Her husband had left her after close to 40 years of marriage and five grown kids and moved in with another younger woman. Her friends made fun of her for choosing to remain single and faithful to her marriage vows and not follow their warped advice to “move on with her life” and get another “husband.” She had also recently been diagnosed with a form of cancer. Yet this woman would silently enter the pew each morning for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in her local chapel and to receive the Eucharist with a face that betrayed the pain in her heart.
Why should she continue to come to receive our Eucharistic Lord every blessed day though her entire life seemed to be falling apart? I always see in her example a reminder that we need the presence of God in our lives more than we need the gifts of God.
God’s gifts come and go and we cannot hold on to them forever. Think about how our youth, beauty, relationships, loved ones, joys, health, and off course, our earthly life, necessary pass away. But when God is present in our lives, it is not so much us holding on to God, but God who holds on to us forever and He never lets go in good or bad times.
Jesus’ Eucharistic discourse in the Gospel of today’s Mass contains two guarantees connected to the Eucharist that call us to trust completely in the worlds of Jesus. Jesus first of all guarantees us His abiding presence with us through the Eucharist, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day.” We are guaranteed eternal life (not a mere sign of eternal life) that is nothing but the presence of Jesus with us under the form of bread and wine. The second guarantee is that He will hold on to us till the very end and give us all that we need to hold on to Him, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
This solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ that we celebrate today reminds us of this double guarantee that Jesus offers us in the Eucharist: to be with us and to hold on to us even till death. Jesus freely surrendered the gifts that His Father bestowed on Him during His earthly life. He saw the death of St. Joseph, He saw His beloved disciples betray, deny and abandon Him, He saw His good reputation destroyed by the Jewish leaders, and He saw His life unjustly taken from Him. But His Father held on to Jesus even in the grave and raised Him from the grave, “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of Him, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” Jesus held on to His Father as intensely as the Father held on to Him whether the gifts were present or not. By having His life in us, we are guaranteed that God holds on to us too and gives us what we need to hold on to Him.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, whether we receive God’s gifts or not, whether we preserve them intact or not, whether we use or lose them, let us continue to come to our Eucharistic Lord so that we live our lives with that guarantee of God’s presence with us always, holding on to us till the very end.
What does Jesus do as He holds on to us? In our Eucharistic Savior Jesus, God is fulfilling and perfecting for us the very same things that He did for the Israelites in the Old Testament. Moses reminds the Israelites in today’s First Reading of God’s power to set them free, “Do not forget the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.” First of all, Jesus’s Eucharistic presence is all about setting us free from sin, selfishness, worries, addictions and all things that hinder our freedom from becoming what God wants us to be.
Moses also reminds them of God’s wisdom that guided them through the treacherous desert, “(Do not forget) the God who guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its seraph serpents and scorpions, its parched land and waterless ground.” Secondly, Jesus in the Eucharist is our Good Shepherd who guides us along the way of life and enlightens our choices in the journey through life. Lastly, the Israelites are to remember the God who “brought forth water from the flinty rock and fed them in the desert with manna, a food unknown to their fathers.” Thirdly, Jesus in His love mysteriously nourishes and strengthens us with His own body and blood so that we can overcome all things and journey to the very end with Him.
Our Eucharist Lord is present with us to free us, to guide us and to nourish and strengthen us till the very end of our lives. We must go beyond attending the Eucharist in search of earthly gifts alone and then judging the presence of Jesus under the sacramental signs based on the presence or absence of His gifts in our lives. We must also go beyond attending the Eucharist as a mere obligation or duty imposed on us by the Church. How much more transforming will our Eucharistic celebrations be if we approached the Eucharist with the that readiness to be set free by Jesus, guided by Jesus alone in all our life choices and strengthened to do His will in this life?
A woman here in Marawi, Philippines, who has been displaced by the fierce fighting between the government troops and the Islamic Maute group, had this to say recently, “Our homes and stores have been destroyed, our neighbors and relatives killed. We have lost everything. It is only God that we are holding on to now.” Gifts and blessings come and go, often in painful and difficult circumstances. We can always hold on to the divine presence with us. Our Eucharist guarantees us that we are not just holding on to God but God, in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, is holding on to us as we receive His body and drink His blood, placing all our trust in the words of Jesus alone and in His divine guarantee.
Jesus comes to us in today’s Eucharist. He knows all our needs even before we ask Him. He comes to give us what we need most – His presence with us. Whether we have and enjoy His gifts or not, let Jesus, our Eucharistic Lord, be ever present in our lives to free us, to guide us, and to strengthen us with His body and blood so that He will hold on to us even till the grave from where He will raise us up on the last day…guaranteed.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!