TODAY's FINAL Gospel meditation on the bread of life discourse focuses in a special way on the bread of life as communion. Ironically, this truth is brought into relief at first by the discord and disharmony sparked by the declaration of Jesus: “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” The Gospel informs us that, after hearing the Lord's words, “many of the disciples of Jesus remarked, ‘This sort of talk is hard to endure! How can anyone take it seriously?’” Tragically, “from this time on, many of his disciples broke away and would not remain in his company any longer.” They rejected the gift of the bread of life given specifically to unify and to bestow peace.
Jesus, however “was fully aware that his disciples were murmuring at what he said.” Two Sundays ago we heard Jesus silence the grumbling crowd with the command, “Stop your murmuring!” The only other moments of “murmuring” in the Gospel of John come from the enemies of Jesus. In fact, the Pharisees who hear the murmurings about Jesus, respond by sending temple guards to arrest him (Jn 7, 32). In other words, such murmuring remains one of the first steps that lead to the death of Jesus. Not only does murmuring sow deadly seeds of dissent, it actually causes, indirectly, the crucifixion of Christ.
But this time the Lord responds to the murmuring, not with a reprimand, but with a question to his disciples: “Does it shake your faith?” For “the spirit that gives life” does so precisely by drawing believers together in communion. That is to say, the spirit enlivens us by drawing us into a relationship with Christ and with each other that inspires us to be united with Jesus in his work of fulfilling the Father's will: “This is why I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” For the person of faith and courage, Jesus’ words “are spirit and life” because they save us from the death of isolating doubt and adhere us to the communal life of love shared by the Blessed Trinity.
Hence the supreme poignancy of Jesus’ question to the Twelve: “Do you want to leave me, too?” Simon Peter answers, not for himself but for all the Apostles—and for the Church— “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe; we are convinced that you are God's holy one.” The act of receiving the bread of life in holy Communion perfects our commitment to remain in holy communion with Christ, the Word of eternal life.
In reality, the world was created for the sake of the Church which is the convocation of men and women in Christ that effects unending communion with God's life. Christ and his Church together make up the “whole Christ”—a wholeness that is revealed in the mystery of the bread of life. “How can anyone take it seriously?” For anyone who has experienced the blessing of the communion of the Church, the real question is: “How can anyone not take it seriously?”
Father Cameron, a Register contributing editor, is a professor of homiletics at St. Joseph Seminary, Yonkers, N.Y.