The Crux of Faith

If someone claims to be a follower of Christ, a Christian, then it should matter to him or her greatly if he or she is following Him correctly. To view all of the feuding denominations of Christianity can be disheartening, but I can help narrow down this field of choices quite simply. The central aspect of faith is found in one of the most major Sacraments that Christ Himself instituted and commanded us to carry out, the Eucharist. The institution of the Eucharist is not only discussed at the Last Supper, but it is also mentioned at great length in the Gospel according to John. Now, many churches have a Eucharist/Communion/Sacrament that is in the form of bread of some type and wine/grape juice/water, but the real way to know that the church one attends adheres to what Christ instituted, is if that community of faithful believes that Jesus is TRULY present, Body and Blood, in that Sacrament. The Real Presence is one of the surest signs that you are on the right track. Let me show you why…

Many Evangelical/Protestant/Fundamentalist/etc. Christians will say that the Sacrament that Jesus commanded us to carry out at the Last Supper was and is meant only as a symbol. Unfortunately for them, even a cursory reading of John chapter six will show quite easily that this is not the case. Jesus spoke in many parables and used every form of literary prose. He did at times speak in metaphors, like when He said, “I am the door,” or, “I am the vine”. Yes, Jesus is like a door in that He is the way, the entry point for our salvation. In the same way, Jesus is like a vine in that He has the sap that nourishes us and we have to adhere to Him to grow spiritually. But, Jesus is not like bread or wine. He clearly states that He is “true food” in His Body and His Blood is “true drink.”

As one reads chapter six, you can see that Jesus goes on and on about this, very determined to make the disciples and Jews listening understand. Twelve times He says He is the bread that came down from heaven; four times He says they would have “to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” As they heard Him say these things, they questioned and asked, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” This does not sound like someone who is saying, “Ah! He means figuratively, I got ya!” Jesus went further to correct their thinking and repeated Himself in elicit terms: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:53–56).

Jesus did not give a side explanation as He did with the parable of the sower. Jesus drove the point home by being literal. In John 6:60 we read: “Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” These were his disciples, people who had listened to Him speak in parables and metaphors many times. But upon hearing this teaching, there was no turn of phrase. “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63; cf. 1 Cor. 2:12–14).

It is at this point that the most glaring aspect comes to surface: “After this, many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:66). These disciples, who knew that Jesus was the Christ, the long awaited Messiah and King, would walk away from the person who they had given up everything to follow because of this teaching. This teaching was too much to handle. Would a follower give up all of this for a simple metaphor? I say not.  Those who understood and believed this teaching would die for it in the centuries to come. This belief is why some Christians would be accused of being cannibals and arrested. The Christians of the first generation would attest to this belief.

Ignatius of Antioch, who had been a disciple of the Apostle John and who wrote a letter to the Smyrnaeans around A.D. 110, said, referring to “those who hold heterodox opinions,” that “they abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again” (6:2, 7:1). Ignatius (110 A.D.), Justin Martyr (150 A.D.), Origen (244 A.D.), Cyril of Jerusalem (mid-300s A.D.) and Theodore of Mopsuesta (400s A.D.) would leave writings confirming this belief. Theodore would very poignantly say, “When [Christ] gave the bread he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my body,’ but, ‘This is my body.’ In the same way, when he gave the cup of his blood he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my blood,’ but, ‘This is my blood,’ for he wanted us to look upon the [Eucharistic elements], after their reception of grace and the coming of the Holy Spirit, not according to their nature, but to receive them as they are, the body and blood of our Lord” (Catechetical Homilies 5:1).

After the explicit teaching of Christ, the heavy decision of the disciples, and the writings and beliefs of the first Christians, it is obvious that Christ is to be truly present in the Eucharist. The question, then, is, which church has the Real Presence? After searching, the field can narrow down to the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, Anglicans, Lutherans, and some Methodists. While Methodists will say that this is simply a “Holy Mystery,” others will claim literal presence in the Sacrament. But what is glaring to me about the list of denominations is that they all are splinters from the One Holy and Apostolic Catholic Church. Whether it is authoritarian dispute (Anglicanism), personal holiness and practice dispute (Lutheranism), or a dispute over the role of Our Blessed Mother and the manner in which the Holy Spirit enters the world (Orthodox), all of these traditions get their belief in the Real Presence from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the obvious answer to the questions of which church did Christ establish and which church continues to teach what He taught. And if one values (which you should) the aspect of having priestly authority to consecrate the Eucharist and perform this Sacrament, then the answer is even clearer.

Despite the personal views and side disputes, Christ gave us a very important gift: Himself. We are to encounter Him always and carry out the Sacrament in remembrance of Him. Why make the decision any more difficult than it needs to be? The crux of the faith question is, Where is Christ? He is here, in the Eucharist. Every day, always available to be seen and adored. Stop by any parish. Go to perpetual adoration. The Church reveres Christ in the Eucharist because that is really Him, with us always, just as He said He would be.

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