This homily was written for the Archdiocese of New Orleans year of renewal of the Mass
In the Greek language, there are two words which are translated by the English word “life”.
The first word, “bios”, from which we get the English word “biology” is used to speak of the type of life we share with the animals. It could also be translated “existence”. It is life as the ability to breathe and move.
The second word, “zoe”, from which we get the English words “zoology” and “zoo” describes a different quality of life. It is not just mere existence but life in its fullest sense. We might translate it as “fulfillment” or even “happiness”. It is life as we experience it when it is charged with excitement and joy. It is the kind of life we share not with the animals but with God Himself.
When Saint John uses the word “life” in his gospel, it is this second meaning that he is referring to. For instance, Jesus tells His disciples that He came that they may have life and have it in abundance. And in today’s gospel He says that unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood we do not have life within us.
Jesus came to enhance our lives. He came to bring purpose to our existence. Whatever we have that is good becomes better when we add Jesus to it. Whatever is difficult and burdensome becomes more bearable through the perspective and hope that comes with faith in Him. Jesus takes us beyond mere existence, beyond simply getting by, to having a life charged with joy and peace.
How do we come to experience that full and abundant life? Jesus tells us in today’s gospel: “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you do not have life within you.” The Eucharist, therefore, is the way we come into contact with the fullness of life which is God’s own life. Just as God used our parents’ bodies to create us and transmit our human lives to us, so He uses the body of His Son to communicate His eternal life to us.
The Mass, then, is our lifeline. Whenever we come to Mass, we receive, participate in and are filled with the very life of God.
At every Mass, after the petitions are prayed, we bring the gifts of bread and wine which will become the Body and Blood of Jesus up to the altar. They are brought up from the middle of the church because they represent our offering to God, the offering of our lives. They represent everything that is good and bad, everything that is sweet and bitter. As these gifts are brought up in procession to the deacon or priest, we should imagine ourselves adding to them everything we are thankful for as well as our needs, our fears and our sins. We should imagine ourselves placing into the deacon or priest’s hands every area of our life that is in need of God’s healing touch. And as the Mass goes on we should imagine Jesus transforming what we have offered into a source of new life for us. Then when we receive communion, we can imagine Jesus blessing our lives, giving us strength to overcome difficulties, giving us peace in our struggles and enhancing the joy of everything that is already good. That way the life of Jesus - the full and complete life which He desires for each of us - can become a reality.
The Risen Jesus is truly present among us. He comes that we may have life and have it in abundance. Without Jesus we would be just getting by, living for the day without a firm sense of purpose. With Jesus, we are experiencing the life of God Himself pulsing through our souls. It is ours to receive through the gift of the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ given for the life of the world.