“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” A few years ago, in Boston, I was talking to a group of kids preparing for their first communion, and one of them asked me, “If we eat the body of Jesus, does that mean we’re cannibals?”
I thought it was a good question. What Jesus teaches us about the Eucharist is not easy to understand. In the Gospel, Jesus’ teaching provokes arguments and even causes some of his disciples to leave him. But he doesn’t back down. The Catholic Church, I’m happy to say, has also never backed down from the faith that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus. It’s not a prop in a play. It is not a mere symbolic reminder. It’s not a visual aid from before the days of PowerPoint. It may not look or taste like flesh and blood, but Jesus forces us to make a choice—do we believe our own senses or do we believe him? It’s the same choice required to believe in eternal life, which we have never seen. Do we trust his words? And if we do, does that make us cannibals?
Think about someone you know very well and love. If you heard his voice, would you recognize it? Certainly. If you saw her in the distance, would you recognize the way she walks? Probably. If it’s someone you love and know very well, you would recognize his laugh—and know the sort of things he finds funny, the jokes he tells or laughs it. You might know her favorite foods, the kind of gestures that she makes. You might even be able to recognize someone you know very well from the smell of the shampoo she uses.
Now another question. If it’s someone that you love and maybe lives far away, if you had a choice, would you rather send him an email or make a phone call or zoom or see him in person and spend time with him? I think all of us know it means so much more to spend time with someone we love in person, in the flesh. You can’t give a hug over zoom.
What’s missing in a text message or a zoom call? We could list a lot of things, those sorts of things I just mentioned—touch, our way of reacting to things, lots of little things, things it’s hard to describe exactly. Let’s put a word on all these things—our humanity.