Ritual Cannibalism in Our Churches?
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

As a little boy preparing for my First Communion, the idea of the Host being Jesus' body did not, in so far as I can recall, make me in any way uncomfortable. However, I do remember that when I was older, a friend sincerely asked me how I could be involved in that "gross Catholic practice of eating flesh and drinking blood" ...a ritual that reminded him of the disgusting initiation rites of the Mau-Mau terrorists of those days.

Jesus said: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you." Taken out of context, these words can indeed conjure up images of ritual cannibalism. A truly repulsive concept because, thanks be to God, we have a natural aversion to eating each other.

On the other hand, we have no problem in speaking of our parents and siblings as being our own flesh and blood and of married couples as being two in one flesh. So it is not the fact of a flesh and blood union with Jesus that raises difficulties but rather a distorted perception of the manner in which this union is brought about.

Bread and wine ...universal food and drink ...what could be more appropriate, more acceptable as a symbol of life-sustaining nourishment?

Remember that Jesus said: "The bread that I will give you to eat is my flesh." He did not say: "The flesh that I will give you to eat is my own." Now it may well be a subtle difference, one many of his hearers missed, since we are told that they were turned off and left him.

At the elevation of every Mass you see before you a piece of bread ...this is what Jesus called "the bread from Heaven." This is the "panis angelicus" ...the bread of angels. It is that bread into which Jesus has willed His very essence.

Eat this bread and call Him brother. Eat this bread and Jesus becomes your own flesh and blood. It is Jesusí prayer that all of mankind will some day eat at this table of intimacy and unity.

Is it stretching the point to say that it is only in our brotherhood with Him that we will recognize our consequent brotherhood with each other and, in so doing, recognize the key to world peace? I think not.


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