Eucharist -- Food for life's journey

Al Cariño
19th Sunday in OT
August 10, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

Elijah, one of the greatest Old Testament prophets, was sent by God to fight idolatry. His arch-enemy was Queen Jezebel who actively promoted the worship of her Phoenician gods among the Israelites.

One day, when Jezebel heard that Elijah had her prophets killed, she ordered the same fate for him. To save his life, Elijah fled to the desert (1 Kgs. 19:4-8). Worn out and depressed at his apparent failure in carrying out his mission, he told God, "I have had enough, Lord. Take my life." He then laid down under a tree to await his death. But God sent him an angel who told him twice to get up and eat for a long journey ahead. Strengthened by the food, he traveled forty days and nights until he reached Mt. Horeb, the mountain where God made the covenant with Moses. The trip to the mountain signified that the work of maintaining fidelity to the Covenant was now on his shoulders.

The mysterious bread that Elijah ate prefigured the bread that Jesus was to give as food "for the life of the world" as well as for our journey through life. This we can see in the gospel reading (Jn. 6:41-51) as Jesus continued to draw out the significance of the multiplication of the loaves. After arousing the interest of the crowd on the "living bread," Jesus declared, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." As the bread Elijah ate enabled him to travel to God's mountain, the "living bread" which Jesus gave to us will be our food in our journey towards life, eternal life: "If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever."

The bread Jesus gave was different from the manna the Israelites ate in the desert. Manna was a powdery substance that fell at night which the people collected in the morning and baked into bread. Though it sustained them during their 40-year stay in the desert, they died just the same. Now, Jesus was telling them that whoever ate the bread He gave would "live forever."

What is this bread that Jesus was talking about? In Jesus' words, "The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." This bread can now be our food because after Jesus gave us His body for our food and His blood for our drink at the Last Supper, He told the apostles, "Do this in memory of me." This happens wherever Mass is celebrated in altars all over the world.

At this stage, it would do us good if we reflect briefly on the following so we may understand them better: our understanding of the Mass, our reception of the Eucharist, and its relation to our life.

Our understanding of the Mass. Many of us have been participating at Mass for as long as we can remember. Do we really understand its meaning? Do we realize that at Mass, the Body of Christ becomes our food and His Blood becomes our drink? For when the priest who stands in the person of Jesus says over the bread, "This is my body" and over the wine, "This my blood," at that very moment, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus. As believers, we are witnesses to this miracle every time we participate at Mass.

Our reception of the Eucharist. At Mass, the same body and blood of Christ is offered to us as food unto eternal life. Yet some of us take the Mass for granted. For example, how often have we said, "Oh!, it's Sunday and I have to go to Mass again!" If that is how we feel about the Mass -- just as an obligation, as a burden to be borne -- then we fail to realize that God wants us to participate at Mass so that He may share Himself to us as food and drink in order to give us life, eternal life.

For the Eucharist to have this effect in us, it is necessary that we take the first step, namely, to believe in Jesus. For it is only in faith that we can accept the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Jesus, broken for our salvation.

The Eucharist and our life. The Eucharist is never separated from real life. In our day-to-day struggles, how many times have we said with Elijah, "Lord, I have had enough!" Problems in school and at work, misunderstandings and tensions at home, financial worries, sickness, depression, violation of our rights as persons, etc., make us feel like throwing in the towel. But the food and drink that Jesus is only too willing to share with us will sustain us amidst life's journey and its problems. For when we partake of the Eucharist, Jesus journeys with us in our joys and sorrows, and continues to do so for as long as we allow Him.

As followers of Christ, we are tasked to help others complete this journey. In fact, we are to be their strength and hope when the going gets tough. In so doing however, we must realize that we are there to help them help themselves and not to take over from them. This is how Jesus journeys with us. This is how we should journey with others.