The homily was given by Fr. Cassian OCSO a member of my community and Novice Master Preached for Lay Cistercian Day of Reflection, August 21, 20 Community Mass, August 22, 2021 “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” What saying? What word have they just heard? “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” This scandalous claim seems to come from left field, out of the blue. His listeners have no way to make sense of it. We may feel smug because we are pretty sure he is speaking of his Eucharistic presence. We know that beyond the bread and wine of the meal someone else is present. But his listeners had no sense of this. This crowd was listening to a man who had healed many people, cast out demons, told parables about the Kingdom of God, taught with authority. And, suddenly, scandalously, he spoke of eating flesh and drinking blood. None had yet heard of the Last Supper. They had not yet experienced the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, nor the Descent of the Holy Spirit. They did not know him as the Crucified, Risen and Ascended Lord. It is only after little groups had gathered to share meals during which they remembered the mysterious events at that last Passover that slowly the Reality would begin to become clear in their minds. We are not eating bread and drinking wine to remember what he did; we are actually consuming his body which bears the fullness of his life to us so that “we come to share his divinity.” “It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.” The bread and the wine nourish the body, build cells, give energy – but it is the spirit that gives life. We touch the heart of the mystery in which we live. “God created the visible and the invisible.” And that is what we consume: bread and wine that are truly, essentially other, something which is invisible to our senses; truly and essentially beyond what they appear to be. Whoever does not share this understanding of the invisible Presence under the form of bread and wine sees merely bread and wine. Like his first audience, talk of flesh and blood is scandalous. They do not understand how his body could be conveyed to them other than as a bloody chunk of meat. Our world is now filled with people like those first listeners. They are descendants who see only the material, only bread and wine, who cannot trust in the invisible body and blood. How can we explain this to our friends who see only what can be measured, who only believe in what can be quantified? How do we explain it to ourselves? We try. We sing words of Thomas Aquinas “Word made flesh, the bread of nature / by his word to flesh he turns; wine into his blood he changes:-- / what though sense no change discerns?” We come to understand not through words and explanations; we are slowly drawn toward understanding this mystery of the bread of life only as we gather to hear him speak through scripture and to consume bread and wine, consecrated and changed. Consuming him day after day, we allow him to consume us, little by little, changing us ever more completely into his life. We become more fully part of his Body, the Church. We become one flesh with him. Saint Paul tries to make this clear by speaking of marriage in which a man and a woman become one. Paul is not concerned with regulating relations in marriage; he is trying to make use of the intimacy of marital relationships to make a point about Christ and the Church. He is finding a way to speak of Christ and the church becoming one. “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.” Christ and the Church are as intimate as a husband and wife. “For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” We have been baptized into Christ. We now live as part of His Body. The words he speaks are truly words of eternal life. Just as bread and wine become essentially his body and blood, so do his words carry Spirit. The words I speak are separate from the things to which they refer. “This is my body” points to my body. But his words are not separate from the referent. He is human and divine without division; his words are spirit and life; letter and spirit co-inhere; words and meaning are one. What he says, is. “Be healed” is healing. “Your sins are forgiven” is forgiveness. “This is my body” and it is indeed. He has the words of eternal life. In our lectio divina we are not only reading words, we are encountering our Lord Jesus Christ. He is truly present, if we open the eyes of our heart. Our monastic desert fathers in the 4th century understood that scripture was sacramental and capable of transforming their lives. St. Anthony heard a fragment of the gospel and turned his whole life around. But our early monastic fathers did not read only the written words of scripture, they were also reading the scripture of creation, seeing the particle of the Word in each creature. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” They looked and saw. “This saying is hard, who can accept it.” If we, like the Israelites in the desert, choose not to forsake our Lord, but to serve him, we will find new life opening up before our eyes. We are left living in mystery, mocked and pitied by our rationally materialist neighbors, friends, and family members. “When did you lose your mind?” they ask. I found my mind when, like the tribes of Israel, I recognized the great miracles performed before my very eyes, day after day in the Eucharistic sacrifice and when I chose not to forsake the Lord to serve other gods. Every day, if I am awake enough, I can stand in wonder and amazement to behold Christ looking out from every eye I see. You have the words of eternal life. I have come to believe and I am convinced that this is the Holy One of God. Here is the bread of life.