Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Food that Endures

“Do not labor for the food that perishes,” said the Lord Jesus, “but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27). This enduring food the Lord called Bread from Heaven and Bread of Life. Can you be just a little more specific, Lord? “The bread which I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (6:51). Thus we know that the Holy Eucharist is the Food that endures unto eternal life: “My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (6:55-56).

Since the Holy Eucharist has been given to us as spiritual food, there ought to be some analogy with material food: the food that endures with the food that perishes. We ought to expect that we will be spiritually nourished, strengthened, and invigorated, as ordinary good food would do for the body. We probably ought to expect also that the spiritual food will not necessarily do for the soul what material food does not do for the body.

If you have a serious physical illness, for example, a good meal (however nourishing or well-balanced) is not going to cure you. It will certainly help sustain your bodily functions, and in general will be a welcome support. In the big picture, eating properly all the time will contribute greatly to good health and well-being and longevity. Some may think that the Holy Eucharist, being the very Body and Blood of the Son of God, must instantly cure all spiritual maladies, even severe and deep-rooted ones. It is certainly possible for miracles like that to be worked, and they have, but that is not the ordinary purpose of the Food that endures.

Experience has probably already taught you that receiving the Holy Eucharist, even devoutly and frequently, is not a magic eraser for all your faults, wounds, quirks, or bad habits. It is like healthy food for the body: over a whole lifetime it produces beneficial results, and sustains you all along the way, but it’s not a panacea for every disease. Perhaps you’ve wondered about someone: he must have received Jesus in the Holy Eucharist 10,000 times in his life; why is he still such a self-centered, obnoxious crank? There may be many answers for this, but I can think of two right now. First, it may be his own darn fault for being the hard, rocky, or weed-filled soil that receives the good seed yet bears no fruit (see Mark 4:1-20). But it may also be that the inner work sustained by the Eucharist is actually being done, gradually, even imperceptibly, and that we won’t see the fruit until the Last Day draws near.

The Holy Eucharist is food for the journey, for the long haul, a medicine for the sin-sick soul, but we may not experience the full healing or deliverance for which we’ve prayed and longed for years—until at the Final Examination we discover that we’ve been given a clean bill of health, for we have persevered in eating the Food that endures to eternal life. Don’t lose faith if you haven’t received a sought-after miracle from the Eucharistic chalice; thank God that He sustains you with the Sacrament even in the midst of your afflictions. After all, it is not some thing you receive, but some One. The answers to your prayers spring from the mutual abiding, Christ in you and you in Him, that the Holy Eucharist effects.

The Food endures; we have to endure. We have to endure the painfully slow growth, the disappointments and the struggles. We have to realize, too, that sin is a great setback to our spiritual health and progress. The benefits of our spiritual food are perhaps being expended to repair all the damage that sin does to our souls. We may lament that we are not progressing, but how much would our sins make us regress if we did not consistently apply the healing remedy of the Body and Blood of Christ? The sooner we shake off our besetting sins, the faster our spiritual food will enable us to advance on the way of holiness.

The Son of Man will give the Food that endures to those who ask Him, who become members of his Body, the Church, wherein this heavenly banquet is available. Don’t approach only for quick fixes or extraordinary manifestations, but realize that this Bread is the Staff of Life Eternal.