The True Sacrifice of Jesus
Thursday April 18, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week in Easter
Reading (Acts 8:26-40) Gospel (St. John 6:44-51)
In the Gospel reading today, one might be tempted to look at the fact of Jesus telling us that everyone who believes has eternal life and, therefore, when He talks about Himself being the bread of life, that what He is really talking about is something which has to do merely with faith, that it is something to do with the intellect. After all, for instance, we read in the psalms that "mere man has eaten the bread of angels". You say, "Well, what is the bread of angels, since they donít have a body? What they feed upon is God. Therefore, one could say that is what Jesus is getting at: As long as we believe, then we have eternal life. He is the bread of life. Therefore, we need to feed on Him; we need to read the words of the Gospel; we need to understand the Lord." But that is not what He is getting at. That is a rather Protestant view of things, and it is certainly not what a Catholic would uphold.
It is necessary that we have faith, but it is not merely about faith that we feed on the Lord. Rather, it is our faith which helps us to recognize that He is the sacrifice that was offered for our sins, and it is part and parcel of sacrifice that you must eat of the sacrifice you offer. Offering a sacrifice is not an intellectual pursuit. It is not merely a matter of saying, "Faith is an intellectual virtue. Therefore, as long as in my mind and with faith in my heart Iím offering Jesus to the Father, then Iím feeding on Him." No, we are not.
We offer Jesus to the Father (First of all, He offered Himself physically; now we offer Him sacramentally), but it is a true sacrifice that is being offered, not just an intellectual thing. It is not merely a matter of faith in the wrong sense of that [word]. Again, many Christians believe in simply saying, "As long as you believe that is Jesus, then it is. So you just think about how you would want to offer Jesus to His Father; then, in your faith, you have done so." It does not work. You either offer Jesus to the Father or you do not. It is not a matter that, in your mind, if you happen to think that you did, then it is okay. It does not work that way.
You actually need to act upon the faith to be able to say that, yes, we believe in Jesus Christ. And what we believe in Jesus is, as the Ethiopian eunuch was recognizing, that He was the Sheep before the slaughter, that He was the Lamb before the shearer, that He was the One who was sacrificed for our sins and that sacrifice continues. What He makes clear at the end of the reading in todayís Gospel totally negates the misunderstanding that one could have of what came earlier. He says, "The bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world." And [He says] that we must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood or we have no life.
That is not an intellectual pursuit. That is not something that we can sit around and cogitate about for awhile and think "What a neat idea that is! Therefore, we have communed with the Lord." That is not the faith Jesus is talking about. It is to be able to say, "In faith, I believe that the sacrifice He offered on the Cross and that He commanded at the Last Supper to continue to be offered in His memory is the same sacrifice that is offered on the altar, and that when we receive Holy Communion that is the Body, the Blood, the Soul, and the Divinity, the fullness of the very Person of Jesus Christ, who is offered for our sins. That is the bread I will eat." It is not a "piece" of bread, but rather, it is the bread of life. It is the bread of angels because it is Jesus Christ, who has offered Himself and continues to offer Himself to our heavenly Father for the salvation of our souls. That is the faith Jesus is talking about.
It is not enough to say, "Yes, I believe that Jesus is the Savior." It is not enough to say, "I believe that He sacrificed Himself on the Cross so my sins could be forgiven." It is required that our faith continues into what happens today: that He is being sacrificed still, that He is truly Present under the forms of bread and wine, and that we literally and truly eat His flesh and drink His blood so that we will have life. That is the faith He is talking about, and whoever believes has life - whoever believes that truly is Jesus Christ and molds their life around that faith. It is that faith, and only that faith, which is going to give to us eternal life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.