To Believe in Jesus is to Believe in the Eucharist
Thursday April 14, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Easter
Reading (Acts 8:26-40) Gospel (St. John 6:44-51)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord tells us that whoever believes has eternal life, and then He goes on to say, I am the bread of life. So we see once again this point of thinking it would be easy to say, “Well, I believe in Jesus,” and then He turns it right around and says that we need to go deeper. We need to be able to look at the Eucharist and ask the question: Do we believe that He is right there? If He is the bread of life, it is not just a generic belief in the Lord.
As we heard in the first reading, the Ethiopian eunuch traveling along the road was reading from the prophet Isaiah, from Chapter 53, about how Jesus was like the lamb led to the slaughter or the sheep before the shearer, and His life was taken from Him. It is precisely in this that as the Passover Lamb had to offer his life and had to be consumed by the people who sacrificed him, so too, Our Lord – Who is the Lamb of God, Who is the Bread of Life – is to be eaten, to be consumed; and if we do not, we have no life. He makes that absolutely clear. He is the bread of life, and along with that He says that the bread He will give is His flesh for the life of the world. If He is the bread of life and the bread that He will give is His flesh, then He is making very clear to us exactly what is required if we are going to say that we believe in Him. In part, to believe in Jesus Christ requires in an absolute sense a belief in the Eucharist, that what He has offered – the bread, the manna that comes down from heaven that the Father gives to the world – is Himself as the Lamb of God, as the Bread of Life, as the Passover, and as the fulfillment of everything the Old Testament foreshadowed. We have to be able to look deeper and see exactly what Our Lord is telling us. Over and over in John’s Gospel, He tells us that whoever believes has life, but then He keeps qualifying what it means to believe. It is not enough just to believe in Jesus. We have to believe in everything that He tells us, and central to what He tells us is His teaching about the Eucharist.
Now if we are going to understand what He means that His flesh is the bread that He will give, we have to keep in mind the nature of His priesthood. He is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. That was prophesied by the prophet David in Psalm 110. Melchizedek did not have a priesthood like that of Aaron. The Levitical priesthood had to offer bulls and goats and so on in sacrifice; Melchizedek offered bread and wine. If Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, then the sacrifice that He offers has to be what Melchizedek offered: bread and wine. So what does He offer at the Last Supper as a sacrifice? Bread and wine. But He tells us, as we celebrate every single day, This is My Body…This is My Blood. What does He say in the Gospel today? The bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world. We have to understand that what He is doing here is to exercise His priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek. We need to be able to see what that sacrifice is, and He is telling us very clearly that the sacrifice is Himself. The bread that He will give is His flesh for the life of the world. This is the manna that has come down from heaven for people to eat and to never die. That is what He is giving to us, and it is in this way that He says, Anyone who believes has life.
So it is to go deep and to be able to recognize Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament, in this new manna, this true manna sent down from the Father. No one, He says, knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal Him. If we recognize Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament, then we will have the Father revealed to us. It all works together. Without this central point, we have missed it all. If we are going to have life, He makes very clear that there is only one way, that is, to believe in the fullness of Jesus Christ. And the fullness of Jesus Christ is continuing to be with us and is found only in the Blessed Sacrament.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.