I don’t know about you...but I really do not enjoy debating...especially with brothers and sisters in Christ who are on the Protestant side of the Christian divide. Whilst I don’t enjoy it, I feel compelled to share the beauty of the fullness of the truth that I was blind to for so long – but thank God, He was gracious enough not to allow me to wallow in my ignorance. One of the blessings however that comes from entering these discussions with our Christian brothers and sisters who disagree with us, is that it encourages us to grow in our knowledge of the what and why of the teachings of our Holy Catholic Church.
The thoughts below were inspired by one such discussion that I am currently having with a Protestant brother in Christ. For the record, I admire this young man’s commitment to what he believes to be the truth (although much of what he believes about Catholic teaching is misconceived). In our discussion, we were talking about the Catholic understanding of the Real Presence of Christ as per His teaching in John 6 (which is of course not the exhaustive Scriptural defence for the Catholic position on the Eucharist). The most common Protestant argument against the Catholic understanding of John 6 is that the “eating” referred to by Christ is really a figure of speech for faith (or believing). This assumption comes from a comparison of verse 47 and verse 54, and incidentally it supposedly fits in with the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide (faith alone).
I pointed out to my friend that his simplistic comparison of Jn 6:47 with Jn 6:54 was too simplistic. Just because the result may be the same, does not necessarily mean that the cause is the same. A silly example to illustrate the point could be summarised as follows:
a) Whoever eats arsenic will die
b) Whoever suffocates will die
c) Therefore eating arsenic = suffocation
Also the simplistic conclusion that eating = believing does not take the context of the whole passage in account. Going back to Jn 6:27 to establish the context, we find Jesus saying that the people must not work for the food that perishes (referring to the feeding of the five thousand) but rather that they must work for the food that does not perish (which is Jesus Himself – see Jn 6:35).
Now, the work is not the food – because Jesus says that the food must be worked for. So, the people ask Jesus what the work is (Jn 6:28) and He tells them that the work is to believe (Jn 6:29). So, if we want to have eternal life, we must eat Jesus’ Body and drink His Blood; but in order to receive Him in this way we must first do the work of believing. So, whilst the belief is not the feeding (because the belief is the work necessary in order to receive the food), both statements of Jesus remain true.
In addition, Jesus did explain what He meant, which is exactly why many of His disciples left Him (Jn 6:66). They already believed in Him (Jn 2:23-25) so it was not His saying that they needed to believe in Him that caused them to leave Him. So what was it? It was the fact that He told them that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. If Jesus was talking simply about believing, surely the crowds would not have left Him, seeing that they already did.
Moreover, Jesus spoke in quite literal terms when He said that the bread He was referring to was His flesh (Jn 6:51). And the people understood Him literally (Jn 6:52). Yet, Jesus doesn’t clear up their supposed “misconception” (which He surely would have done if they so blatantly misunderstood Him). Instead, He goes on to speak even more vehemently in literal terms (Jn 6:53ff).
Jesus saying was a hard one 2,000 years ago (Jn 6:60), and it remains a hard saying for many today, which is why so many have continued to attack the Catholic Church on this very doctrine. And that is the ultimate test of faith. Although the host and the contents of the chalice after the consecration continue to have the appearance and taste of mere bread and wine, our faith is exercised by our belief that they REALLY are the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Lord, I believe! Help thou mine unbelief!