A Day to Choose
“Choose this day whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15) Today is a day to choose. Our life is full of choices. We choose or at least try to choose, our spouses, our careers, where we live, so many things. In today’s celebration of the Eucharist, we also have a chance to make a choice.
In the first reading, Joshua summons the people and announces to them the choice they must make. The second reading shows us how marriage is an introduction to the reality of divine love. St. Paul proposes the image of marriage to show the love of Christ for each one of us. In marriage, there is always a choice. The choice can be for generosity and self-giving, or for selfishness and distance. Each choice has real, lasting consequences. The Gospel shows how the Eucharist also demands a choice for or against Jesus Christ. Today’s Gospel draws the Eucharist into focus once again, as has been happening now for several weeks as we have moved through the discourse on the Bread of Life presented by John the Evangelist in the sixth chapter of his Gospel. When given the chance to abandon the Master, Simon Peter responds: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn. 6:68-69)
The Eucharist demands a choice. The first reading shows how Joshua, a military leader at this point in the story, gathers his troops together and surveys them to see their willingness to go to battle. “Life is truly always a choice: between honesty and dishonesty, between fidelity and infidelity, between selfishness and altruism, between good and evil.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 13 September 2007) The second reading shows a choice for something. We have the more human image of a husband choosing his wife, which reflects how Christ chooses his Church, of which we are members.
The Eucharist is Christ himself. When the disciples respond, “to whom shall we go?”, they are manifesting the great love and tender care they have for Our Lord. St. John Chrysostom noted that some listen to the Lord looking only for earthly gain, but what set the disciples apart is that they listened spiritually, committing all to faith. (cf. John Chrysostom, Homily 17 on the Gospel of John) When Christ is speaking of the Bread of Life, he is referring to himself and prefiguring the great gift of the Eucharist. We listen to the words of Christ once again in a spiritual manner, as the disciples did, committing them to faith in our own hearts. The Eucharist “is Christ himself, the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who, acting through the ministry of the priests, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. And it is the same Christ, really present under the species of bread and wine, who is the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1410) This is the great miracle we celebrate each time we gather for Mass. It is Christ himself who comes among us in the Eucharist!
Choosing the Eucharist demands coherency. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Cor. 11:27-28) As modern men and women, we are plagued with a consumer mentality. We tend to treat every reality in our lives like a trip to McDonald’s. We show up, wanting to order off a menu. We look at the options and calculate to see what would satisfy our appetite the best. But the Eucharist is not another item on a menu. Receiving the Eucharist means that we are corresponding to deep spiritual communion with God. All men and women can profit from hearing the Word of God and hopefully also from listening to the homily. But receiving the Eucharist is something special and that is why only baptized Catholics in a state of grace are permitted to receive the Eucharist. It is something so special that we call to mind our sins at the beginning of each Eucharistic celebration, making sure that we are worthy of such a heavenly gift.
Choosing to receive the Eucharist is a bit like choosing to be faithful to your diet. It may seem harder in the short run, but it is a lot better for you in the long run. We may feel like the disciples in today’s Gospel. “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (Jn. 6:60) However, we will be growing in fidelity to our own conscience, something that always brings peace. “The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1391) Growing in our relationship with Christ is its own reward. Regardless of the storms and battles we may encounter in life; we have a faithful friend who will see us through them all.
Catechism of the Catholic Church.
John Chrysostom. Homilies on the Gospel of John. Homily XVII.
Pope Benedict XVI. Pastoral Visit to Velletri-Segni. 23 September 2007. https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/homilies/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20070923_velletri.html