You Are What You Eat
May 30, 2005
You might have seen the movie called SUPER SIZE ME. The movie was created by a man named Morgan Spurlock, and it chronicled an unusual experiment that he performed over the course of a month. Spurlock wondered what would happen if he ate all of his meals at McDonald’s. So that is what he did. For an entire month, every day, three times a day, he drove up to the Golden Arches to dine. By the end of the month, he had gained 30 pounds, his cholesterol was off the charts, and his doctor was warning him that he had to change his eating habits if he intended to survive. This movie gives visual form to a saying that we have all heard. You are what you eat. If you eat junk, high choleric fatty foods, your health deteriorates. If you eat healthy, natural, nutritional foods, your health improves. You are what you eat.
This saying is good news for us today as we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, because it is on this day that we reflect on the marvelous gift of the Eucharist. Our belief is that when we eat the bread and wine of the Eucharist we take into ourselves the very life of Christ. We believe that as we weekly celebrate the Eucharist at this altar, the bread and wine is changed during the Eucharistic Prayer into the Body and Blood of Christ. The bread and wine is no longer bread and wine, but the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Risen Christ. We do not understand how this can happen. But it is a remarkable gift, because Christ becomes for us our food.
This is not a new idea. In the third century the great early Christian father Augustine wrote, “If you receive the Eucharist well, you are what you eat. Since you are the Body of Christ and his members, it is your mystery which you receive. As you come to communion, you hear the words ‘The Body of Christ’ and you answer ‘Amen’. Be, therefore, members of Christ that your ‘Amen’ may be true. Be what you see. Receive what you already are.” In this profound paragraph, Augustine says that the Eucharist is nourishment to us for what we already are. We are already united to Christ through faith and baptism. Each time we receive this sacrament we grow in that shared life of Christ. We become more of the person that we already are.
So what then should this mystery of the Eucharist do for us? How should we change as we receive the Eucharist from week to week? The Eucharist should give us more courage and more confidence.
When we receive the Eucharist with faith we grow in courage, because the one we receive is Christ who faced the evil of the world. Christ knew what betrayal was, what suffering was, what loss was, what death was. He faced those evils with courage in the Father who loved him. The Eucharist then helps us to deal with the trials of our own life. It gives us strength to deal with rejection, with sickness, even with death. When we receive the Eucharist, we receive the very courage of Christ, the strength through which Christ was able to face his passion.
The Eucharist should also make us grow in confidence. The Christ who we receive is the Risen Christ, the Christ who now sits at the right hand of the Father, the Christ who is leading the world into God’s kingdom. The Risen Christ is a Christ of limitless power and of limitless love. Therefore we can receive this Christ in confidence, because his power and his strength will be with us. Therefore there will always be hope for the future.
Today then, on this Feast of Corpus Christi, let us bring the issues of our life, whatever they may be, to this table. Let is bring here the things that trouble us, the things that hurt us, the things that we are afraid of, all the things that preoccupy our minds. As we pray the Eucharistic Prayer in a few minutes, let your ‘Amen’ to that prayer be your affirmation that the bread and wine on this altar is becoming for us the Body and Blood of Christ. As you come forward and extend your hands to receive communion, let your ‘Amen’ be the affirmation that the Risen Jesus is becoming our food and drink. We are what we eat. So let us rejoice today. In this marvelous gift of the Eucharist we become courageous people, sharing in the very strength of Christ, which allows us to live today. In this holy meal we become confident people, sharing in the very power of the Risen Christ that always provides us with hope for tomorrow.
Three Meals a Day
June 22, 2014
Greta Garbo was a famous Hollywood actress who was notorious for making whatever excuse she could to avoid public gatherings. On one occasion, a friend asked her why she turned down an invitation to the most important Hollywood banquet of the year. She replied, “How do I know that I will be hungry that night?”
Garbo’s comment serves her own purpose. But, of course, it makes no sense. We know that we will be hungry every night. The thing about food is that not only do we need it to live, we need it every day. This truth helps us to understand today’s gospel, because Jesus presents himself as food, as living bread. Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus applies images to himself in order to convey his purpose in our lives. In one place, he says, “I am the light of the world.” As light, Jesus is telling us that we need him to see what is good and true. In another place, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” A shepherd takes care of the sheep. As shepherd, Jesus showing us that we need him to be safe. In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “I am the bread that has come down from heaven.” As bread, Jesus reveals to us that we need him for life and that we need him every day. As bread, Jesus is saying it is not enough to turn to him when we need to be protected or when we need guidance. We need to turn to him every day, because he is our food.
So how can we be fed by Jesus each day? Well, there are some great and obvious ways. The most glorious is the one that we celebrate today on the feast of The Body and Blood of the Lord: the Eucharist. We, as Catholics, believe that when the bread and wine are blessed on the altar, they become for us the real presence of Jesus: his body, his blood, his soul, and his divinity. When we receive the body and blood of Christ, Jesus feeds us and shares his power and grace with us. But we are fed not only by the Eucharist, but also by the word of God in the scriptures. Each time we read from the Bible and seek its meaning, Christ nourishes us.
