THIS Sunday the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Corpus Christi.

We celebrate in the joy of the Eucharist--the real presence of the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion. As St. Paul invites us to ponder in the second reading, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)”

Way back in the Old Testament we already see a shadow of God, planning the institution of the Eucharist. In the first reading (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16) we are told that on their journey in the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land, God fed his people with manna that fell from heaven. He satisfied their hunger with bread they are not acquainted with but which he himself has provided, making them understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. As sang in this Sunday’s psalm (147:14), “He fills you with the finest of wheat.”

In the gospel (John 6:51-58) Jesus connects with this Old Testament background as he gives the radical declaration of himself, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

To his hearers this was not easy to accept. The Jews disputed among themselves, “How could Jesus give them his flesh to eat?” But Jesus stood his ground, and became more emphatic as he said “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came from down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

It is only through the eyes of faith that we recognize Jesus in the Eucharist. If by faith we accept that by his word, God created everything, both what is seen and what is unseen, it takes the same faith to accept that by his word, the bread and wine could become really, truly and substantially the body and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the challenge of this solemn feast. To those who take up the challenge and eat the body and drink the blood of the risen Lord, the promise is that of eternal life and of resurrection on the last day.