Probably none of us here know what it is like to feel starvation, to have gone days without food and to feel the life going out of us. It is likely, though, that each of us have had some taste of this at times in our lives by experiencing severe hunger because of an illness, fasting, or a very busy day. When we don’t eat, the life in our bodies starts to fade. We can feel our energy being depleted and a sense of lethargy sets in.
In the Gospel today, our Lord uses this metaphor for the spiritual food that is even more necessary for us than the physical food with which we feed ourselves each day, that is, the Most Holy Eucharist. He says, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” We should take these words of our Lord, “you do not have life within you,” in the most immediate and real sense. The Eucharist is the source of all of our spiritual life. Yes, there are many other things that are all necessary for your relationship with God, such as your daily prayers, living a morally upright life, and fulfilling your vocations as father, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, etc. But the source, the very origin of our relationship with God, is Christ, and the Eucharist is Christ. So the Eucharist must be at the center of everything we do as Catholics.
Let’s imagine what would happen if we go without food. Imagine that human beings were the sort of animal that only needed to eat one meal a week. If you only had one meal a week, how would you treat that meal? First, I would imagine that we would look forward to that meal intensely, knowing that it was the only one we would get all week. We would think about it all week, the kids wondering, and probably asking repeatedly, what Mom was going to make. We would make sure that our whole families were there – no excuses would be good enough for missing that one meal of the week. And if we missed that meal, imagine how you would feel for the next week before you had the chance to eat again!
The parallel here, which I am sure is rather obvious, is to our participation at Sunday Mass. For most of us, this is our one chance each week to receive our Lord in Holy Communion, and our attitude toward this amazing opportunity, this most precious gift of gifts from God most high, should reflect the same sense of reliance upon the Eucharist as we would have towards only being able to eat once a week. Our Lord tells us today, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” If we receive the Eucharist with love, reverence, and devotion, we know that God Himself lives in our hearts. He fills our souls with the grace that we need to live a life in accord with His presence within us, if only we will remind ourselves constantly of this presence because of our reception of Holy Communion.
If we only had one meal a week, we would make sure the entire family was there to share that meal. Most of us have someone in our families or a close friend who doesn’t come to Holy Mass on Sundays, some intermittently or not at all. When was the last time you reached out to someone in your family who is Catholic but does not regularly come to Mass? Whether it is a brother or sister, parent, or a teenage or 20-something child, our family members need us to remind them of the importance of coming to Mass in order to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. Just imagine what you would do if someone you loved refused to eat! Would you sit back and watch someone you love starve him or herself? Not coming to Mass (or not being able to receive Holy Communion at Mass for an extended period of time because of an unconfessed mortal sin) is worse than a hunger strike – it is spiritual suicide! We cannot allow those we love to deprive themselves of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist without trying to bring them to understand the importance of receiving Holy Communion at least once a week.
When we go without food, we inevitably feel the pangs of hunger and we are liable to become grumpy or irritable. The same thing happens when we are deprived of the Eucharist. Without those graces that we need, we become more subject to temptations that would lead us into sin and hurt our relationship with God and with others.
If we only had one meal a week, I’m sure that we would all deeply regret any times we failed to come, and would apologize to those people with whom we were supposed to share that meal. The same is true for any times that we might have not attended Holy Mass on a Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation. I know that the summer months are times when we can be particularly tempted to not attend Mass because of vacations, time at the lake, and busy sports schedules. So if there is any time during this summer (or any other time since your last good confession) that you’ve missed Mass, now is the time to bring that sin before our Lord and His Church in the Sacrament of Confession. I promise no judgments or patronizing speeches, just a “welcome home.”
Now let’s try changing our image of the weekly meal just a little bit. Imagine that you’re this new kind of human being that can live off only one meal a week. You’ve been living off one meal a week for your entire life. That one meal is good, but you have hunger pangs all week as you wait for that one meal. In short, you’re getting by. Maybe you’re even doing pretty well. But it is still just one meal a week. Now imagine, that all of a sudden you realize that, even though one meal a week is enough, you can have two meals a week, or even three, or even every single day! Imagine how much your life would change, how much strength you would have, how much easier it would be to perform your duties as a husband, wife, son, daughter, etc. because you weren’t always hungry. Of course, I’m talking about daily Mass.
Many, if not most, of us find that we are struggling to get by, struggling to fight off those same habitual sins we keep committing, struggling to say our prayers every day, struggling to do the things we know that we need to do in order to be better Catholics. And it’s because most of us are surviving on one meal a week. You cannot begin to imagine the change that will be worked in your life, in the life of your family, if you come to receive the Eucharist more frequently. There is Mass here at 7:15 a.m. every day, and I realize that is early, but maybe you could make the sacrifice at least one day a week, especially with your family. We are also blessed to live in an area with many Catholic churches, and many of them have early morning and evening Masses that could be even more convenient for your schedule. I counted 11 parishes within a 20 minute drive of here – how far are you willing to drive for your favorite restaurant, a family outing, or to go shopping? I cannot urge you strongly enough to go to Mass at least one additional day each week, especially as a family, and I can speak from experience in saying that receiving Holy Communion each day will absolutely transform your life.
Even if you cannot make it to Holy Mass during the week, maybe you could come as an individual or as a family to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in order to spend time with Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist. Adoration is from noon to 8:00 p.m. each Thursday here. From seven until eight there is also a holy hour that includes prayers for our parish, the rosary, and the opportunity for confession. This is a particularly good way to introduce children to Adoration because it isn’t only silent time.
Our Lord tells us today, “the one who feeds on me will have life because of me … whoever eats this bread will live forever.” We must rely on the Eucharist for all of the spiritual life that is in us in a way no less real than how we rely on the food we eat. Without the Eucharist we are spiritually starving. The more often we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, the more we are strengthened to remain in His grace and to be worthy of Heaven. If we receive the Eucharist worthily and with love, we will truly live forever with God in Heaven, in the loving presence of the same Jesus whom we have received every week, or hopefully even more often.
Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Baptist, New Haven
XX Sunday Through the Year A.D. MMXV