One of the things that I enjoy (in the food category) when I vacation on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten / St. Martin, is the fresh baked bread. Every morning you will see a number of people heading to a bakery or local grocery store to get a baguette or some type of fresh baked French bread. The bread is outstanding, in my humble opinion. Crispy crust, soft inside, great taste . . . . Smother it in butter with a cup of coffee and I’m perfectly happy for breakfast.
St. Maarten / St. Martin is the smallest land mass (37 square miles) shared by two sovereign nations. It has no physical borders. There is a Dutch side and a French Side and people go back and forth freely. The island was discovered by Christopher Columbus on the feast of St. Martin of Tours (November 11) in 1493. The island has been arguably referred to as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean and the many great French restaurants found there are supportive of this claim.
Bread is a staple of life for many people throughout history. In Jesus’ time it was part of the everyday meal as was table wine. He used both of these common elements in an extraordinary way when He was at table with his disciples before His death—the Last Supper.
Bread also had some spiritual significance throughout history for the Jewish and later Christian peoples. The Jewish people eat unleavened bread to commemorate their freedom from Egypt when they had to flee before they had time for the bread to rise (Ex. 34:18). When the Jews were wandering in the desert after their exodus from Egypt, God gave them manna to eat—mysterious “bread from heaven.” (Ex. 16) The Jews also kept showbread or bread of presence—twelve loaves representing the twelve tribes of Israel—before God in the sanctuary of the Temple. Later, Jesus famously multiplied the loaves and fish, to feed the hungry multitudes (Mt. 14:15-21, Mk. 6:34-42, Lk. 9:16-17, Jn. 6:9-13}. The use of bread comes to a spiritual summit in Jesus’ designation of it as His body at the Last Supper (Mt. 26: 26, Mk. 14:22, Lk. 22:19, 1 Cor 11:23-24).
In the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 6, we read what is referred to as Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse. It is seen as a commentary on the significance and value of the Most Holy Eucharist. We hear some definitive statements made by Jesus: I am the bread of life . . . I am the bread that came down from heaven . . . Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you . . . Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. . . My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink . . . .
The Real Presence of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist is one of the core teachings of the Catholic faith. We do not believe in some mere symbolic presence, but take Jesus literally--at his word--in our understanding of this mystery. Over the centuries, terms like transubstantiation—a change in substance (but not in appearance)—have been used to explain this essential dogma.
When we approach the Most Holy Eucharist, we approach Jesus—our Lord, God and Savior. He deserves our love, reverence and respect. Like the people in the Gospel, our attitude toward the Holy Eucharist should be one of desire, anticipation, thanksgiving and joy:
“Sir, give us this bread always.” (John 6: 34)
Fr. Ed Namiotka