19th Sunday - homily
Is there any difference between Communion that is offered at a Catholic Mass and Communion that is offered at a Protestant service? I’ve heard many people, including Catholics, say no, there is no difference. A good friend of mine, Ken, would answer differently. Ken was a Protestant who came to RCIA when I was leading it in my last parish. On the first night when everyone introduced themselves to the group, Ken made it very clear that he had no intention of becoming Catholic. Married to a Catholic with two kids in a Catholic school, he said that he simply wanted to go deeper in his study of the Bible; he had studied the Bible extensively before RCIA.
So, RCIA began and was rolling along for Ken until we got to the teaching on Communion…the Holy Eucharist. I presented the teaching of the Church that is based on the Gospel we hear from today and these weeks: John 6. We especially focused on the words of our Lord, “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”, and how we take them literally. In other words, Jesus says that the Eucharist really is his flesh and blood and we believe him. Now, this was a problem for Ken. After reading John 6 with us, he realized that the Eucharist is not just something the Church came up with. This is straight from the lips of our Lord himself. We talked for a while after the next few RCIA meetings, particularly about the difference between the Eucharist in the Catholic Church and in Protestant denominations.
My basic point to him paralleled the one Christ makes to the Jews: the difference between the Protestant Eucharist and Catholic is the same difference between manna and the Bread of Life. The Protestant Eucharist is just bread in the same way that manna was just bread. It is natural food only. The Catholic Eucharist is the Bread of Life to which Jesus is referring in John 6. It is supernatural food. Ken and I focused very much on the stark difference that Christ presents: “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven…whoever eats this bread will live forever”. There is a huge difference between manna and the Bread of Life. There is a HUGE difference between the Protestant Eucharist (which is just bread) and the Catholic Eucharist (which is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ).
This was the turning point for Ken. In these talks, I could literally see the scales drop from his eyes. As I said, he was very much a student of the Bible. But, this was all news to him. And, it was good news! He realized that he had to receive the Catholic Eucharist, so he realized that he had to become Catholic. He struggled with some of the other teachings of the Church, but over the next several months…well, I straightened those out for him! It was an exceptionally beautiful and powerful process to witness for me and the others in RCIA. The climax was about two weeks before Easter which is when those in RCIA become Catholic. Ken was still struggling. He told the group in a very personal way how difficult it would be for him to become Catholic – mainly because he could never received Communion in his Protestant denomination again. It was very anguishing for him, something that made a huge impact on me and the others. He decided to come into the Church and is now one happy Catholic who received the Bread of Life weekly. He is very active in the parish and will be a solid teacher of the Catholic faith to so many.
Finally, the last line of today’s Gospel, verse 51, is so incredibly powerful. “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”. Our Lord is saying that the flesh and blood that we receive in Holy Communion is the same flesh and blood that was on the Cross. We can make this line an equation to show this. “The bread that I will give” means the Eucharist… “Is” can mean equals…”my flesh for the life of the world” means the flesh and blood that he shed on the Cross because it is on the Cross that Christ gives his flesh for the life of the world. So, the Eucharist = Christ’s flesh and blood on the Cross. Christ doesn’t die at every Mass; death has no more power over him. It is His risen Body and Blood that is re-presented to us at Mass through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Eucharist truly is the Bread of Life to which Christ is referring. ”Whoever eats this bread will live forever”.