Clearly the Eucharist and the Bible are crucial ways to be fed. But few of us receive the Eucharist or read the Bible every day. How then can we be fed by Christ daily? We can adopt a habit of prayer. Now when I speak of prayer, I am not talking about saying prayers, although saying prayers is valuable. If you are able to say the rosary or to set aside fifteen minutes for meditation each day, please do so. But the prayer I am advising is much more simple. I am talking about connecting regular events in our lives to Christ. For example, when you open your eyes in the morning, why not commit yourself to make that moment a prayer. It can be a simple “Thank you, Lord, for this day,” and perhaps, “Help me with my interview or test today.” In that moment of prayer, Christ will feed you. When you say goodnight to your children or to your spouse, why not make that moment a prayer. You can choose to bless God for the people who make your life worth living. In that blessing, Christ will nourish you. When you see a funeral procession, train yourself to stop and say a prayer for the person who has died and ask Christ to increase your belief in eternal life. By pausing to do that, Christ will strengthen your faith. When you see something that is wrong in the world, in your family, at work, or at school, stop and ask Christ to heal that situation and show you how you might make it better. In that prayer and the service that flows from it, Christ will be your bread.
We need to be fed by Christ every day. Our food is the Eucharist, the scriptures, and simple prayer at the key moments of life. How often do we need to be fed? More than once. If Christ is our food, three times a day is reasonable. So find a way to be fed by Christ daily. Make him your breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and perhaps, a snack before you go to sleep.
June 18, 2017
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; John 6: 51-58
There is a simple yet profound message in today’s first reading from the book of Deuteronomy. God tells Israel to remember all that God has done for them: to remember how God set them free from the slavery of Egypt, guided them for forty years through the wilderness, fed them with manna in the desert. God wants Israel to remember and to be thankful.
A man entered a flower shop, looked around, and gathered together a few of the cut flowers that were on display. Then he went up to the counter to pay for them. He said to the owner, “These are my wife’s favorites.” The owner said, “Is your wife ill?” “Ill?” the man responded, “She’s as healthy as you are.” “I apologize,” said the owner, “but to tell the truth, most husbands don’t buy flowers for their wives unless they are ill or dead.”
How often do we take for granted the blessings that God has given us? How often do we fail to remember what our spouse, our children, our job or our abilities mean to us? If any of these gifts were taken away by death or disability, we would remember then. We would buy flowers then. But how often do we remember the blessings we have received today?
God wants Israel to remember. God wants us to remember and to give thanks. But it is crucial for us to understand why God wants us to give thanks. It is not for God’s benefit, but for ours. God has no need of our thankfulness. We do.
Thomas Merton writes, “Unless we are grateful for our very existence, we do not know who we are, and we have not yet discovered what it means to be and to live.” Living is more than the accumulation of the activities with which we fill a day: sleeping, talking, working, eating, and surfing the Internet. Living is knowing who we are and understanding that all we have is a gift from the God who loves us. To live in this way we need thankfulness. The happiest people in the world are thankful people. If you want more joy in your life, be more thankful.
How do we become thankful? By developing a habit of thankfulness, a habit of remembering all that we have received. Now this is the challenge for every human being. But today on this feast of The Body and Blood of the Lord, we are reminded as Catholics that we have a special means of thankfulness—the Eucharist. Eucharist means thanksgiving. Every time we gather here to praise God in prayer and song, we remember all that God has done for us. The weekly celebration of the Eucharist breaks the routine of our lives and focuses us on what really matters. Eucharist takes us deeper and reminds us who we are and all that we have received: life, relationships, and the ability to serve others.
This is what life is about. This is what will bring us joy. Don’t forget it.
Journeys of Trust
June 14, 2020
John 6: 51-58
It’s one thing to make a journey. It is quite another thing to make a journey that someone else directs. When we make our own journey, we know where we are going and how to get there. We have a rough idea of how long it will take, and where we might stop to rest along the way. When someone else is guiding our journey, much of it is unknown. All we know is the next step that is given to us. This is why making that kind of a journey requires trust.
Israel had to learn to trust the Lord as they made their journey to the promised land. God assured them that they would have a land of milk and honey. But how they would arrive there and how long it would take remained unknown. Yet God directed Israel each day, feeding them with manna, and eventually bringing them to their own homeland.
In the last few months, you and I have been given two journeys. We are in control of neither and much about them remains unknown. The first journey concerns the coronavirus. We know so little about this disease. It seems to target elderly people who are compromised, but we cannot explain why some young people in perfect health become infected with it and die. We do not know how long this virus remains on the surfaces on which it lands. We are not sure if people who have had the virus develop immunity nor how long that immunity might last. We continue to struggle how to find the right balance between isolating ourselves and gradually re-entering social circles.
The second journey that has been given to us emerged only in the last few weeks. It concerns racism in our society. Throughout our country, demonstrators are insisting that this cancer be removed from our country. Yet, what steps we need to take to reach that goal remain largely unknown. Obviously, we should increase dialogue between different races. But how is that possible when our neighborhoods and our social circles are largely separate from one another? It is likely that all of us unintentionally contribute to the racism around us. But how can we come to see what those unintentional contributions are, when for so long they have been invisible to us?
We are traveling on two journeys that we do not control and where much remains unknown. Yet, we believe that the God who loves us is guiding us. Like Israel, there are many threats around us as we make these journeys: seraph serpents and scorpions, parched and waterless lands. But those fearful things that surround us are not our destination. Life is our destination. Jesus promises us in today’s gospel that we who eat his body and drink his blood will have life because of him. As we gather together today to share the Eucharist, we must trust in Jesus’s words. Our destination is life. How we will get there, how long it will take, and how many times we will have to stop along the way remain unknown. But the One who leads us is not unknown. Our God is the One in whom we place our trust.