Fr Luke Fong
When Pope John Paul II wrote his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Inuente (At the Beginning of the New Millennium) in early 2001, he stressed an important Christian principle in every Christian’s view of life, which is the primacy of grace.
This principle holds that in all our human actions that are noble, good, loving and true, and that glorify God, we are led by God’s grace to even desire them in the first place.
We need to be aware of this Christian principle in order for us to remain humble and not be inflated with our ego and pride in holding any view that we are the architects of our own goodness.
This teaching really comes from Jesus Himself, and it is seen in this Sunday’s Gospel text from John chapter 6. Jesus stresses that “no one can come to me unless he is drawn by the Father”, and a little further on “to hear the teaching of the Father and learn from it is to come to me”.
In other words, Jesus teaches us that we would not be able to accept His hard teachings if not for the grace of God.
Any Catholic who hasn’t forgotten his basic catechism would be able to say unequivocally that the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus is fully present in His spirit, soul, humanity and divinity in the consecrated bread and wine at Mass. It is the bedrock of our Catholic faith.
Unfortunately, this fundamental belief seems to be what has split the many other Christian Churches from the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. To believe in this teaching, difficult as it may seem, is a grace that has its primacy in God Himself. It is not our smarts, our keen understanding or anything to do with our holiness that we accept this. If it is, we will be full of pride and lacking in humility, which is the mother of virtues.
When we come forward to receive Holy Communion at Mass, God’s grace leads us towards Him, and it is our love for God that allows us to be drawn to Him.
But this belief in Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist has a consequence and corollary that is just as, if not more important than our belief in Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist.
It is what St Augustine stressed when he said to communicants: “It is your own mystery that you are receiving.” Some authors have translated this to have the Bishop of Hippo saying “become what you eat”.
At the end of this Sunday’s Gospel passage from John 6, we hear Jesus saying, “The bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”
This “life” that Jesus is referring to isn’t merely life from a biological standpoint. In the Greek text the word used is ζωή (zoe) and we see a reference for this first in Genesis where we encounter the tree of life.
Jesus, in giving us Himself, wants us to be restored to that life that was lost by the disobedience of our first parents, and wants us to know that He and He alone will be the universal restorer of life.
Eating of Jesus is only the first part. Being Jesus after we eat of Him is the challenging part of Christianity that makes all the difference.
The throngs that go up to the altar to receive Holy Communion are millions each Sunday throughout the world.
Jesus wants us to make Him powerfully present to the world, and we can make this a reality if after receiving Him in Holy Communion, we boldly respond to His presence in each of us to become mirrors of Jesus in our effort at striving to being forgiving, long-suffering, gentle, patient, loving, charitable and faithful.
This is our universal call to holiness, led by God’s grace and empowered by the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist.
Fr Luke Fong is Assistant Priest at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.