With spring in full bloom, May brings us warmer days, flowers, May crownings, and First Communions. This year, one of my granddaughters will receive her First Communion, and my daughter will lead 29 of her third-grade students to the altar for theirs.
There will be many Catholics attending these celebrations, but not celebrating the Eucharist. This Mass may be one of the few they attend all year. Like Catholic weddings and funerals, First Communions welcome back quite a number of “lapsed” Catholics.
In front of them will be the real body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord himself. This is the same God who created the universe and all that is in it. The same Jesus, who suffered and died for each of us so that by believing in Him we might have eternal happiness. Does every Catholics believe this is the “real thing?” For those who transitioned from the Catholic Church to one of the thousands of protestant denominations, perhaps they learned to consider communion as symbolic. It is possible they never read or understood the Gospel of John, chapter 6. Here, the message is clear. Jesus himself tells us as he told his disciples: 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” 52 The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?”
Jesus had the chance to calm them down and say something like, “Guys, I was just speaking metaphorically.” But he didn’t. In fact, he doubled down!
53 Jesus said to them, “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. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.
60 Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” 61 Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?”
Jesus could have said, “Whoa! Okay, that was a bit of hyperbole. Really, don’t be shocked. I wouldn’t really ask anyone to actually eat my body or drink my blood. Okay? So don’t leave me.” But he didn’t say that. He is God and can actually transubstantiate bread and wine into His body and blood. So, he continues…
64 “But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. 66 As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
He could have said, “Wait fellas, don’t go. What I meant to say is that the bread and wine are symbolic of my body and blood.” Instead, he turns to Peter and their discourse at this point is one of my favorites.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”68 Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
For all the First Communicants, I pray that they, like Peter, will stay with Jesus and continue their conviction that He is the Holy One of God and that, yes, the bread and wine do become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. They are the “real thing.”