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from fathers desk

Dear Friends in Christ,

We are in the middle of our Message Series, INVITED! Yes, as Catholic Christians each of us is invited, and even beckoned, into a deep and intimate relationship with Christ. In the first week we explored what it means to be “Invited to Communion,” to oneness with Christ and his Church. We saw how intimate and close that invitation is, but also how the invitation requires a response, something of us, what we might call the demands of the Gospel. If we want to be one with the Lord, we first must keep his commandments (See Jn 14:15).

In the second week, “Invited to Fulfillment!” followed. We have witnessed in myriad ways how Jesus’ is the fulfillment of the promises extended to the chosen people in the Old Testament and through former covenants. In the new and eternal covenant the promises coalesce and are brought up to a new level of understanding and fulfillment. Jesus himself truly is the Bread of Life. He does not provide the bread; the bread is not merely his gift to us. Rather, Jesus himself is the very gift, the very life, the very same divine nourishment. It is not something He has and shares, but it is who He is.

Now in our third week, we are “Invited to Transformation!” It took many centuries for the Church to fully articulate the mystery of the Eucharist. One of the earliest names for this sacred food was “the medicine of immortality,” (St. Ignatius of Antioch) and before that just “the breaking of the bread” (see St. Luke). Indeed, the Church usually defines her teachings only when controversies arise. When our Christian life is humming along there is no need to pause and crystalize teaching. Inevitably certain understandings are rendered insufficient and bad blood can arise. One such occasion of needed precision arose from the errant teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin who both held (in different ways to complex to delineate here) that the holy Eucharist was an important and symbolic meal Jesus meant to hand on to his followers, but that it was not really his body and blood, his soul and divinity. How could something that tastes like bread and wine truly become divine? The key term is transubstantiation, meaning a change of substance. We Catholics hold and teach that while the accidents or the resemblance of bread and wine remain, the substance in fact becomes the Lord Jesus himself, in all his power and glory. Truly the simple offerings of bread and wine are transformed on the altar at the words of the priest, as handed on to him by the successors to the apostles who received the power and authority from Jesus himself.

Now that is quite a transformation! In fact, based on the latin root of each word, transubstantiation is a deeper change (if I can put it that way) than the change of form that say a caterpillar experiences when she becomes a butterfly!  What follows from our understanding of the deep mystery of the holy Euchrist is myriad and multifaceted. We dedicated a whole semester course to the topic in seminary, so this little article can do little justice to the topic. For deeper study, begin here.

Just one of the repercussions of such a beautiful teaching is that the Eucharist is the one food which works in reverse. If I eat a cheeseburger, my body works to transform that cheeseburger into energy and (well) into me! When we feast on the holy Eucharist, we are inviting Jesus Christ to transform us, the members of his Body, into Him. We are inviting God to divinize us. Remember in the Eucharist we become one (commune) with Jesus and with his Church. We seek to be made more and more into the very one we receive and consume, Jesus Christ Himself. Hence the need for great reverence, awe and gratitude for the awesome invitation extended to us, despite our unworthiness.

Yours in the Lord!
Fr. Joel Wilson