"Whoever eats me will draw life from me"
(Readings: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16; 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17; John 6:51-58)
Introduction to Mass
When we receive communion at Mass, we're receiving Christ himself. The symbolism and the reality of what we're doing in the Eucharist is that we're consuming his body and blood and so growing into him, becoming more like him. John's gospel in particular highlights this aspect of the "living bread" which Christ has given us in order to draw life from him.
As we prepare to celebrate the mystery of Christ's love let us acknowledge our failures and ask the Lord for pardon and strength.
People talk a lot now about the way different kinds of food change our mental or emotional state. Certain sugary drinks supposedly make children hyperactive, for example - it's a by-product of the physical effect of the contents of the drink. Alcohol is an even more obvious example of something which affects our mental processes when we consume it - as most of us don't need to be told.
Taking part in the Eucharist works in a comparable way, but of course it doesn't have a physical effect the way sugar or chocolate or alcohol does.
When we take communion - with faith in Christ - we become more like Christ. It changes us not by working through our bodies, of course, but by working on the spiritual level. The whole area of our attitudes, our convictions, our character, the way we treat other people take on a Christ-like quality. Christ's attitudes, Christ's convictions, and his way of treating people - become ours.
Having said that we immediately have to add that of course it doesn't work like magic. Like all the sacraments there needs to be faith on our part - a response, a co-operation on our part.
If a complete unbeliever, or someone who doesn't know what the bread and wine signify and what they become during the Mass, comes and takes communion it's not going to have any effect because God's grace working in the sacraments has to find a point of contact within us.
But if we take part in the Eucharist sincerely and in good faith, rather than indifferently or thoughtlessly, it'll change us, and it'll make us more like Jesus. Which is what it's designed to do. That's how we should understand the claims Jesus makes in the gospel today: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him"; "Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life".
At the same time, it's clear from Jesus' teaching about God's Kingdom in the rest of the gospel that the Eucharist isn't just something we take part in for our own spiritual inner benefit. It's something that gives us a job to do as well. The Eucharist gives us a task to carry out.
God's Kingdom, according to Christ, in so many of his parables and his actions, is like a feast, or a banquet. And it's a banquet where everyone is fed, where no one is left out, where no one is denied a place.
So for us to be faithful to all that the Eucharist symbolises, we have to play our part in making the world around us more Eucharistic. We have to see to it, as far as we're able, that the hungry get fed, and that no one is left out, no one is denied a place at the table.
A situation where some people have more than they need of everything, while others hardly have enough for a dignified human life - that kind of situation runs absolutely counter to what the Eucharist tells us God wants to see among his sons and daughters.
But on the other hand, whenever we raise the principle of justice, in unjust surroundings, we're working for God's Kingdom and we're carrying out that programme of the Kingdom which the Eucharist is a sign of and an encouragement towards.
So there are two aspects of the Eucharist we can reflect on briefly on today's feast.
We can think about how earnest we are personally, individually, about the whole business of meeting Christ in his body and blood that we receive at Mass, and how ready we are to be changed by what we eat: does the sacrament find a welcome in us, does it find an attitude that's willing to co-operate with God's grace which is available to us in the sacrament?
And the other aspect is, do we put the symbolism of the Eucharist into practice in a concrete way in the rest of our lives - in small ways or in big ways - sharing, attending to those who are in need, seeing that everyone has a place at the table?
It's when we understand both those aspects that we appreciate fully the gift Christ has left us in the form of his Body and Blood - offered, as he says, "for the life of the world".