Jesus is the bread of life, the Eucharist we celebrate.
The priest at my college parish engrained something in my mind that I’ll never forget; if Jesus says something more than once, pay attention. He told us that it was Jesus’ version of a neon sign with flashing lights. In today’s gospel, Jesus referenced the word bread five times. Either Jesus REALLY liked bread, or He was waving those flashing lights so that we would hone in on the message He was giving. “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven, whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Why is he so focused on this message about bread? Because this isn’t just about bread, this is about Jesus handing himself over to us every single time we get to receive His body in the Holy Eucharist. As the Church teaches, “the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, no. 11; Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1345). This is Jesu’s message to us in today’s gospel. He is literally giving us His ultimate playbook in the simplest form; if we eat His life-giving bread, we will live forever with Him in Heaven.
Although this seems pretty fool proof, we human beings really know how to mess up even the simplest of things. When we go to Mass, how often are we guilty of going through the motions and taking for granted the special moment when we unite ourselves with Jesus as we receive Him in the Eucharist?
Devotion to the Eucharist
I have the privilege to write stories of college-aged kids coming into the Catholic Church, and I’ve heard a lot of fascinating stories. However, there’s one that stands out in particular. A guy who wrestled for Oklahoma State had a peaked interest in Catholicism as his girlfriend and wrestling coach were both devout Catholics. To make a long story short, this young man started going to Mass, joined RCIA, became Catholic, got engaged to the girlfriend and went on a mission trip. He came back from the mission trip distraught. The people there were only able to receive the Eucharist once a year. A guy who had it all in the eyes of the world called off his engagement, joined seminary and discerned the priesthood all so he could bring Jesus to people in the Eucharist.
I think of that story often, especially when I feel myself going through the motions of receiving the Eucharist at Mass. Jesus is there waiting to give Himself, body, blood, soul and divinity, yet sometimes I let the noise of the world get in the way. The Eucharist is what sets us apart as Catholics. How amazing it is that we believe every time we receive the Lord at Mass, we are literally partaking in Jesus’ divinity?! If we want to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ, we must unite ourselves to Him in the Eucharist. He is the bread of life.