The gift of self

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Solemnity of the Body & Blood of Jesus Christ, 11 June 2023
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16 ><}}}}*> 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 ><}}}}*> John 6:51-58
Photo by author, 2018.

There is a weird British series in Netflix called the Inside Man about a professor of criminology at the death row in the States for the murder of his own wife. He had deep perceptions and analysis of events that people came to see him in prison to consult in locating their missing loved ones. One of them is an American journalist trying to do a story about him while at the same time seeking his expertise in locating her missing friend, a math tutor in England held hostage in the basement by a pastor and his wife.

Though the series is weird, it has some interesting lines about life and death like when the wife of the pastor told him how she had spent the whole afternoon searching the internet how to kill their son’s math tutor they have thrown in their basement. The wife found it unusual there was nothing in Google that tells of ways of killing another person (so weird, is it not?); however, she was surprised that almost everything she had found in the internet and social media was mainly about sex as he teased her husband that it is not love that makes the world go round but sex!

Yes, it is very funny and weird but her observations seem to be true because nobody in his right mind would ever want to destroy life except terrorists and lunatics. People generally love life that our social media are saturated with contents that try to show how we can enjoy this life through sex, food, and travels in that order. Also with cars for boys aged 5 to 95.

Photo by author, March 2020.

Of course, we all know that is not what life is all about that is filled with mysteries.

Last Sunday we reflected in the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity that mysteries are not problems to be solved but realities to embrace to discover life’s truest meaning found in our relationships with God and with others

This Sunday we celebrate the second most important doctrine and mystery of our faith, the Incarnation of the Son of God Jesus Christ. It is a mystery not only how the Son of God became human like us in everything except sin but most of all, of how he has given us his very flesh and blood as our food and drink in this journey called life.

Jesus said to the crowds: “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 Jews quarreled among themselves saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

John 6:51-53, 55

My favorite front page photo during the Delta outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic published by the Inquirer on 20 August 2021. So evocative of the truth of Jesus himself being our true food and drink – and medicine.

As we have reflected last Sunday, a mystery is a divine truth revealed by God we learn through the gift of faith. It is non-logical but not illogical. It can be explained and understood but not fully.

Here in the mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ we call as the Eucharist, the mystery of our Triune God becomes a reality in our life truly present in perceptible signs of bread and wine. From relating, we now come to the mystery of sharing of our selves like God who shared us his Son Jesus Christ who in turn gave himself for us on the Cross that continues today in the Holy Eucharist as his everlasting sign of his loving presence and service.

See how Jesus spoke clearly in this passage of his giving us his physical body and blood that to receive it, we have to actually eat it too.

First we notice is how in other parts of the New Testament that the term soma is used to refer to the Eucharist which is the Greek word for “body” that may have symbolic meanings; but in this passage, Jesus used the word sarx which means “flesh” in Greek that means only one thing, the corporeal reality of his physical body. Jesus is telling us in no uncertain terms in this passage after the miracle feeding of more than 5000 in the wilderness that he himself is truly and really present as flesh and blood in the Eucharist. Recall that at his Prologue to his gospel, John also used the same term sarx in declaring “the Word became flesh” (Jn.1:14) to correct misunderstandings and doubts that were already developing during the first century of Christianity regarding the physical Incarnation of Jesus the Eternal Word and his true presence in the Eucharist.

Second term used by Jesus four times as he emphasized the reality of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist is the word trogein which in Greek means “to munch” or “bite”; the other Greek word for the verb to eat is phragein which evokes many symbolic meanings like “digesting” a book or “assimilating” the culture. Again, when Jesus said we have to eat his flesh and drink his blood, he truly meant himself as a true food and true drink to nourish and sustain us in this life and hereafter.

Photo by Kuya Ruben, 04 August 2022.

There lies the beauty of this mystery of the Eucharist: Jesus himself is the one we receive, who comes to us personally, physically to be one with us in our very selves. We do not have to wait for death and be in heaven to experience fullness of life in Christ because he comes truly to us while in this life when we receive him in the Holy Communion.

St. Paul reminds us in the second reading with his rhetorical questions, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break: is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16) of this reality of Christ’s presence in us and among us. He was not waiting for answers of yes or no but posed those questions to affirm the very truth we all know that Jesus is really present in us and among us especially when we are broken like the Israelites in the first reading. This is where the mystery deepens, becomes more real and more fascinating. Jesus the Son of God emptying himself to be like us in everything except sin so that we may become like him, holy and divine.

This I have learned in my two years of being a chaplain in the hospital. Admittedly, it is difficult especially for me as I could easily be carried away by emotions in seeing the sick and suffering while at the same time, can often have my stomach overturned by sights of blood and wounds of others. But, there is always that indescribable feelings of joy and fulfillment after visiting and anointing our sick patients.

Photo by Kuya Ruben, June 2022.

I have no claims to holiness as I am a sinner too but the Eucharist has become most truest to me these past two years in the hospital and university as well as I get into contact with the sick and the students. When I touch patients to pray over them or help in moving them, when students cry to me or ask for hugs after confessions, they all flash to me during the consecration as I raise and say, This is my Body… This is my Blood. Jesus is most truest in the Eucharist when we too imitate him in giving ourselves to others to be broken and shared.

The Eucharist is the most wonderful gift of God to us when we receive his Son Body and Blood to make us strong and holy like him in this life.

That is why we have to go to Mass every Sunday. That is why a priest has to celebrate Mass daily for the people to be strengthened like him in this journey of life filled with trials and sufferings. That is why Moses kept on reminding the Israelites of their many hardships from their exodus into their wandering in the wilderness. That is why this coming Friday, we cap these three weeks of transition into the Ordinary Time with the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, another mystery of Christ truly among us and within us as we experience his love most truly right here in our hearts.

What an awesome God we have indeed who has become so small and so simple like us so we can be great like him. Like the simple bread and wine, in the Mass through the Holy Spirit, they become Christ’s Body and Blood. Let’s make it happen this Sunday in our celebration of the Mass. Amen. Have a blessed week ahead.