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Some gifts change you.
For me, it was my wife, April. Twenty-six years ago I was astounded that this woman decided to give me everything she owned and each day of her life, no matter what.
The hugeness of the gift scared the daylights out of me. In bed the night before the wedding, I stared at the ceiling, scared to death that I would fail to live up to it.
After the wedding, though, and ever since, I have no longer just been Tom Hoopes, a random guy. I am changed. I am Tom Hoopes, the man at whom April Hoopes looked and said, “He is worth my everything.”
This is what happens in this Sunday’s readings, the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B. Jesus gives something so unexpected it shifts our very understanding of ourselves.
The Eucharist changes us the same way a marriage does.
We are three Sundays through a five-Sunday explanation by Jesus of why he wants to give us himself in the Blessed Sacrament.
“The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world,” he says in this Sunday’s Gospel. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him,” he will say later.
He give us the Eucharist because he wants to give us his everything.
This gift is absolutely unexpected by the Jewish believers of the day, who immediately question it. But it is only over the years that the Church has unpacked Jesus’ words, and given us in the Catechism a list of “The fruits of Holy Communion.”
“The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus,” says the Catechism. “It is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of men,” it later adds.
But we don’t always feel united to Christ and transformed. The Eucharist helps with that, too.
Elijah in the first reading is experiencing a moment as dark as anything the Church experiences today — he is a rejected prophet to a people who were rejecting God. The discouragement gets so bad, he prays for death.
“But then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat,” says the reading, from Kings. “Strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.”
It is the same for us. “Through the Eucharist those who live from the life of Christ are fed and strengthened,” says the Catechism. An angel touches us, says, “Rise and eat,” and points us not to barley loaves but to the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.
Third, the Eucharist transforms us by preserving us in avoiding sin.
“The Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time … preserving us from future sins,” says the Catechism.
The second reading gives a catalogue of bad behaviors — anger, shouting and malice — and the positives: “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”
The Eucharist helps get there. We are no longer just battling sin as random human beings — we are close friends of Jesus, the champion over sin.
Fourth, the Eucharist changes us by uniting us to the Trinity.
Every person of the Trinity is involved in the Eucharist.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him,” Jesus says in the Gospel. “It is written in the prophets: They shall all be taught by God.”
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,” says the second reading. “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love.”
“The communion of the Holy Trinity is the source and criterion of truth in every relationship,” says the Catechism. “It is lived out in prayer, above all in the Eucharist.”
Fifth, the Eucharist transforms us by welcoming us into a whole family of saints.
In addition to being united to April Hoopes, my wedding united me to her whole family, with all of the help they have given me since.
The Eucharist does that, too.
“The communion of saints must be understood as the communion of the sacraments,” says the Catechism. “But this name is better suited to the Eucharist than to any other, because it is primarily the Eucharist that brings this communion about.”
When we receive the Eucharist we gain a family of Christians on earth and saints in heaven who will help us when we ask.
Last, it gives us hope for heaven.
“This is the bread that comes down from heaven,” says Jesus, “so that one may eat it and not die.“
“There is no surer pledge or dearer sign of this great hope in the new heavens and new earth,” says the Catechism, “than the Eucharist.”
After the Eucharist we are no longer just random people. We are Christ’s. Forever.
This appeared at Aleteia.
Image: Mass at Benedictine College.