In Layman's Terms - Bob Sullivan

Defending the Body of Christ

Apologetics by Bob Sullivan

When it comes to evangelization, it is usually not highly effective to start with an explanation of the Eucharist.

If you are trying to introduce a non-Catholic to the Catholic faith or if you are trying to re-introduce a lapsed Catholic back to the Catholic faith, starting with the Eucharist is kind of like describing a car’s engine to a 15-year-old who just wants his driver’s license. You know the car is nearly useless without the engine, but your teen usually has different interests with regard to the car at that point in life.

There are some teenagers who are fascinated by their car’s engine and there are some non-Catholics who are attracted to Catholicism because of the Eucharist, but they are the exception to the rule.

The Eucharist is also a common topic for those who are skeptical of the Catholic faith. While many of our separated brethren attend religious services which include a “Lord’s Supper” or “communion” they believe it is something far short of the Eucharist we receive in the Catholic Church. In misunderstanding the Eucharist, they misunderstand Jesus.

In her book, "The Habit of Being," Flannery O’Connor tells of an occasion when she was a guest of some non-Catholic socialites and intellectuals. After a long night of socializing, the conversation turned to the Eucharist. One of her hosts opined that the Eucharist is just a symbol. O’Connor replied, “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.”

For us, the Eucharist is the peak and pinnacle of our faith. We know the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, and therefore, we exhibit holy wisdom when we defend the Eucharist in the same way we defend Jesus Christ. We do so because they are one and the same.

Flannery O’Connor’s response reminds me of St. Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians 15:12-14, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”

I agree with St. Paul and Flannery O’Connor. If the Eucharist is not the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, then our faith in Christ is in vain. I say this because Jesus Christ said the bread and wine “Is” His body and blood. Jesus spoke this clearly, literally and unapologetically.

The discussion of the Eucharist really boils down to His question to the Apostles in Matthew 16:15, “But who do you say that I am?” Either the Eucharist really is Jesus or He is a lunatic or a liar. This is C.S. Lewis’ trilemma – God wouldn’t say he is God unless he really is God, but a lunatic or a liar sure would, and many have. Jesus said He is God, therefore, he’s either a lunatic, a liar or the Lord. The very same trilemma can be applied to the Eucharist.

Any explanation of the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist should start where Jesus started, which is with the Bread of Life Discourse of John 6. Read in context with the entire chapter (which includes the feeding of the 5,000), the Discourse begins at John 6:26 and constitutes Christ’s most explicit explanation of the Eucharist in all of Scripture. For the rest of the chapter, Jesus teaches that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to receive eternal life (i.e. be saved). If you are looking for a key to your faith, it is this.

In the Bread of Life Discourse, we see something very similar to the challenge faced by all apologists and many evangelists. Jesus was explaining truth to people who would not accept it. We should take a lesson from Jesus here. There are many occasions when we are offering the truth to people who refuse to accept it. But this is no reason to stop offering truth, no matter how hard-headed people seem to be, because we are actually evangelizing and catechizing everyone around us. Just as Jesus’ words were rejected by the disciples in John 6:66, billions of Christians have accepted His words since that day, many of whom are converts into Catholicism because of it. Christ knew His disciples would leave Him, but he also knew you would remain because of the clarity of His words in the Bread of Life Discourse. We need to respond to skeptics in order to evangelize those who may quietly listen in and in order to remain open to the slight chance that even the most hardened heart can eventually change.

Here are 14 additional references that will help you explain the truth of transubstantiation:

Prefigured in the Old Testament: Genesis 14:18; Exodus 12 (the Passover); Exodus 16:15

The Last Supper: Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:23-24; Lk 22:14-20.

Apostolic teaching: 1 Cor 10:14-22; 1 Cor 11:23-29; Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7.

Early Church Fathers: The Didache chapters 9-10; St. Ignatius’ Letter To Smyrnaeans in 110 A.D.; St. Justin Martyr’s First Apology in 150 A.D. St. Irenaeus of Lyons’ Against Heresies in 195 A.D.

It is wise to know where you can point, to explain that the Eucharist is truly the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ once the bread is consecrated at the Mass. It is important to the evangelization process once your friend is more familiar with Catholicism, and it is highly important in responding to those who claim that the Eucharist is merely a symbol. Who knows? The soul you help save may be your own.

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