No Metaphysics Needed – Arnel Aquino, SJ

John 6:51-58, Solemnity of Corpus Christi


“With all due respect, St Thomas, it’s getting harder and harder to explain the Real Presence of Christ in the host and wine, using your metaphysics.” I recently contemplated a gutsy conversation with St Thomas Aquinas. “Your metaphysics was revolutionary, dear St Thomas. During consecration, the substantia of bread and wine becomes the substantia of Christ’s body and blood, even if the forma, materia, accidens stay the same. But try explaining that to the youth today, or to grown-ups!” When people today ask how Jesus is the bread and wine, I grope around for an explanation that will both be faithful to doctrine and understandable to the questioner. But Thomas’s metaphysics and modern practical inquiry are like two rocks on a river. They’re both solid footing, sure. But they’re too far apart for me to straddle over the rushing water of today’s practical thinking. In fact, a parish youth organizer admitted to me a few months ago, “Father, I already find it difficult to see the host as ‘bread.’ It looks nothing like any bread I know. How much more see it as Christ’s body?”

“I’m sorry, tukayo,” I imagined St. Thomas sighing. “Maybe I can make it up to you. Forget my metaphysics for now. Instead, let’s go back to the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Tell me: what do you think made it sensible for our Lord to identify himself as bread and wine?” Ah, I saw where the saint was taking me. He wanted me to understand Jesus as bread and wine not only during the Last Supper, but also in his entire life. How was Jesus “nourishment” all his life?

I find it fascinating that Jesus could fast for forty days but he couldn’t seem to stand seeing other people go hungry? So, he spent the last two years of his life satisfying people’s hunger. Not just hunger for food, but also hunger for healing, hunger for consoling. He slaked their thirst, too. Crowds tailed him and pressed in on him because they felt refreshed by Jesus’s take on God: a good, humane, practical God…for a change. You know how good parents can’t stand thinking of their children ever going hungry, that they’ll even defy ECQ just to get food? Well, Jesus was like that. Never mind that he got into trouble over it. He couldn’t stand that people went hungry needlessly.

For a long time, you and I have thought of Holy Communion in terms of the “for me.” “When I receive Communion, God regards me as a faithful Catholic. Holy Communion fully satisfies my Sunday obligation. When I receive the Body of Christ, I will be saved when I die and have eternal life.”

Now all that is true and very important. But it’s one-sided, this “for me” side. The other side we often miss is the Lord’s side, the “for you” side. “This is my Body which will be given up for you. This is my Blood which will be shed for you and for all.” We get tangled up in the metaphysics of transubstantiation because we  stop halfway through the prayer, “This bread is Body; this wine is Blood.” But take the prayer as a whole: “This is my Body, given up for you; my blood, shed for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins,” then, we see the whole picture: the person and attitude and behavior of Jesus; a man who could not stand for one moment when hunger goes unfed. Jesus committed himself to the hungry so intensely that he finally identified himself as their bread, as their wine at the Last Supper. See, that’s the difference between Corpus Christi as a metaphysics and as a spirituality. The metaphysics makes us question how a piece of white, perfectly circular wafer can be Jesus Christ. The spirituality makes us remember Jesus’ person as constant nourishment for the hungry. Christ’s Real Presence was wherever he could nourish a hunger. This was his “for you,” for all who need to be fed.

But, Fr Arnel, shouldn’t we receive Communion for eternal life? Sure, we should. But that’s our “for me” part of the deal. The Lord’s “for you” is more important than our personal ticket to heaven. See, the grace of Holy Communion doesn’t kick in only when we die. No, the grace of Holy Communion should kick in as soon as Mass is over. When we “go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” we must make dead sure that nobody but nobody should ever go hungry. As long as Jesus’s Body and Blood and ours have become one, we cannot allow the hungry to remain unfed. We are, after all, Church—the Body of Christ. Food for the hungry.

Then, St Thomas finally said in my contemplation, “There, Arnel. Not much metaphysics needed for that.”

*image from the Internet


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks for this Arnel. What you reflect on here combines well with what I learned from Edward Schillebeeckx in ‘The Eucharist.’ It seemed to me that he was vigorously grappling with the Tradition, not in order to take a contradictory position, but simply to deepen it. In his efforts to enrich communication and understanding, for himself and others, he also made the argument to be a constructive theologian, being a partner in the journey of the Church of Christ as we meet Jesus and walk with Him. I love what you’ve brought here, melding the Upper Room with the open fields where 5000 or 7000 get fed, ‘along with women and children.’ This is a Living Eucharist you are describing, and I will be linking back to you for this point in the future- please!


    1. ninangdeb says:

      Fr Arnel says thank you for your kind words!

      Liked by 1 person

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