Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!
We have a saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.” We see this in the gospel story for today. Many of the Jews, upon hearing Jesus's claim that he came down from heaven, that he is the true bread, the bread of life, that one who eats of him will never hunger, found this claim hard to believe. After all, they knew his parents. He had been born and grew up like everyone else. How can he claim to have come down from heaven? “He is just one of us, and he claims to be someone special?”
To anyone looking only at what can be seen and touched, to those not yet ready to believe Jesus's testimony to things unseen, it could scarcely be different. The hearers could not see Christ's divinity, could not see that he was God. They saw him as a man, and were not ready to believe anything more, despite having seen the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. So of course they are shocked by his claim to have come down from heaven, to be equal and one with the Father, to be God, the source of life for all of us!
It is a matter of something altogether different, something we cannot see, touch, or grasp, something that is above human knowledge and comprehension! Only through the gift of faith, when one is enlightened by the heavenly Father in the Holy Spirit, can one accept Jesus's words, go beyond what is visible to the eyes, believe in his divinity.
So also only in faith do we have access to the mystery of this bread. Jesus calls himself “the living bread that came down from heaven.” We need food that not only gives us strength of body, keeps us alive here on earth, but food that strengthens us for eternal life, keeps us for life forever. The Lord makes an amazing, a tremendous promise, one that we may and should accept as it stands: “whoever eats this bread will live forever.” We heard in the first reading about the wonderful power of the food the Lord provided for Elijah. This food strengthened him for a journey of forty days in the desert. This power of the food God gives, to strengthen him for forty days, is only a sign and indication of the much more marvelous power of this bread of life, the Eucharist, which strengths not for forty days, but for life forever, for eternal life.
In the Eucharist Christ gives us himself totally. He comes to us and becomes our bread, our food for that life with God that never ends. Christ's love overcame death. He who is united in faith and love with Christ, will live forever, soul and body, according to the Lord's promise: "I will raise him on the last day."
But even when we have made this step of faith, when we believe Christ's words and Christ's promise, that it is truly HIM we receive in the Eucharist, who comes to us as food, gives us eternal life, we can in other ways fall into the pitfall of “familiarity breeds contempt”. We go to Mass and receive Communion again and again; that is a very good and important thing. Still, there is a danger of it becoming a matter of routine, something we do just because it's our habit, or just because that's how we were brought up, or just because everyone else goes up to receive Communion. We can kind of forget our wonder at the marvel of this mystery, the awesomeness of receiving Jesus Christ, man and God, as food for us under the appearance of bread. Each time we receive the Eucharist, we should strive to receive with the freshness, the devotion, and preparedness of a child who receives Holy Communion for the first time, who has prepared himself a year long to receive, and who was waited with longing for the great day.
Preparing ourselves well to receive Holy Communion with love and devotion makes a great difference to what Christ can do for us and in us. If we receive Christ in Holy Communion without preparing ourselves to receive him worthily, without giving him a second thought, without using the occasion to talk with him, thank him, ask him for what we need, it is no surprise if Holy Communion does not seem to bring much change in our lives, to give us this marvelous nourishment and strength to go through difficult times, to make us better and more loving persons.
How can we receive this heavenly bread well, Christ himself, and allow him to work within us? We can receive our Lord not only with our mouths under the appearance of bread, but also prepare a home for him, the bread of life, within our hearts. When we await and receive a very dear guest, we do everything we can to make things nice and pleasant for him. He is not a matter of indifference to us; we see to him, are there for him.
It is like this with preparing ourselves for and receiving Holy Communion: we want to make ourselves conscious of who it is, whom we are privileged to receive under the appearance of bread – Christ, our Lord and God! We want to approach HIM with joy and with faith, show him by our faith and love that he is important to us, that Holy Communion is truly Communion with Him, our Lord, and Communion with all brothers and sisters in Him.
Another important way of preparing ourselves for Holy Communion is by occasionally or even regularly receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We are all in need of God's grace and mercy. Anyone who says or thinks he is without sin is merely fooling himself. But entrusting ourselves to the love of God, accepting his saving hand, we can always begin anew on the way with Christ to eternal life.
In his love God has entrusted us with great treasures, treasure we are called and invited to discover and appreciate more and more deeply. Jesus Christ gave his life on the cross out of love for us; in the Resurrection his love conquered death and gave us eternal life; and in his love he speaks to us these words: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”