Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Bread Of Life, Invitation To Eternal Life

By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published July 3, 2008

This is the homily given by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory to open the 2008 Eucharistic Congress.

The wonderful aroma is always tempting! It usually fills the house with such smells that your nose rejoices just to breathe in the fragrance. There is nothing like the aroma of fresh bread when it’s baking.

As a youngster, I can recall that there was a commercial bakery about a mile away from my home and I always delighted to pass nearby just so that I could get a whiff of the fantastic fragrance of fresh bread being baked.

Bread is a staple of life for almost all people living on earth, from the most primitive folks to the most sophisticated and privileged. Bread when it appears in the Word of God is always a primary symbol of life itself. From the miraculous bread from heaven—the manna that God provided for the Israelites in the desert—to the bread that Jesus miraculously multiplied on several different occasions in the Gospels, to the Eucharistic Bread of the Last Supper, bread plays an irreplaceable role in the story of salvation. This common substance that exists in many and varied forms throughout the human community was chosen to serve as a symbol of God’s bounty and his compassion for his people.

Jesus fed the hungry crowds with bread multiplied countless times over through the power of his prayer of thanksgiving. So too today does the Lord continue to feed the hungers of the human family with bread—with Bread made divine because of the prayer of a priest—a man like all others with many hungers of his own.

Yet do we priests daily speak words over bread that renders it satisfying well beyond our wildest imaginings. The Eucharist is that Bread that still continues to satisfy the human heart beyond our corporal yearnings. The Eucharist is first and foremost a nourishing food—first for the body and then ultimately for the soul.

The lingering aroma of bread while it’s baking excites the heart as well as the imagination as we can all recall the smells that filled a friendly kitchen or a fortunate neighborhood with a bakery busily preparing bread for sale. The aroma of bread baking tempts the heart to recall its wonderful and treasured tastes and the satisfying experience of dining on fresh good bread. The gift of the Eucharistic Presence of Christ is a reminder of that food that is both a promise and a pledge of the good things that are to come to those who dine on this heavenly food.

The crowd that had come to benefit from Jesus’ bounty in the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes still yearned for another portion of his power. They followed him, hoping to once again enjoy the gift made possible by his prayer of thanksgiving. Jesus invited them to see in the bread that he blessed more than mere food—more than an ordinary meal. Jesus asked them to see in that miraculous food the very promise of Life. He invited them to see him as the Living Bread that he is.

We are now that crowd today. We who repeatedly receive this wondrous bread seek to rediscover and enjoy again the generosity of the Lord. Our annual festivities that honor the Eucharistic Presence of Christ are not dissimilar in atmosphere to those crowds who followed Jesus hoping that he would once again repeat the miracle. We too need to listen to the dialogue that Christ offered in response to the insistent crowd: “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)

Christ is that bread that lives and that gives us life and that is Life. This bread does not merely sustain human life or make daily life pleasant or enhance ordinary life—it is Life itself.

Normal bread is so identified with nourishment and life that we occasionally may be tempted to forget that the Eucharist, while it exists under the sign of ordinary bread, is infinitely more.

In the Latin church, since the time of St. Pius X, the tradition is followed that children are deemed ready for holy Communion when they are old enough to distinguish between ordinary bread and the Eucharist. The simple truth is that we all need to reflect on that distinction throughout our lives.

We all need to remember that Christ has spoken through the voice of an ordinary man the transforming words of thanksgiving over ordinary bread that have changed that simple food into the extraordinary Presence of himself. This is an even more important consideration for the church today since recent survey and study results have revealed that far too many Catholics have forgotten or perhaps never fully understood the truth of this mystery. Too many Catholics today are under the mistaken notion that the Eucharist is a mere symbol, a mere gesture, a mere religious example rather than the Real Presence of Christ crucified and risen from the dead that it is. The Eucharist is the Lord of the Universe, Body and Soul, Humanity and Divinity, truly present under the signs of bread and wine.

These Congresses are welcome opportunities to remind all of us that this is not simply bread like that which we place upon our family tables. This is not an ordinary food—it is the Food that promises that we will live forever if we dine humbly upon this gift. The Eucharist is also a covenant that we enjoy with Christ who feeds us and then requires us to become his very presence in the world in which we live. Those who dine upon the Eucharist are charged to respond to the needs of those who are still hungry, still neglected, still confused about what really nourishes the heart and the spirit. If we fail to accept that charge—that responsibility—we deny the real presence because we deny the obligations that flow from this cherished treasure that the church enjoys from Christ himself.

Bread is a common food that people the world over enjoy and upon which most depend each day as a basis of life itself. The Bread that we honor in our Congresses offers us not simply the satisfaction of human hunger, but the promise of Life everlasting. Because this Bread is no ordinary food, but a Living Bread that allows all of us who dine upon it to dare to believe that we shall live with Christ forever. Amen!