In every romantic relationship, there comes that moment of great importance where, for the first time, one person says those three powerful words, “I love you.” There is so much weight hanging on that moment, first, because it is an admission of something deeply personal. But even more important, everyone knows that in that statement is an invitation. When one person says, “I love you,” there is inherently an invitation for the other person to respond, “I love you, too.” Every act of love is also an invitation to reciprocate. That is why expressing love for another person is so scary, because there is always the fear that the person will not reciprocate, that our love is one-sided.
The Eucharist is a gift of love, and it is also an invitation. As Jesus says in the Gospel today, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in my and I in him.” He makes it clear that he is not speaking metaphorically. He says, “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” The Greek word here, ἀληθῶς, means “true,” “most certainly,” or “in reality.” Christ is telling us that His Flesh is truly and in reality food and His Blood is truly and in reality drink. It is easy to see how this was shocking to His listeners. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they ask in the Gospel today. If I were to stand here in the pulpit and insist that if you wanted eternal life you had to eat my flesh and drink my blood, you all would probably be a little concerned as well.
But later at the Last Supper, Our Lord would make these words clear. When He took bread and said, “This is my Body, which will be given up for you,” and took the chalice of wine saying, “This is the chalice of my Blood, which will be poured out for you,” it became clear how He wanted us to eat His Flesh and Drink His Blood. He truly gives us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. This has been the perennial belief of the Church. The Eucharist is not just bread and wine, it is not just a symbol or a representation, it is truly the Body and Blood of Our Lord. So strong is the Church’s belief in this that, in the early days of the Church, there was a rumor that went out among the pagans that Christians were practicing cannibalism. They heard that Christians were eating the Body and Blood of their messiah, and, not understanding the Eucharist, they assumed that Christians met every Sunday morning to practice literal cannibalism. That shows us just how strong the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist has always been. As Catholics, we take seriously the words of Our Lord. He told us that His flesh and blood were really and truly food and drink. He insisted that we must eat His Flesh and Drink His Blood to have eternal life. And then He gave us the Eucharist saying, “This is My Body and this is My Blood.” Why would we not believe that He is telling us the truth? Why would we doubt that this Eucharist is really Jesus Christ, here present among us?
In the Eucharist is really the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. That is an amazing gift. God gives us Himself, really and completely. He holds nothing back, but in love completely gives Himself to us. The definition of love is to give of ourselves for the good of another. When we love someone, we give of our time and our resources for that person. The Eucharist is the greatest gift of love imaginable. Christ doesn’t give just some thing for our good, but He gives us Himself. Not just part of Himself, but He gives us Himself completely. The Eucharist is the most amazing gift of love that Jesus could give us. There is nothing greater that He could give. This is an amazing gift.
But in this gift is also a challenge. Every gift of love is also an invitation to reciprocate. When we give of ourselves in love to someone, there is contained in that gift an invitation for them to give of themselves in love as well. Love always contains within it an invitation to reciprocate. The Eucharist is the greatest gift of love, which means it is also the greatest invitation to respond.
In the Eucharist, Christ tells us, “This is my Body, given up for you.” Christ’s words are contrary to selfishness and ego. Our selfishness and pride say, “This is my body, and I’ll do with it what I want.” Christ says, “This is my Body, and I give it for you.” The invitation is for us to imitate the love of Christ. This is my body, this is my blood, this is my life, given in love for God and for my brother and sister. That is the invitation and the challenge that we receive in every Eucharist. The challenge is to mortify our pride and selfishness, to mortify the part of us that says, “It’s my body, it’s my life, and I’ll do what I want with it,” in order to imitate the love of Christ which says, “This is my body, and I give it for you.” The Eucharist is a remedy for our sinfulness, which always turns us in on ourselves. We receive Christ’s gift of love, and we are invited by this Eucharist to imitate and reciprocate that gift. We are challenged to become what we receive, an outpouring of love for others.
The danger is that we receive but do not reciprocate. We come here, and Christ gives Himself to us completely in love, but then we remain closed in on ourselves, not giving of ourselves in love for God and our brothers and sisters. How tragic to receive such an amazing gift of love and yet not reciprocate. Unfortunately, this past week, we saw a particularly grievous example of this in the Church with the reports from the grand jury in Pennsylvania. Priests and bishops, men who stood at the altar and daily said the very words, “This is my body, given up for you,” failed tragically to live out that example of self-giving love. By their sinful actions, which are morally reprehensible, they made a mockery of the very Eucharist they celebrated. They held in their hands the cure for all sins and they failed to allow it to bear fruit in their souls. In so doing, they did inestimable harm, first and foremost to those young people whose lives they damaged, as well as to the Church as a whole. The actions, both by those who abused children and by those who hid these sins, deserve severe condemnation.
When such terrible acts are brought to light, what do we do? First and foremost, we pray. Pray for those who were victims of abuse and for their families, for their healing. Pray for those whose faith in the Church has been shaken as a result of the sinfulness of her priests and bishops. Pray for all priests and bishops, that they may be faithful in their promises to God and their commitment to protect especially the most innocent. And, yes, pray for those priests and bishops who are guilty of such heinous sins. Second, we must as a Church continually recommit ourselves to ever greater vigilance in protecting our children. The Church has made great efforts in this. The grand jury report from Pennsylvania, as condemning as it is, reveals this, in that most of the abuse it found occurred decades ago. The Church has made great efforts over the past fifteen years to protect our young people, and these efforts have borne and continue to bear fruit. We remain fully committed to doing everything within our power to safeguard our children. Anyone who needs to report current or past sexual abuse by a member of the clergy or lay employee of the Church is encouraged to call the Office of Child and Youth Protection in the Archdiocese as well as the appropriate civil authorities.
Finally, in the face of such atrocities, the greatest remedy we have is right here in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist is the font of holiness for ourselves as individuals, for the Church, and for the whole world. The best thing that any one of us can do is to respond to the invitation that Christ gives to each of us in this great gift. Do not neglect this invitation of love. As you receive this Eucharist, ask God for the grace to imitate the words of Christ, “This is my body; given up for you.” And pray that all priests and members of the Church who receive from the altar always imitate Christ’s gift of love.