“The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation,” wrote Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be to You”), “chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living center of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life” (No. 236).
The Christian faith is tangible; it is incarnational, for “belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith ...” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 463). When Jesus stated that he is “the living bread that came down from heaven,” he not only made a claim about his identity, he also insisted on a radical and profound understanding of Godhead. In fact, John 6 — in keeping with the entire Gospel of John — brings the focus back to the relationship of the Son to the Father. “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me,” says Jesus, pointing once again to the Father, as he had done just a bit earlier: “because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me ...” (Jn 6:38).
In that light, consider Jesus’ remark to the disciples after his conversation with the Samaritan woman: “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work” (Jn 4:34). If the food of Jesus is to do the will of the Father, what is the food offered by Jesus? Is it mere bread? As we’ve seen, Jesus had spent much time and effort working to elevate the hearts and enlighten the minds of his listeners. He didn’t reject the importance of the material realm; on the contrary, when he fed the multitudes, he confirmed both the goodness of creation and the earthiness of his heavenly mission: “For God so loved the world ...” (Jn 3:16).
No, the Son of God did not become flesh and dwell among us in order to denounce the material world. Rather, he entered into the dust of history to free us from the bonds of materialistic living and earthly distractions. He wants us to know the Father and to have communion with him. And, again, Jesus explains that he alone is capable of bridging the chasm between the Father and fallen humanity: “Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father” (Jn 6:46).
To “see” the Father is not to gaze upon him from afar, but to truly know him as he really is. And that, for you and I, is only possible in and through the Son. The Son, says St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “fully beholds and reveals God through the Spirit to each person as he is able to receive, since the only begotten Son together with the Holy Spirit is a partaker of the Father’s Godhead.” The three divine persons see and know each other perfectly; the Trinity — “the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC, No. 234) — invites us to enter into that divine life. We partake of it by eating the bread that is the flesh of Christ, which has been given for the life of the world. Whoever eats this Eucharist, Christ promises, will live forever.
“Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God ...” says Pope Francis, “The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation” (Laudato Si’, No. 236).
How tangible; how beyond comprehension!
Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.