ROMAN CATHOLIC SPIRITUAL DIRECTION
“I am the same under each of the species, but not every soul receives me with the same living faith as you do, my daughter, and therefore I cannot act in their souls as I do in yours.” Words of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska
Matthew 26:17-35: Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus to say, ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ ‘Go to so-and-so in the city’ he replied ‘and say to him, The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.’ The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover. When evening came he was at table with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating he said ‘I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me’ They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn, ‘Not I, Lord, surely?’ He answered, ‘Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’ Judas, who was to betray him; asked in his turn, ‘Not I, Rabbi, surely?’ ‘They are your own words’ answered Jesus.
Now as they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to the disciples. ‘Take it and eat;’ he said ‘this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them. ‘Drink all of you from this,’ he said ‘for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. From now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in the kingdom of my Father.’
After psalms had been sung they left for the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all lose faith in me this night, for the scripture says: I shall strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered, but after my Resurrection, I shall go before you to Galilee’. At this, Peter said, ‘Though all lose faith in you, I will never lose faith’. Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you solemnly, this very night, before the cock crows, you will have disowned me three times’. Peter said to him, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you’. And all the disciples said the same.
CHRIST THE LORD Jesus alters the ritual of the Passover meal, which had been established by God himself through the ministry of Moses. In doing so, he confirms yet again his claim to be the Messiah (evident as well in his continued use of the Messiah’s prophetic title, Son of Man), and by doing so in his own name, he reiterates his claim to be the Son of God. These changes shed light on just what kind of a King he is.
The unleavened bread, which commemorated the Israelites’ rushed departure from Egypt (they were hurrying too much to have time to bake leavened bread), and the cup (the third ceremonial glass of wine, which commemorated past blessings, was drunk right after eating the sacrificial lamb, and preceded a long prayer of thanksgiving) become Christ’s body and blood, which are given up for the forgiveness of sins (as the blood of animal sacrifices was poured out at the foot of the altar to atone for sins in the Old Covenant). He also cuts the meal short. He declares he will not drink of the fruit of the vine again until he has entered into his kingdom, even though normally a fourth cup was drunk at the end of the Passover supper, in anticipation of the future fulfillment of all God’s Old Testament promises.
Jesus thus turns this religious meal into an unbloody sacrifice that points towards the bloody sacrifice he will soon make on Calvary. In so doing, he accrues to himself the roles of priest (he offers the sacrifice) and victim (his Body and Blood are offered). And by inviting his twelve Apostles to participate in the sacrifice and receive its benefits, he shows that his Kingship will be exercised in the total surrender of himself for the good of his subjects. Not only will his sacrifice wipe away their sins, but it will also elevate them to become, through Holy Communion, sharers in his royal and divine nature: if we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we will have his everlasting life within us.
Christ is the one Lord of history, and the only Lord in history to share his royal inheritance with all his people.
CHRIST THE TEACHER We are accustomed to this sharing of natures that Jesus enacts through the Eucharist, but its sharp departure from Jewish custom would have astonished the Twelve. The Mosaic and Levitical Law prohibited all Jews from drinking the blood of their sacrifices, or even eating any meat with the blood still in it. In blood, they believed, was life, and all life belonged to God – it’s off limits for men. So when Jesus commands them to take the cup of his blood and drink from it, the concept would have shocked them.
for post on Matthew 26:17-35And yet, that Old Testament command had its purpose. Pagan religions had no prohibition against the consumption of blood. Pagans were accustomed to consuming bloody meat and bloody sacrifices. Just as they worshiped idols, creatures that were considered divine, so they believed they could enter into communion with the divine through the consumption of those creatures’ blood. But the Jews were protected from such practices. They knew they had been created in God’s image, and that there was only one God, Creator of all things. And so, when Jesus proclaims a new covenant in his name – something only God could do – and then commands his followers to consume his precious Blood in the Eucharist, the Apostles would have gotten the message: the divine life of Christ was about to start flowing in their veins; the pagan sham is giving way to the real thing. The first time in their lives that they consumed blood of any kind was when they received their first Holy Communion.
How fitting it was that God had prepared so carefully, through the Mosaic customs, the men who first consumed Christ’s Body and Blood! It teaches us the reverence and gratitude with which we ought to treat this most Blessed Sacrament.
CHRIST THE FRIEND When Jesus and his disciples celebrate this first Eucharist, the New Covenant is established. In the biblical context, a covenant is a family bond, a mutual commitment that links two parties so that they become one thing. Marriage, for example, is a covenant. God’s promise to Abraham is a covenant. In establishing a New Covenant, Jesus abrogates the Mosaic Covenant, which was written on stone tablets, and fulfills Jeremiah’s prophecy that after Israel’s infidelity to the Old Covenant, God would make a new one, deeper, everlasting, and it would be written in his people’s hearts (Jeremiah 31:31).
How curious it is that St Matthew locates the establishment of this everlasting covenant right between two predictions of betrayal, Judas’ and Peter’s. Jesus is willing to commit himself to us, body and soul, to offer us his undying fidelity, even knowing that we will betray him. When he predicts the betrayals, we can hear the sadness in his voice; dipping into the same dish was a sign of close friendship, and that is how he describes his betrayer, as someone close to him, trusted by him. And yet, he wants his disciples to realize that he knows what will happen so that later they will reflect on it, seeing that he loves them no matter what, even knowing their weakness. He wants to remove even the last speck of doubt from our hearts: in Christ, we have found an undying, untiring love, the firmest of anchors in the stormy sea of life.
CHRIST IN MY LIFE
Will I abandon you too, Lord? You know that I already have. So many times I have failed to trust you, I have ignored your voice speaking in the depths of my soul. I am weak, Lord, and I am inconstant. Be my rock; be my shield! With the fortitude of your heart, strengthen my heart…
Your generosity humbles me, Lord! Do I deserve the great gift you give me in the Eucharist? Do I deserve the forgiveness you offer me, even before I am aware of all my sins? Do I deserve your friendship, which you promise never to take back, even if I betray you? Do I deserve to be permitted just to speak your holy name, the name which says everything? Jesus: God saves. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me…
I cannot receive you in the Sacrament right now, but at least come into my heart” Come to me, my Lord, and make me like you. You give without counting the cost. You love and forgive without ever demanding your rights. I am so slow to give, to forgive. But I know that with you I can do all things. Jesus, I trust in you…
Editor’s Note: This post is the first of nine posts on this coming Sunday’s Passion Gospel reading.
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part.
Art for this post on Matthew 26:17-35: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Last Supper, Semen Afanasyevich Zhivago, 1845, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less.
About Fr. John Bartunek, LC
Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. His most recent books are “Spring Meditations”, “Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”, and “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.