Why Don’t You Understand What I Mean?

Why Don’t You Understand What I Mean? 

I’m sure you’ve had the same difficulty that I have had. You say something with as much care and credibility as you possess and someone misinterprets what you said. In your mind it was clear what you intended to say but somehow those who received the message heard something else. It can be frustrating.

I find this weekend’s Gospel the epicenter of religious-miscommunication. It is one of the hardest passages to explain and often leads to misinterpretation. Even as I approach writing about it for this article, I spent time reviewing the Catechism on the Catholic Church and a number of my favorite scholarly commentaries on the subject and still I find it vain hubris to even attempt to write anything.

Which is a shame because the words from Jesus are pretty straightforward. In John 6:53 he says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” But the interpretations that proceed from that single line of scripture are dizzying.

Does that imply Jesus was promoting cannibalism? (Hint: No!)  Then is it something metaphoric? (Hint: Also no!) Well is it meant literally? (Hint: Well kind of. Yes, but not really the same kind of “literally” as other things which are literal.) But does that mean the Eucharist bread consecrated on Sunday is physically Jesus? (Hint: Well yes, but no, but yes.) *Insert sign of desperation.*

In the history of Christianity, through both dim ages and reformations, there has been a constant struggle to articulate with accuracy this core experience of Christianity. No one seems to be able to articulate it with satisfying precision without someone misinterpreting what was said. If you research deeper into the conversation you’ll develop refined definitions of words like “Presence,” “Real Presence,” and “Transubstantiation.” Exploring what Jesus meant in John 6:53 invites a linguist’s knowledge of Greek words such as “Soma” (body) and “Sarx” (flesh) and “Trogon” (to gnaw). For all of you still reading, this paragraph can lead to mental wooziness but I assure you, it is only a snippet of the academic work that is involved in trying to understand John 6:53.

More than scholarly arguments, I would invite you to center on your own experience. Time and time again, I hear people who come back to the Church, sometimes after years apart and they say, “I’m here because I missed the Eucharist. There is something about it that is important to me.” I know that to be true myself. I hope you know it to be true as well. I find the words of Fr. Richard Rohr to be some of the most helpful and consoling words in this regard. On Tuesday, July 24, 2018 he wrote the following:

“We spent much of our history arguing about the “how” and the “if” and “who” could do what Catholics called the “transubstantiation” of the bread and wine instead of simply learning how to be present. We made the Eucharist into a magic act to be believed instead of a personal transformation to be experienced. We changed bread more than people, it seems to me. We emphasized the priest as the “transformer” instead of the people as the transformed. We made “Real Presence” into a doctrine (which has its very good meaning!), but we seldom taught people how to be really present (which is contemplation).

When you are really present, you will experience the Real Presence for yourself.

The Eucharist is an encounter of the heart, knowing Presence through our available presence. In the Eucharist, we move beyond mere words or rational thought and go to that place where we don’t talk about the Mystery; we begin to chew on it.

We must move our knowing to the bodily, cellular, participative, and unitive level. Then we keep eating and drinking the Mystery until one day it dawns on us, in an undefended moment, “My God, I really am what I eat!” Henceforth we can trust and allow what has been true since the first moment of our existence: We are the very Body of Christ. We have dignity and power flowing through us in our naked existence—and everybody else does too, even though most of us do not know it. This is enough to guide and empower our entire faith journey.”

I pray that you will be renewed in your prayer of receiving the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist. I pray that you will receive the “Flesh of the Son of Man,” realize that it is Jesus, and that his presence makes you aware that Jesus is with you, in your very flesh, sending you into the world to be the presence of God’s love to those in need. I ask for you to make the same prayer for me and for all the Church.

-David Heimann, Pastoral Associate

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