As I consume the Eucharist in Humility, Christ Consumes my Soul in Love - by Derek Geake

2008 Winter-Spring - 2008  - A peer-reviewed article from an Issue of the Academic Journal "Fidelitas" of The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars

As I consume the Eucharist in humility, Christ consumes my soul in love
Derek Geake, B.Sc.

Derek Geake is a former student of FCS member Paul Flaman and a convert to Catholicism from Evangelical Christianity.
“As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” (John 6:66 NAB)
This is the only recorded passage where some of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth rejected his authority, refused his offensive teaching, and deserted him during his ministry. Expanding the context of John 6 makes this even more vexing to understand, which begs the question: Why?
The authority of Jesus is well established. A large crowd keeps following Jesus because he is healing the sick by miracles (v. 2). They decide to follow Jesus while the Passover is approaching (v. 4), instead of going to Jerusalem. Jesus feeds all five thousand people (v. 10), the size of an entire Roman military legion, as much as they wanted (v. 11); the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. This is so powerful a miracle they believe him to be the political messiah to oppose Rome (v. 14), and they try to make him king by force (v. 15)! 20
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The vivid memory of the Maccabean revolt (175-143 BC) was not lost almost 200 years later. Thus 1 Maccabees becomes critical to understanding the context of the Jews during the ministry of Jesus. Seleucid king Antiochus and the Jewish sacerdotal aristocracy (Sadducees) embraced Hellenism, and the eradication of the Jewish identity followed to consolidate the weak empire of Antiochus. So powerful was Hellenism that even the architecture of synagogues was in Greek style!2The Hasmoneans fight back, leading to the purification and rededication of the Temple in 146 BC: Hanukkah. Note that the Hasideans unite with them in this fight (1 Mac 2:42) due to their strong devotion to the law, and are regarded as the direct precursors of the Pharisees. The Hasmoneans made a treaty with Rome for support (1 Mac 8:1-32), which lead to later battles and the final subjugation of Jerusalem in 63 BC by Pompey. The Pharisees were in opposition to the Hasmonean rulers who tried to revolt against Rome, preferring subjugation. Nonetheless, the long history of foreign rulers subjugating the Jews strongly reinforced the desire for the messiah and the dream of a political Jewish empire.
They keep following him, finding him in the synagogue in Capernaum (v. 24). Jesus teaches that they must work for thefood that “endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (v. 27), and not the food that perishes that he hadfed them previously from his miracle nonetheless. So it is not enough to eat simply bread and fish, something greater is sought. They challenge him to give them a sign such as
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manna, “the bread from heaven” (v. 31), something that the messiah was expected to do in the end days as a sign of his authenticity and seal (v. 27).
Again, 2 Maccabees is dedicated to the fate of the Temple, and important to Jewish understanding of the coming of the messiah. In 2 Maccabees 2:5-8, they believed that Jeremiah had hidden the tent, the ark which contained the manna, and altar of incense, and would remain hidden until God gathers his people again, and the glory and cloud will appear (v. 8) as a sign of his direct presence on earth (Exodus 16:10) and all these things would be revealed at that time. The Transfiguration of Jesus in Luke 9:28-36 authenticates this prophesy as Jesus radiates and the cloud appears with God’svoice giving instruction.
Thus Jesus acknowledges to them their understanding in verse John 6:32-33:“Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
Now they are hungry and thirsty for this bread always (v. 34)! Jesus then declares to them that he is the bread of life (v. 35) from heaven to do only the will of the Father (v. 38). They begin to complain, echoing the grumbling in Exodus 2 before Moses brought them the manna, and point out that he is merely the son of Joseph (v. 42). Jesus replies that only those
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drawn by the Father come to him (v. 44) and reiterates “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven” (v. 51).
They continue their angry disagreement, unable to understand how Jesus is to give them his flesh to eat (v. 52): cannibalism? Indeed they all know that eating blood is forbidden, as
Leviticus 17:14 dictates: “You shall not partake of the blood of any meat. Since the life of every living body is its blood,anyone who partakes of it shall be cut off.” Judaism has a sacrificial system that used many symbols.
Jesus makes no attempt to soften or correct any misunderstanding they may have had of what he had said, that is, that they had taken what he said “too literally.” Rather, he affirms a “literal” interpretation of this teaching, saying, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man [that is, Himself] and drink his blood, you have no life in you....”(v. 53-59) He asks if they find this offensive.(v. 61) Jesus incites them even more by asking what they will say when he, as the bread from heaven, returns back to heaven (62). Jesus then points out that it is the spirit that gives life, and the flesh is useless (63). Indeed only the spiritual side of faith can understand this; the rational senses stumble at this and cannot achieve this understanding on their own.
