‘The greatest of all love stories’
I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51).
This passage from the Gospel of John is part of the Communion in Ordinary Circumstances for pastoral care of the sick visits at home, nursing homes and hospitals. I have said it thousands of times over the years visiting the sick. It’s a love story.
At the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, His love for us was so acute that He decided He would never leave us; hence, He created a new reality in the changing of bread and wine into His body, blood, soul and divinity. The metaphysical process is called transubstantiation where the substance of one reality changes into the substance of another reality while yet retaining similarities of the former. And so, for those of you who remember your philosophy: the “substance” is changed while the “accidents” remain.
Theology and philosophy can be somewhat dry, but love drives the Beloved to seek out the beloved. I have noticed that when reading this Gospel passage to the sick, especially in the nursing homes and hospitals, there is an intense desire for the Beloved because He offers them life everlasting in Heaven. There is also the promise of physical union as Jesus’ body becomes one with the communicant. It is a true and mystical union because it is true food and it is true love. The Eucharist is not an “it;” it is a “He.” It is a person. It is Jesus.
The love story continues in the eyes of the sick communicant who looks up with such anticipation, reverence and humility as he or she realizes that in the loneliness of sickness one is not alone. Jesus has come down from heaven at Mass and has traveled with the priest to bring His love to the beloved. These men and women look at Jesus in the Eucharist as the priest says, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” They receive Him in their bodies on the tongue or on the hand. Sometimes the hands are very wrinkled, arthritic and weathered. Sometimes there are IV lines inserted in the arms, but nonetheless the sick person reaches out to receive Jesus and to embrace Him spiritually and lovingly.
It is a very humbling experience for me to see this union take place. The sick person receives Him and prays with eyes closed silently and reverently. There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that this is not a symbol. This is the real Jesus. This is the Beloved of my soul who could not bear to be parted from me but comes to me in a unique way so that I can receive Him into my own body and soul. It is the greatest of all love stories.
—Father Lance Harlow is pastor of Corpus Christi Parish based in St. Johnsbury.
—Originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.