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According to John’s story, once more the Jews are unable to go past the physical and material, and interrupt Jesus, scandalized by the aggressive language he’s using: «How can this man give us his flesh to eat?». Jesus doesn’t take back his affirmation, but gives his words a more profound meaning.
The nucleus of his explanation allows us to go into the experience that the first Christian communities were having when they celebrate the Eucharist. According to Jesus, the disciples don’t need to just believe in him, but they should feed on and nourish their life in his very person. The Eucharist is a central experience for Jesus’ followers.
The words that follow do nothing but highlight their fundamental and indispensible character: «My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink». If the disciples don’t feed on him, they could do and say much, but they mustn’t forget his words: «You won’t have life within you». In order to have life within us we need to feed on Jesus, nourish ourselves on his vital life-force, place deep within us his attitudes and his criteria for living. This is the secret and the power of the Eucharist. Only those know it who communion with him and feed on his passion for the Father and his love for God’s children.
Jesus’ language has great expressive power. He makes this promise to whoever knows how to feed on him: «That person lives in me and I live in that person». Whoever is nourished by the Eucharist experiences his relationship with Jesus not as something external. Jesus isn’t a model for life that we imitate from outside. He nourishes our life from within.
This experience of «live in» Jesus and allow Jesus to «live in» us can transform our life at its root. This mutual interchange, this intimate communion, difficult to express in words, constitutes the true relationship of the disciple with Jesus. This is what it means to follow him, sustained by his very life-force.
That life that Jesus transmits to his disciples in the Eucharist is one that he himself receives from the Father, an inexhaustible Fountain of life at its fullest. A life that isn’t extinguished by our biological death. That’s why Jesus dares to make this promise to his own: «Anyone who eats this bread will live forever».
Without doubt, the most serious sign of the crisis of Christian faith among us is the so common abandonment of the Sunday Eucharist. For those who love Jesus, it’s painful to observe how the Eucharist continues losing its power to attract. But it’s more painful yet to see that even within the Church we watch this happening without venturing to react. Why?
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf