Chaplain's Comments

In the early 1970s there was an edition of Readers Digest that told how a jet crashed in the Andes. It was a good case study in moral reasoning. The issue was that some of the survivors of that crash resorted to cannibalism to survive. The question the author posed was, 'Is it ever ethical to eat another human being?'

Whatever the extreme and specific ethical arguments for cannibalism might be, the thought of eating another person is repulsive to most of us. Yet many people outside Catholicism often think that we are Christian cannibals, feasting on Jesus' flesh and blood.

The best traditions in the Church have always been very careful in the language they use about how Jesus is present in the Eucharist. We are not cannibals. We are not eating Jesus' liver, brain and bones.

In the Catechism when it speaks of the Eucharistic real presence, it never refers to 'Jesus' but always to 'Christ'. The distinction matters. The Eucharist is a Sacrament of Easter. It is the glorified, risen Christ who is wholly and truly present under the form of bread and wine at the Eucharist.

Popular piety and legends that speak too explicitly about the physicality of the Eucharist have not helped us have sensible thinking. As a Catholic I believe that Christ, raised by God from the dead, is truly and personally present to me in the Eucharist. How - is a question that misses the point of the gift.

Chapter six of John's Gospel is a discourse on the Eucharist. It is also, and at the same time, a discourse about Jesus' passion and death and our mission to follow in his way. For Jesus, the new Moses, not only gives bread to the people, but also in his passion, death and resurrection he gives us himself. This is why the Church has always linked the events at Easter with the celebration of Eucharist.

Why have we been given this unique gift? The Eucharist is not meant to be a feast for a privileged few. It's not a private devotion. It's not meant to be something that only assures us of our own particular salvation. It is meant to be something that empowers all Christians to go out and transform the world with love and goodness for Christ's sake.

The Church has always linked what we do away from the Eucharist with what we celebrate at it. This doesn't mean that all of us can rush out and feed the world's poor. It does mean that most of us can assist other groups or people who do precisely that. And it does means that when we think about who we will vote for as political leaders, we ask about their platform in relation to those in our country and world who are suffering the most. The former General of the Jesuits, Fr Pedro Arrupe once said, 'If there is hunger anywhere in the world, then our celebration of the Eucharist is somehow incomplete everywhere in the world'.

Sometimes we can think of the Eucharist as a magical act. Jesus counters such a notion in today's gospel when he tells us that he gives us himself 'for the life of the world'. The Eucharist does not turn us into cannibals; it's meant to make us radicals, radically committed to all God's people everywhere.

Like Mary Our Mother, who radically committed her life for God, we are further invited to reflect on her feast of the Assumption this week .On August 15, 1975, the entire parish council of a village outside the capital of Chile was arrested by the military police. For months the villagers tried to find out where the men had gone and why they had been taken away. Abduction, torture, and illegal imprisonment were daily realties for Chilean people under General Pinochet.

Word arrived in November that the corpses of the parish councillors could be found in Santiago's morgue. Catherine, an Australian nun working in that parish, took the mothers of the eight men to the morgue. There were over 300 corpses piled high on each other and the mothers had to roll someone else's son over in an attempt to find their own.

As the mothers searched they began to weep loudly realizing how evil we can be toward one another. As they wept they prayed the rosary. As one mother, and then another, found her son, they called out more desperately, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death".

Catherine's letter continued, "For years I rejected devotion to Mary because I felt oppressed by the way generations of men in the Church presented her - blue veils, white skin, always smiling, a perpetual virgin and yet also a mother, an ideal I could not achieve, but one to which I was told I should aspire. In the experience of the village mothers, however, the distortions of who Mary was for a poor and suffering world faded away. Far from feeling distant from their devotion, I found myself praying with them, knowing that Mary was with us in our shock, anger and grief for Mary knows what it's like to bring a child into the world and claim his dead body in her arms".

The writer of Luke's Gospel has a similarly earthy picture of Mary. There's nothing sentimental and pious about the Magnificat. Mary proclaims, that God, through Jesus, will show strength through scattering people's pride will tear down the mighty from their thrones and raise up the poor in their places. God will fill the hungry and send the rich, who have not shared, away empty. Like Mary, God calls us to face down our fears and take up the same mission to remain faithful to the work Jesus proclaimed no matter what, whether it's in our relationships with our family, colleagues or friends at home, at work or showing that Divine courtesy and decency in welcoming the stranger across the physical and spiritual threshold.

Fr Gaetan Pereira SJ
College Chaplain