what it would be like for us to do total self-offering for another. Some of us make commitments which try to be such a total self-offering. We profess vows of marriage or religious profession. Some of us raise children. Some of us are ordained. Some of us become missionaries or make other ministerial life commitments. Some of us overlap in such commitments. We try daily and struggle, sometimes in heroic ways to live into and grow in what it means to do self-offering. But the completeness of self-offering which Christ did for us mostly will never be achieved by any one of us this side of heaven (St. Maximilian notwithstanding).
When I think of “the whole Christ” and real presence I think of a depth of love which I cannot fathom. I think of what Christ went through to become human, to live, to love, to die, to ascend, so that he could be with us each more closely in a way that he could not- had he not have been God (as Pope Francis referred to in one of his recent messages about the necessity of the Ascension). Christ did this so that any one of us could become more divine, more loved and loving, and eventually more fully human in service to others. This is a total gift, love as complete wholeness given over for the sake of the other. May I never take it for granted.
Photo Credit: Used under Creative Commons Licensing, flickr.com/mike_tn