Last Sunday’s Gospel and homily by Fr. Charles got me to thinking about the words of Fulton Sheen in his book Life of Christ. With his usual great insight, Fulton Sheen teaches us that if we are to truly listen to what Christ has to say in the Gospels, then we can really only draw one of three conclusions:
- Christ was telling the truth;
- Christ was a liar; or
- Christ was a madman.
I’ve used this teaching in my World Religions while juxtaposing the religions of the world to Catholicism. I told my students that it was possible for anybody to start a religion. In fact, I told them that that morning I had decided to start a new religion called LeBlancism and that I was god. I then told them that they had to take this as truth because I am not a liar and that I am definitely not a madman (to which a voice from the back of the class chimed in to everyone’s amusement: “That’s a matter of perspective, sir.”)
To understand how Fulton Sheen’s three conclusions relate to Christ, we need to revisit the Gospel reading for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Jesus said to the people: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The people then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in them.
“Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (Jn 6:51-58)
Jesus did not back down from this statement. He did not soften it by saying he was talking metaphorically or symbolically. He steadfastly repeated that salvation is to be had by eating His flesh and drinking His blood. In his Catholicism series, Fr. Robert Barron points out something that makes this statement even harder to swallow (pardon the pun); that if we return to the original Greek of John’s Gospel Jesus does not use the verb phagein (to eat) but instead he uses the verb trogein (to gnaw or devour), indicating the way we should approach the Eucharist. Since the Eucharist is the life giving bread of Christ’s flesh, we must devour it, relishing the sustenance it brings to our souls.
Keeping this in mind, it’s not surprising that many fell away from Jesus, refusing to follow him because they saw him as either a liar or a madman. The emphasis Christ put on this Eucharistic teaching, however, tells us that this cannot be a question of perspective – that there is only one conclusion that we can draw from Christ’s words:
He was telling the Truth!