Sunday, June 23, is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
Hunger and thirst matter. Without something to eat and something to drink, our strength fades, our thinking becomes unclear, and eventually even life itself becomes unsustainable.
Jesus was not indifferent to the bodily needs of his followers. When the apostles suggested that the tired, hungry crowds be sent away, Jesus asked the apostles to give them food themselves. They were painfully aware of their limited resources in the face of so great a need, but Jesus accepted what they could offer with a peace prefigured in Melchizedek: “Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.” To the astonishment of the apostles, “They all ate and were satisfied” (Luke 9:16-17).
How often we can relate to the dilemma of the apostles. The needs of those around us can be overwhelming. What can we do to feed so many? How can we find the time to help all those in need? Where can we find enough resources for our own needs and those of so many people who lack what they need? Jesus accepts whatever we can offer. When we give freely and fully, we can trust in God to multiply the loaves and fish of our small offerings and make them a blessing for others.
This freedom in sharing material goods, trusting in the Lord to multiply our goods and our time, enables us to participate in God’s providential care. Yet there remains a much more profound hunger in each and every one of us. As Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy when tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The most profound hunger of the human person is for God’s word, especially for the Word made flesh.
Human hunger is ultimately for God, for the truth and love that fulfill the deepest desires of our being. If God provides for our bodily hunger, could he neglect our spiritual hunger? St. Paul hands on God’s answer to this longing. He writes to the Corinthians, “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
The Body and Blood of Christ, gifts beyond all human hoping, are the food and drink that satisfy the deepest hunger and thirst of humanity. In his great hymn Lauda Sion, used as the Sequence for this feast, St. Thomas Aquinas links the Eucharist to the desire of us all for a Love that never leaves us, a Love that alone can fill our spiritual hunger: “Very bread, Good Shepherd, tend us, / Jesus, of your love befriend us, / You refresh us, you defend us, / Your eternal goodness send us / In the land of life to see.” Fed by this Bread, we need hunger no more. In the Bread from heaven, we find the strength we need for the journey, all the way home.
Dominican Sister Mary Madeline Todd is a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, Tennessee.
She is assistant professor of theology at Aquinas College in Nashville and also serves through retreats, public speaking and writing.