This is the moment of truth for these disciples of Jesus. The sadness is that most will not accept this teaching, and Jesus already knows this, even the one who later betrays him (v. 64), and there is even indication that it was this teaching thatbroke Judas’ loyalty. Easy to understand since Jesus states he is the bread from heaven 12 times, and declares they must eat 23
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his flesh and drink his blood 4 times! The final provocation comes as Jesus declares that only the Father grants these revelations to the faithful (v. 65), exemplified elsewhere by the confession of Peter regarding Jesus’ true identity (Matt 16:17).
The context of this chapter needed to be drawn out to highlight the fact that this teaching is too difficult to handle, as read explicitly from the text: the further it is expanded the narrower and more literal the conclusion. The meaning of this chapter is simple: one cannot be an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ unless one accepts his literal teaching regarding the Eucharist: this is the criteria for calling oneself a Christian, a follower of Christ. It is not granted by reason, only by the Father. The followers at the beginning of this chapter are not ignorant of the signs of the coming messiah; they held onto the traditions of their ancestors; there is no record of them deserting Jesus on any moral teaching. Essentially, it would beeasy to call them “good” by modern standards, but not Christian.
The exegesis is so clear that I require eisegesis to ease my troubled mind. Before my conversion to Catholicism from Evangelical Christianity, somehow I could read the chapter again and again, yet still interpret it figuratively, symbolically, metaphorically: anything except literally. How ironic for an Evangelical “Bible literalist” to refuse something so clearlyliteral in the Bible. However, by rejecting this teaching I
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invalidated my claim to be a true follower of Christ. The impact of this realization was staggering.
Every month during our Evangelical communion service, the pastor would take great care to reinforce that the crackers and grape juice were nothing special or sacred, and emphasized
that they were to be partaken only in remembrance: I will call this solus panis theology. We are reminded that we cannot live by bread alone (Deut 8:3, Luke 4:4). There was even a wooden altar that was wheeled in for our communion service with the words “In Remembrance of Me” carved into it, alluding to Luke 22:19. Oddly, we would be reminded that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27). If it is not sacred, however, why the harsh judgments about being condemned with the world (1 Cor 11:32), which was not mentioned? No concept of the sacrament of Reconciliation existed within this denomination.
Personal journey
I began reading the Bible and taking notes from sermons since I was nine years old, and gained sufficient knowledge of Scripture that I did not think that this church was what I was looking for. I shopped at so many other churches. The joke was to go Anglican if you are desperate. What was never said, or was just known, is that you do not go to the Catholic Church: there is a sense that they are not authentic Christians. It is never outright said to Catholics, but it is something like an intuition that is just sensed about them. Protestants will mention the “faith rediscovered by the Reformers,” something I would come across at times, with the 25
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connotation that between 312 AD and 1517 AD there was no real Church or Christians, always with the insinuation that the real church had to go underground during this period because it was persecuted by the Catholic Church.
Yet when one seeks after Truth, there comes openness. When Jesus provoked them by saying only the Father brings people to Jesus (v. 65), this relates to me. I distinctly remember being frustrated at not finding this elusive sense of where to go to Church, a feeling “at home”, and praying for several hours one night by my bed. I was crying, and pleading with God as to where to go, and demanding that if there really is his church then tell me where it is! I was angry, on the verge of deism or atheism. Even now it is so crystal clear in that moment that a voice, but not a voice, a presence, but not a presence, and yet the deepest peace I could ever experience said the “Catholic Church.” I was baffled, and could notaccept it thinking it was temptation from a demon. Yet that peace was so sweet and refreshing, so unmistakable, that it could not be dismissed. It gnawed at me in my mind, even maddening. It required almost two years of working through my anti-Catholic beliefs before I also came to the moment of truth: either accept the Catholic Faith, or leave Christianity.
Eventually I went to Mass. There is something different about Catholic churches, even basic chapels, which Protestant churches do not have. My eyes cannot see it, but something within me senses it. On one occasion when I reasoned that I am a Christian and, therefore, it should be just as valid for me to partake in the Catholic communion, there was a momentof quietness and a peace that said “no, wait.” This was before I had decided to become Catholic. No one could convince me with rational arguments, but there was this same unmistakable voice of tremendous peace to assure me. Later, when I was
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confirmed, I was so thankful that I listened: like chastity for my soul, saving it until I was ready to receive the groom into my heart properly.
A paradox of studying Scripture begins to unravel. The more I learn from Scripture about authentically following Christ, the less my old self wishes to follow Him. It becomes more difficult to use eisegesis with a clean conscience, and more and more conflicts with the sinful side of my human nature become apparent. This leads to crisis, and so something else is required. Only in the Eucharist has my soul been able to be nourished with the Pax Christi, a peace I cannot acquire on my own, nor reason to on my own. This also necessitates Reconciliation, transformation of my conscience, and reordering of my life in all its actions. This is indeed a difficult internal struggle., Only through the Eucharist is there any hope of persevering.
