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Corpus Christi - June 11th 2023


The Blessing of the Wheat in Artois, Painted in 1857 by Jules Breton (1827-1906)


Sunday is Corpus Christi Sunday, when we celebrate the real presence of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The feast of Corpus Christi was initially proposed by Saint Thomas Aquinas to Pope Urban IV, to create a feast focussed solely on the Holy Eucharist. It is also a day when normally processions would take place in cities and villages throughout the world where the Blessed Sacrament would be displayed in a monstrance.

Our painting shows such a procession, this one taking place through the wheat fields of Artois, France. We see people genuflecting; children carrying a four-pole baldacchino; village officials praying, etc…


JOHN 6 51:58

Introduction

A difference from the other evangelists, St. John does not recount the institution of the Eucharist of Holy Thurs, after the multiplication of bread, where Jesus distributes a “terrestrial food” to the hungry, Jesus gives a long discourse about the “bread of life” that gives life eternal. In a style typical to John, the short passage we meditate and pray on contains five key words: eat (8x); drink (4x) flesh (5x); blood (4x); and life (9x). An encounter with the mystery of God will never be given to those who remain riveted to the perceptible, the human, the rational.

I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.

Bread – a most simple human thing. For all the Mediterranean basin, bread is the main staple. Bread is also a symbol for life, whoever does not eat, will die. The one with no appetite, must look for a doctor as it is a sign the something is wrong with a person’s health. Add to this the affirmation that this food has a celestial, divine origin, and is a “living” bread! This is then a bread that questions the very nature of our hunger. What does “to live” mean to me? On what do I feed myself? What do I want to have? To consume? What are my spontaneous and elemental appetites? If I don’t feel the need to eat the Eucharist, of what kind of anaemia might I be suffering?

Anyone who eats this bread will live forever.

Blaise Pascal spoke of three levels of greatness: Greatness of the Body, pertaining to the physical world of achievements; the Greatness of the Mind, intellectual achievements (a higher level) and Greatness of the Soul, the highest form of greatness, found in one’s relationship with God.[1] Biological life, is what it is, beautiful but fragile. The intellectual life distinguishes us from animals and there is also the spiritual life which is about true love. Jesus didn’t stop thinking about this divine life, eternal life.

The bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world.

The other evangelists use another phrase “this is my body”, John’s use of the word “flesh” can be seen as well in his prologue: “The word became flesh.”[2] And “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”[3] John insists many times on the realism of Jesus, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life."[4] Flesh in a Biblical sense is not the same as meat but refers to the totality of a living being. Therefore, what Jesus is saying is “The bread that I give, is me, it’s all my life”. In speaking of his flesh given, Jesus is speaking about his death. Jesus had to die, so that we could live.

Then the Jews started arguing with one another, How can this man give us this flesh to eat?

It isn’t only today that people refuse the Eucharist, it was there the first day! Those who cling to their immediate understanding of the words, will never arrive at what Jesus is saying.

Jesus replied: if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you.

If they were shocked with that, Jesus doesn’t stop there, they must also drink his blood! The reference to blood evokes the sacrificial rites of the pascal lamb of the Jews. For the Jewish mentality, to drink blood is forbidden, and not only it is a sacrilege. Even the meat of animals must be completely empty of blood.[5] The word blood also has a Biblical significance that is more than the liquid composed of red and white blood cells. The blood Jesus speaks of is “new life”, that will come with his death. The Body and Blood we receive is a mysterious reality, it’s the spiritual and glorious body of Jesus, dead and resurrected.

Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life and I shall raise him up on the last day.

Transcending the words to which we are invited, in faith, must not lead us to a metaphorical meaning alone. Here John suddenly changes the Greek word he had been using φαγώ (pronounced "fa-go") to eat with the word Τρώω" (pronounced "tro-o") to chew, which is more matter of fact/graphic. All translations hesitate to follow so far as to say masticate! And yet, here we have an important cultural understanding, the Jews are told “to chew” the pascal meal, they are to eat attentively, mindfully, so as to immerse themselves in it more fully. [6] Jesus is making reference to this profound, very real symbolism; our spiritual life is nourished and expressed through our bodies.

For my flesh is real food and my blood real drink

The word “real” is repeated twice. In John, Jesus never stops going from a visible reality to a reality more profound, he boldly proposes the real life, the real food.

He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him.

Here we have another word that John is fond of using “lives” or abides, remains, dwells. This theme is developed the night of Holy Thursday in the upper room when he spoke of the Vine.[7] Eat my flesh and drink my blood, when John wrote these words it was more or less 60 years that the Christians celebrated the Eucharistic meal, the Mass. Indeed in the Eucharistic celebration there are two signs distinct, two words distinct; “This is my body given up for you”, “This is my blood, poured out for you”. How can we not think of the crucifixion? In the Mass, we look again to Golgotha, the bloody sacrifice of Him who freely gave all. The example for us, each day for as long as we live, to give for love. That is what it means to live in Him. This is life for Jesus, the true life. The Eucharist only makes sense if it manifests and nurtures a living communion. And each of us knows what that means in our daily life.

As I, who am sent by the living Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me.

This is maybe the most dense phrase of the whole gospel. What we are talking about here is the divinisation of man. The image of the assimilation of food speaks for itself. In the whole cycle of nature; the plant transforms inorganic matter into itself, the animal transforms the plants it eats into itself, the human being is the summit of this increasingly perfect mutation of life. Why should transmutation stop there? Why shouldn’t God assimilate us to Himself?

This is the bread come down from heaven; not life the bread our ancestors ate: they are dead, but anyone who eats this bread will live forever.

Live! Live to the full! We do not eat the Eucharist like the Hebrews ate the manna in the desert, to satisfy a bodily hunger. We are talking about a spiritual hunger, through a bodily sign.



[1] Blaise Pascal, Thoughts 585 [2] John 1:14 [3] 1John 4:2 [4] 1John 1:1 [5] “Kosher” meat is prepared according to Jewish dietary laws: This process, known as kashering, involves soaking the meat in water and then salting it to draw out the remaining blood. [6] Exodus 12:14: This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast [7] John 15:5: I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

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