Jesus: Do you believe?
During the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people died alone in hospitals, and nursing homes, because their families could not be there to visit. Henry was just such a person. Though he never contracted the disease, he was in the early stages of organ failure and would soon slip into a coma. Before that, his nurses arranged a video call with his family. During the call, his children and grandchildren were upset and angry that he would die alone. However, they were surprised to see that Henry was calm and peaceful.
While they were telling him how much they loved him, and how much they wished they could be there with him, Henry said: “Don’t worry, I’m going to be alright.”
One of his sons asked him what he meant, and he went on to explain: “I asked for the priest to come bring me Holy Communion, but the nurses told me that even priests were not allowed to come to the hospital. But a nurse who is a Eucharistic minister came by yesterday with communion for me. Once I received Jesus, I knew he would be with me and that I would be alright.”
Hearing that, a feeling of peace came over his children and grandchildren. It was still painful not to be with him when he breathed his last, but they were consoled knowing that he was comfortable and at peace.
Throughout the centuries, it has been a common practice to give a last Holy Communion to those who are dying. It is called “viaticum” which means “food for the journey”. Dying persons receive Our Lord in Holy Communion to strengthen them to face their final moments, and to guide their souls to their judgment and, hopefully, into their eternal reward. We should all make sure that our loved ones who are dying receive communion don’t wait until the last minute. We should let our family members know that we want the Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum before we can’t swallow, or we lose consciousness. It will give us tremendous peace and consolation as we face the last moments of our lives.
In today’s first reading, we see an example of how bread from heaven gives consolation to us on earth.
The prophet Elijah is fleeing for his life. The queen of Israel, Jezebel, has sent soldiers out to kill him. After a day of running, he is exhausted and at the point of despair. He asks God to take his life and spare him such misery. Instead, God sends an angel with water and a hearth cake and, on the strength of that food he is empowered to travel forty days and forty nights.
When we hear the number forty in Scripture, it is symbolic of a time of testing and trial. Elijah, whose life is in danger, was facing an extremely challenging trial. All of us here today are also facing some type of testing or trial. We might be struggling with an addiction which seems to always be getting the better of us. We might be tested by the physical limitations that come with age or sickness. Someone in our family might be struggling and it is causing US much suffering. Whatever it is that we might be faced with, God comes to meet us in our weakness and difficulty. Just as he gave nourishment and consolation to Elijah in the desert, so He comes today to give us nourishment and consolation in the Eucharist. That is what Henry and his family experienced when he was near death. That is what all of us can experience whenever we come to Mass.
If a hearth cake and jug of water can strengthen Elijah for a journey of forty days and forty nights, how much more can Jesus in Holy Communion empower us to overcome the obstacles in our lives.
In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “I AM the bread that comes down from heaven.” In the Holy Communion, we are not receiving someTHING. We are receiving someONE. It is Jesus himself who is present to us in Holy Communion and who enters into us when we receive Communion. It is a great mystery of our faith. The only way to perceive it is through faith.
Jesus tells us, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” When we receive Communion, the priest holds up the host and says, “The Body of Christ”, to which we respond, “Amen”, which means, “It is true”, or “I believe”. It could be that some of us here today are struggling to believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
It might just not seem possible that the God who created the world can be fully present in a small wafer of what looks like bread. But it is true. Jesus told us so, and he is Truth. Jesus says so in John Chapter six. That is the reason we asked all of you last weekend to read John chapter six once you got home. Not only in John six, but an all the other gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke Jesus holds up bread and changes it into his body as he says, without equivocation, THIS IS my body. In Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Paul quotes Jesus as saying the same thing. This is my body, not this symbolizes my body or anything like that. This IS my body.
If we are struggling to believe, we can always turn to God and ask him to enlighten our minds. Struggles with faith can be as painful as any other struggles we experience. God has compassion for us when we are striving to believe but are finding it difficult. The fact that we want to believe indicates that we love God and want to please him. God will always answer the prayer of someone who desires to believe. He will sustain us as we work through the issues that are confounding us and lead us to people who can help us. Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Keep coming to Mass and going to confession, and you will eventually come to a point where you not only believe but find that YOU CAN NOT LIVE without receiving Jesus in Holy Communion.
Jesus promises, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my FLESH for the life of the world.”
The eternal life, Jesus gives, is not only a reality that awaits us after our physical death, but one that we can experience now. The eternal life of Heaven is full communion with God and what we receive during Mass is Holy Communion NOW with The Risen Jesus. It is that loving union with Jesus himself that strengthens us to face the trials and temptations of this life. It is also that loving union that empowers us to serve others out of love. That is the reality that we celebrate every time we gather around the altar of Jesus’ love. This – is – my — body. Do — you – believe?