Shaped by the Eucharist

Written by Sr. Rosemary Finnegan, O.P.
Readings from:

I hope most of us have seen the play or read Les Miserables, a novel written by Victor Hugo in 1862 whose setting is 19th century France.  In this story we meet Jean Valjean, a recently released prisoner who spent 19 years as an inmate for stealing bread.  As you can imagine, he’s a little ‘rough around the edges’ and finds that no inn or tavern will give him food or lodging upon his release.  Finally, he knocks at the door of the bishop’s house.  The Bishop himself has gone through a lot because of the French Revolution and has empathy for Jean Valjean’s plight.  He welcomes his guest, feeds him a lovely meal, and shows him to a comfortable bedroom.  Despite the Bishop’s kindness, Jean Valjean gives in to his temptation to steal some valuable family heirloom silverware that was in the house.  As the Bishop sleeps, Jean runs away with the goods, but he doesn’t get far.  The police march him back to the Bishop’s residence and Jean Valjean assumes he’s headed back to prison for life.  However, the response of the Bishop stunned him because, before the police get a chance to talk, the Bishop says to Jean: “Oh, here you are!  I’m so glad to see you.  I can’t believe you forgot the candlesticks.  Take them with the forks and spoons I gave you.”

The Bishop then dismisses the police and Jean Valjean is left knowing he has a choice to make about how he will live his life. He realizes that the kindness and mercy of the Bishop touched his heart and this has a transforming and redeeming effect on him.  In time, Jean Valjean becomes the mayor of a small town, builds a factory and gives jobs to the poor.

I thought of that Bishop when I read our gospel today in which Jesus says that anyone who comes to him will never go hungry and whoever believes in him will never thirst.  It was obvious by the Bishop’s compassionate response to Jean Valjean that this Bishop had already personally accepted Jesus’ invitation to come and believe, and was therefore shaped by the Eucharist, shaped by what the Eucharist meant, and shaped by how the Eucharist should be lived out in his everyday ways.  His hospitality and merciful response to Jean Valjean came from a heart that accepted Christ’s invitation to ‘come and believe”, and that was formed by his participation in the Eucharist.

Even though we are unable to sacramentally receive Christ right now, we have been shaped and formed already by our belief in the Eucharist.  To “come to and believe in Jesus, the Bread of Life” is to bind ourselves closely to him and all he reveals to us about loving God and others. It implies much more than just receiving Christ in Communion, as important as that is and as much as we appreciate and miss Eucharist now. To ‘come and believe’ in the Bread of Life is to soak ourselves in the life of Jesus, to penetrate deeply into the Word of God that comes to us in the Scriptures, and, finally, to integrate his Way into our own daily lives.  By how we live our lives, even in the midst of this pandemic, we can show that we are believers who are continually being shaped and formed by the Eucharist, the Bread of Life.