Monday, August 17, 2009

Feeding on God

John 6: 51-58

When we read in Scripture this gospel about feeding on the flesh and blood of Jesus, we usually think of the Eucharist. John seems to be saying that if you don’t receive Eucharist you don’t have Christ abiding within you, nor do you have the quality of life called eternal.

There are some problems here. In Leviticus, the Jews are taught that it is wrong to drink blood, as when they eat animal or bird flesh. Naturally, Jews would be offended at what John is saying in this gospel. Moreover, the desert monks of the early church did not speak much of Eucharist, or even of Christ. It is not that they believed otherwise, but that they were about some other focus, dealing with their faults and failings. They did not gather much for Eucharistic liturgy. It was the bishops, the developing hierarchy that pushed for communal liturgy.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we read that “feeding on God, tasting God,” was focused on pondering the Word in the Bible. The Jews would understand Jesus when he spoke about feeding and eating, but in the sense of being nourished by scripture. Wisdom literature speaks about drinking and eating the Word. Early church Fathers spoke about lectio divina, looking for the hidden, deeper meaning in Scripture passages. This would lead to a more direct and deeper discovery of God within. It was called mystical theology. It was a way of pondering a scripture passage.

If the Church wanted people to focus on Eucharist, then why, for so many centuries, was Eucharist not received by the people but once or twice a year, if that? It was not until the early 20th century that Pius X encouraged children to receive First Communion at an earlier age than 12 years old, and for people to receive more frequently.

If you look at the Gospel of Thomas, it talks about each person having the light of God within them. By living a more mystical prayer life we would come into deeper and better contact with this light, such that it would change our lives. There is not much talk about Eucharist. An emphasis on interior prayer, rather than eating flesh and blood, might appeal to a culture that already had a deep respect for meditation, such as India. Is not Thomas revered in Christian India for bringing the faith there? Inculturation means that we adapt the message, the truth, to the culture so that it can be more readily understood and accepted.

I believe that we can combine both these paths, the liturgical Eucharistic, and the meditative scriptural. Have less words and less music at liturgy, and add more time for silence. After the gospel, sit quietly and ponder the word you have just heard. After communion, and even during it, have quiet, so that people can meditate upon that which they have just received, to deepen the Presence, the Light within them. Maybe have one of the parish masses each weekend be of this format. Those who cannot sit still or deal profitably with silence, stay home, and go to another mass. Do some catechesis on silence and solitude. Silence can bring together both Eucharist and Scripture. Christ is present in both.

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