Weekend Homily

© Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church 2010

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 19, 2018


Today’s Gospel passage marks the fourth consecutive week that we’ve been listening to the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, and we’ll continue on this journey for another week. This chapter in John is profoundly significant in the Church’s understanding of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
Exactly how this occurs is a mystery and a miracle of God, but when we study the Gospel of John, combined with the Biblical accounts of the Last Supper, it is quite clear that Jesus intended it this way. And because we are the Church that he formed, we have always followed his teaching, and we always will.  The Real Presence in the Eucharist is one of the most critical and fundamental beliefs that we hold as Catholics. But accepting and believing are two different things.
Among our Protestant brothers and sisters, there is doubt about the real presence, they will say that the Eucharist is not the real presence of Jesus Christ but rather a sign or a symbol. But what is disheartening is that some surveys of Catholics tell us that at least half of all Catholics do not believe in the real presence. As bad as that may sound, the reality is that many of those who say they don’t believe in the real presence in fact simply don’t know what the Church teaches about it. But there are some who truly do understand, and yet refuse to believe. This is a serious problem.
In John chapter six, we find Jesus repeatedly standing his ground despite opposition from those around him when he states that we must eat his flesh and drink is blood. The people continue to argue that he can’t be serious, but with each escalation in the argument Jesus escalates his response, telling the people to eat His flesh and drink His blood, in a very literal sense.
The people listening to Jesus would have been horrified at the thought of eating flesh, to say the least, but at the last supper he continues this dialogue and tells his disciples to take the bread and eat it, for this is his body, and to take the wine and drink it, for this is his blood.
So in John chapter six Jesus gives us the “what” – we must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life. And in the Last Supper he gives us the “how” – we must eat the bread and drink the wine that is consecrated in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass. In so doing, we literally eat his flesh and drink his blood through the real presence.
And then he tells them to continue to do it in memory of him, and we as a Church have continued to do so for the past 2,000 years.
Even at that, belief in the true presence can at times be difficult.  For example, around the year 700, a priest in Lanciano, Italy was celebrating Mass. Sadly, this priest doubted the real presence in the Eucharist.  But on this day, when he pronounced the words of consecration, as I will do in a short time, the host was miraculously changed into visible flesh, and the wine into liquid blood. It was a Eucharistic miracle. Those who witnessed the miracle quickly spread the news throughout the surrounding area.  The Church authorities certified the miracle as genuine, the archbishop ordered that the flesh and blood be placed in a special reliquary, but they were not properly sealed.
In 1713, a thousand years later, the flesh was moved to a monstrance and the blood to a crystal chalice. Despite being exposed to the air, they remained intact.  After another 250 years, in 1971, Pope Paul VI permitted a series of scientific studies on the flesh and blood, and the results of that analysis were quite stunning. The flesh had the structure of the human myocardium (tissue from the heart wall). The blood was also of human origin, the same blood type as found on the Shroud of Turin.
Proteins in the clotted Blood displayed the characteristics of fresh human blood. Given that these samples were free of preservatives and originally not properly sealed, they should have quickly deteriorated. However, after 1,200 plus years they still appeared fresh, and to this day, if you go to Lanciano, you can still see the flesh and blood on display.
The real presence in the Eucharist is both a mystery and a gift. Some struggle to accept it. But in closing, I offer you this to reflect upon. If you wish to try to understand or somehow figure out the methods behind the real presence, you are probably wasting your time. The mysteries of God by definition are beyond our understanding. Why Jesus chose to reveal himself in bread and wine is something we may never understand this side of heaven. But if we believe that he is the Son of God, and if we believe that what he said is true, then we must take his words at face value and believe in the real presence. It is only by faith that we come to understand the real presence in the Eucharist, but it is only through the Eucharist that we come to the fullness of faith.