Nearly four years after my confirmation, there is still something mysterious about the Eucharist. All my rational senses and tools wish to disprove it. Yet, those same senses and tools would never be able to call Jesus of Nazareth the Christ. The cliché title of this paper was the way of settling my understanding of the Eucharist and transubstantiation. In this conversion experience, there are some insights that I wish to share about the centrality of the Eucharist as I have come to understand them.
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In the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of Scripture, spoken words are powerful. They are dynamic entities of continual reality of psychic energy or power from the person who speaks it3. When John’s Gospel opens with Jesus is the Word of God, this gives the image of Jesus being the very breath of God into the world. This is much greater than any status of prophet who is called to speak for God. Thus not only is Jesus speaking Truth, he is the Truth. Despite all this authority that is established throughout the New Testament, why did Jesus never write anything down?
Jesus never did his own will, but only the will of the Father (John 5:30): to establish the kingdom of Heaven on earth. The nature of this kingdom requires our voluntary submission to Christ, which begins an internal moral revolution in our hearts. This cannot be completed by simply following laws or reading the scriptures to find eternal life, like the Pharisees (John 5:39). This is a heavy point of authority: the scriptures point to Jesus and not vice versa for eternal life. This breaks down any emphasis on sola scriptura as the sole authority for following Christ. As one can only come to the Father through Jesus, one can only come to Jesus completely through submission to the Eucharist. Without the Eucharist, any relationship with Jesus is incomplete and one-sided. Although in Baptism and Confirmation we receive spiritual marks on our soul, it is regular reception of Jesus in the Eucharist that provides a continual intimate relationship with Christ, giving us enough strength to continue that moral and spiritual revolution within us to perfection. This cannot be achieved in any other fashion, although this is complemented with prayer and acts of service and self sacrifice.
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Had Jesus written the New Testament by his own hand, there would be no contention about the sole need for a rational study of his work to gain knowledge of eternal life: a self-help book to heaven. We cannot earn eternal life merely from a rigorous study of scripture, like the Pharisees. It is a good reminder that the Canon of the Bible did not exist for Jews until the Council of Jamnia (90 AD) and for Christians until the council of Carthage (397 AD). We are not called to eat our Bibles, they are made of paper and ink, complementing very well the solus panis theology mentioned above. There is tremendous knowledge and wisdom in Scripture, yet spiritual life, the life of God,comes from Jesus.
The implications of the Eucharist are expressed quite vividly in John 6. To eat Jesus’ blood would cut them off from God’s chosen people, according to the Law of Moses: it makes no rational or logical sense, so Jesus uses logic:
“If they do not eat his flesh and drink his blood, Then they have no life in them. “(v. 53)
“If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, Then you will live continually in me,
And I will live continually in you. “(v. 56)
Reading Scripture is not enough (John 5:39): we can nourish our minds by studying Scripture, but then we are no better than the scribes and Pharisees. The critical teaching that
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marks a true follower of Christ is the Eucharist: it affirms the desire to truly have the life of Christ in them.
Consider how often people quote John 8:32b “the truth will set you free” and ignore the conditions for freedom.
“If you hold to my teachingThen you are really my disciples
Then you will know the truthAnd the truth will set you free.” (31, 32)
Not only this condition, which Jesus declares that they do not understand because they refuse his teaching (v. 43) since they are from their father the devil and chose to do his desires (v. 44). Thus, do we seek to be obedient to Christ and seek his respect, or do we seek the respect of other humans, and deny his teaching? The image of faith cannot be ahead of the substance of our faith: we can cast out demons and prophesy in his name and still not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 7:21).
We are called to perfection, once we have the basic teachings of Christ (Heb 6:1). However there is the caution that obedience comes first. As long as one thinks they can achieve perfection on their own, they will no longer think that they must be obedient to Christ. This is tremendous pride. It is only through being imitators and followers of Christ that we have any hope of perfection. Today there are so many attacks on the authority of the Catholic Church, and the reality of the Eucharist. This is not surprising, as only submission to the authority that Christ placed on earth for teaching, and properly receiving the source par excellence of receiving the life 30
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of Christ into my soul, can lead to eternal life. The humility of realizing that our flesh is weak necessitates the strength of Christ’s flesh, when pursuing the difficult commission to do the will of the Father and establish the kingdom of heaven on earth. Partaking of the Eucharist worthily demands an internal change that spills out into our entire lives in all aspects.
The teaching of the Eucharist is perhaps the most difficult teaching to this day. Many observant Jews during Jesus’ ministry refused this “offensive” teaching, though they correctly knew the signs of the coming messiah. Truly many desire the knowledge of God, the power of God, the wisdom of God, but stop short of a real relationship with God. It is easy to have the image of a relationship with Jesus and claim all kinds of amazing deeds: prophesies, exorcisms, speaking in tongues, and so forth, but without accepting the teaching of Jesus on the Eucharist, and its implications, we will not have the full substance of the life of Christ to enter the kingdom of heaven (Mat 7:21-22).