I had an “ah-ha!” moment yesterday. Now, I have to admit that my “ah-ha!” discoveries aren’t as shocking to my cradle Catholic brothers and sisters as they are to me. I find them exciting because I have one more piece of the puzzle; one more chapter to the story; one more taco on the combination plate. And since my deck of cards is a little more complete, I celebrate.
Earlier this week, I read Genesis Chapter 3 and saw a verse that I had completely forgotten about:
Then the Lord God said: “See! The man has become like one of us, knowing what is good and what is bad! Therefore, he must not be allowed to put out his hand to take the fruit from the tree of life also, and thus eat of it and live forever.” (Genesis 3:22)
So, to recap, God kicked Man out of the garden to keep him from eating from the tree of life. Once Man chose to disobey God and eat from the tree of knowledge, the tree of life is no longer an option. Man could not eat from both trees. So God had no choice but to kick Man out of the garden since Man cut himself off from the tree of life.
Okay, so now read what Jesus says according to the Gospel of John (6: 35, 53-58). He is talking to the crowd who is asking him for a sign. They point out to Him that Moses provided a sign in manna from Heaven. Jesus first tells them that God, not Moses, provided the manna, and that those who ate the manna still died. Then he said:
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst……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 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. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
I think the parallel here is so painfully obvious that it does not warrant an explanation. How awesome it is that Jesus is offering us the food that Adam threw away? Jesus has become the new tree of life. And we are all invited to partake of this life giving fruit which he offers through his own flesh and blood in the Eucharist. Wow. How can we refuse that gift?
When I was growing up in the Baptist church, we were taught that what Jesus said during the last supper was not to be taken literally. We learned that the bread represented his body and the wine represented his blood. It never occurred to me to question that teaching because, let’s face it, the bread and wine actually changing into Jesus is a little far-fetched for our finite and human minds to grasp. When I went to a Catholic church for the first time, I learned that they actually believe that the bread was Jesus’ body and the wine was His blood- it wasn’t a representation. I was taken aback by that. How could they believe in such a preposterous idea? I even had to go a few times to be convinced that this is what they actually believe. I thought that I could never believe that myself and stopped going for a little while. But then my curiosity drew me back. I got to thinking that this is what the people of the Catholic Church have believed for 2000 years. That’s a long time. And then I started to think about what great faith the Catholic people must have in order to believe in such a crazy thing. I didn’t think I had what they had. I didn’t have the faith to believe in what they believed in. But I wanted to be around them. I wanted to worship with them. So I kept going to Mass.
And then one day, Mass was different. I had just picked up a book about Eucharistic Miracles(Eucharistic Miracles by Joan Carroll Cruz). My boyfriend and I were in a Catholic book store and I happened to see it on the shelf. Given my new found fascination I had with Catholics and the Eucharist, I couldn’t help but want to read that book. Were there really miracles related to this idea of the Eucharist? I had to know what it said. I wasn’t ready to believe what was in the book, but I had to know what was in the book. The very first chapter was about the miracle at Lanciano, Italy. In this miracle, a priest was questioning the actual presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. This got my attention, because that was exactly what I was doing. Then, at a mass he was presiding over, the host became an actual piece of flesh and the wine became real blood. When I first read that, I was like, yeah right. But, I kept reading and learned this miracle is preserved and on display to this very day. AND they did some tests on the “flesh” and “blood” and determined that it was real human flesh and blood. And that the flesh was muscle from the human heart. That last part is what got me. The flesh was from the human heart. If it really was Jesus, then He was giving us a piece of His heart.
The Mass I attended after reading about this miracle was different. I felt very connected to everyone around me. It was if I knew their secret. As the mass progressed, I became more and more focused on what was happening on the altar. And when the Priest held up the host and said “This is my body, to be given up for you”, something clicked. I didn’t hear “This is my body.” Instead, I heard “This is my heart.” If I hadn’t already been on my knees, I would have fell to them. At that moment, my spirit explained to my intellect what was happening. You see, all my life in the Baptist Church, I was taught that I should give my heart to Jesus. In fact, that is what you do when you pray the special prayer to be saved – you invite Jesus to live in your heart. So, I grew up inviting Jesus to live in my heart. I invited Him to be a part of me. I wanted Him to live in me, and I liked to think that my heart was His. And then, there He was, up on that altar, offering me His heart. It was as if everything had come full circle and a whole new world was revealed to me. The Lord was showing me a part of himself I had never seen. My hunger for the Eucharist began that day. On the way home from that Mass, I remember telling my boyfriend (who later became my husband) that I wanted to be Catholic. He gave me a knowing look and then signed me up for RCIA. And here I am.
Receiving the Eucharist is the highlight of my human experience. There is a reason why the Bible describes the Church as the Bride of Christ. The relationship we have with Christ is very intimate through the Eucharist. When we receive Him in the Eucharist, He physically becomes part of us. He nourishes us spiritually AND physically. I think that this is a hard concept for us to understand because of what happened in the garden. When Man chose to eat from the tree of knowledge, he separated himself, body and soul from God which destined Man to die. This is what Adam passed along to us in original sin. Out of His love for us, God himself came down to earth and died an innocent physical death, and then conquered death through the resurrection. By this act, He creates a way for us to gain eternal life with him. Through baptism and our faith, we become part of the Bride of Christ and are brought into His family. And He tells us that our souls will be saved and our bodies will eventually be raised up, made new and reunited with our souls on the last day. In all of this, we see that there is a connection between the physical and spiritual; a connection that died in the garden but then is reestablished through Christ. This connection is nourished in us by Christ through His presence in the Eucharist. Jesus becomes the new tree of life in the Eucharist. How can we not fall to our knees and accept His gift?
Copyright 2010 Lori Miller