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The ‘antidote to death’ awaits us all each Sunday in the Eucharist

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

Behold KC, jointly sponsored by the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, drew thousands of Catholics from Kansas and Missouri for prayer, the celebration of Mass and eucharistic adoration. The large and diverse crowd gave public witness of our love for Jesus and his real presence in the Eucharist.

The Eucharist was given to the church on Holy Thursday night during the Passover meal that Jesus celebrated with his apostles. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, as well as St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians, give us the words of Jesus that the priest repeats at every Mass. What came to be known as the Eucharist was an essential part of Christian worship and spirituality from the earliest days of the church.

In my homily at the Behold KC Mass, I quoted a paragraph from “Something Other Than God,” Jennifer Fulwiler’s memoir of her conversion from atheism to Catholicism. At this point in her faith journey, Jennifer had an experience of God’s presence. She had read the Gospels and was drawn to Jesus. Her husband Joe had been baptized a Christian but had not practiced his faith for a long time.

Joe had shared with Jennifer some of the writings of the early Christians, such as Justin Martyr and Hippolytus, in which they described the worship of the early church.

For the first time for both of them, Jennifer and Joe attended a Catholic Mass. Jennifer described her experience: “I wasn’t thrilled to be here at church, but it was amazing to experience something so old. Some woman stood in a church on a Sunday in the year 200, and she heard the same words I was hearing now. Century after century lurched past, generations came and went, wars were fought, countries were created and dissolved, and here was I, almost 2,000 years later, sharing an experience with that ancient woman. If we were to meet each other, somewhere outside of time, we would have something in common.”  

In the Sixth Chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus gives what some have termed his Bread of Life Discourse.  The chapter begins with St. John’s account of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. Crowds of people are pursuing Jesus because they want the free food Our Lord is able to provide. Jesus cautions the crowds that his mission is not to provide physical bread for everyone but what he terms the “living bread that has come down from heaven.”

Jesus declared: “Amen, amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” 

At the conclusion of the Bread of Life Discourse, St. John reports: “Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard, who can accept it?’”  St. John goes on to report: “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

How does Jesus react to many of his disciples abandoning him? Our Lord does not attempt to cajole or pacify them. Jesus does not implore them not to leave. Our Lord does not try to talk them into staying by saying: “Come back! Come back! I was just speaking metaphorically. I was using symbolic language.”

No! Jesus instead turns to the Twelve, his closest disciples, and asks: “Do you also want to leave?” In a shining moment for him, Peter replies: “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” 

Peter and the other apostles could not possibly have understood what Jesus was talking about at that moment. However, they knew Jesus and trusted him, even if they did not immediately grasp the richness of his teaching. It will not be until Holy Thursday night and the tragedy of Good Friday that they are given the keys to unlock Our Lord’s teaching given at the synagogue in Capernaum.

Each Sunday at Mass, you and I have the opportunity to receive this Living Bread that comes from heaven. At every Mass, we have the opportunity to receive the bread of life — to receive Jesus, body, blood, soul and divinity. St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the church’s early martyrs, described the Eucharist as “an antidote to death, a medicine for immortality.”  What could possibly be more important than to receive Jesus in the Eucharist?

At every Mass, the love of God revealed on Calvary is made present to us, and we have the opportunity to receive Jesus, to receive God. The Mass was celebrated by the early Christians in the catacombs. The same Eucharist was celebrated in the gulags of Siberia. Father Emil Kapaun, a Kansas priest who died in a prisoner-of-war camp, celebrated Mass for U.S. Army troops on the hood of a jeep during the Korean War. What excuse can we make for failing to participate in Sunday Mass? What could be more important? 

A eucharistic pilgrimage that began on the California coast and this July will conclude in Indianapolis — the site of the National Eucharistic Congress — will come through our archdiocese near the end of June. The eucharistic pilgrimage will have stops and opportunities for Mass or eucharistic adoration in Atchison, Nortonville, Topeka, Lawrence, Leawood and Kansas City, Kansas, before entering Missouri. This will be another opportunity to give public witness for our love of God, for our love for Jesus — our Lord and Savior, and our love for the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Check our archdiocesan website for more detailed information.

What a gift is our Catholic faith! What an amazing God who revealed himself in Jesus and desires friendship with us! What an incredible blessing to have the opportunity for communion with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament!

“O Sacrament most holy! O Sacrament Divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!”

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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