This month, dioceses across the United States will launch a three-year “eucharistic revival.” Its purpose, according to the US bishops, is to “renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.”
The revival will include eucharistic processions, increased opportunities for Adoration, and other events around the country. As a way to help you enter into this renewal, we want to offer you some reflections on the meaning of the Eucharist. Each of the four articles in this issue will consider one aspect of the Eucharist and offer prayer prompts designed to deepen your desire and appreciation for Jesus in this holy sacrament.
These articles were written by Mark Hart and were adapted from his booklet Getting More Out of the Eucharist, published by The Word Among Us Press. Mark is Chief Innovation Officer of Life Teen as well as award-winning author and a popular speaker. His love for the Eucharist is contagious, so take the time for an extended “mini-retreat” so that you can draw closer in love to Jesus, the Bread of Life.
“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. . . . 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.” (John 6:47, 53-54)
“Checkmate,” my grandfather said with a wry grin.
My grandfather was many things: wise, jovial, compassionate, and joyful. But a pushover he was not. He didn’t give me any breaks when we played chess. If I won, it was because I had earned it.
I miss him. Whether in chess or in life, he taught me how to see the bigger picture, to think ahead, and to begin with the end in mind.
God the Father is much like that. He invites us to shed our nearsighted, earthly perspectives and look to our end goal: eternal life with him. God wants us to constantly strive for greater virtue. He never allows us to settle for less than the best version of who he created us to be. He created us to be saints, and he knew we would need his very life to make it happen. That’s why he gave us the Eucharist.
Looking Back and Looking Forward. Before Jesus referred to himself as the Bread of Life in the passage above, he had fed the five thousand (John 6:1-13). He gave the people their dinner so that they wouldn’t have to travel a long way, hungry and tired, to get food. Afterward, they sought him out, but he warned them not to go after the food that perishes but the food that will last for eternal life (6:27).
Jesus also alluded to the time his Father fed the Israelites manna in the desert. Why? He wanted them to think back to another time when God had fed his people, sustaining them on their long journey. He wanted them to look back so that they could appreciate what lie ahead. As in chess, the Master is always several moves ahead, even if the pieces have not all fallen into place yet.
During their forty years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites called out to God for food, and as a good Father, he provided. Each morning, a mysterious white substance appeared on the ground, which they called manna, meaning “What is this?” It was breadlike, edible, and apparently filling. It was this daily provision of manna that the Israelites relied on to get them to the Promised Land (Exodus 16:35).
Jesus knew that the crowd of people who had followed him to a deserted place would need to eat, and just as his Father had provided the manna, he provided for them. But he also directed them to look beyond the physical food they hungered for and to see instead the eternal life for which they should have been yearning. He called them to change their lives and perspectives, focusing less on the bread in front of them (the multiplication of the loaves) and more on Jesus himself. As the Bread of Life, he would nourish them in this life and raise them up in the next (John 6:54).
Jesus’ Life in Us. We think of the physical food we eat as sustaining our lives, but do we ever think of the Eucharist in the same way? The truth is that in the Eucharist, Jesus pours his life into us. We received his life when we were baptized. But we know how challenging our daily lives can be. We need God’s supernatural life flowing in us through this sacrament to be able to love as he does. We need it to fight temptation and sin, to care for the needy, and to share the good news. We need his grace to survive and thrive in this world.
But this gift of Jesus’ Body and Blood is not only for today. It is for eternity. That’s what he promises: if we eat this bread, we will live forever. How could we not live forever, if Jesus’ very own life is flowing through us? It is his life in us that will endure—and we will as well, because we have become one with him.
That’s the great gift of Jesus, the Bread of Life. The Eucharist is not something we can take for granted or think we can do without. Jesus asks us to believe that he is the One foreshadowed in the Old Testament, the One who rescues us from the slavery of sin, just as the Israelites were rescued from slavery in Egypt. He is the One who sustains us on our journey to the Promised Land, just as the Israelites were sustained by the manna in the wilderness. He is the One who will embrace us on that day when we reach the heavenly Promised Land, and we will know him because we have his life within us. That’s the future he has promised to us who believe!
For Prayer and Reflection:
This week, take some time to write out the story of your relationship with God. It doesn’t have to be detailed (you could write it in bulleted points), but try to answer the following questions:
• How has your relationship with God grown so far? How has he provided for you, and how have you loved and served him in response?
• How is your relationship with God now? How is he working in you? How do you experience him when you receive him in the Eucharist?
• How would you like your relationship with God to grow in the future? Where do you still need his grace? How might you experience more of his life in you?
This Sunday, carry these answers to the Lord as you come to receive him in Holy Communion. As you recount your relationship with him, thank him for all that he has done in your life so far, and ask him for whatever you need for the future. Remember: this is the moment when you will be the most intimately united with him this side of eternity.