Friday in the Octave of Corpus Christi
A Sermon by St. Augustine the Bishop
We have heard from the Gospel the words of the Lord which follow those that formed the subject of my earlier discourse. From these a sermon is due to your ears and understandings ; and such a sermon is not unseasonable on this day, since this passage concerneth the Body of the Lord, which he said that he would give for the life of the world, that a man may eat thereof and not die. He made manifest how he bestoweth this gift, and what manner of gift it is, when he said : He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me and I in him. The sign to shew whether a man hath or hath not eaten that Flesh and drunk that Blood, is whether or not he dwelleth in Christ and Christ in him ; whether or not he is a guest of Christ and Christ of him ; whether or not he cleaveth unto Christ in such wise that Christ departeth not from him.
This hath he taught, and warned us, by words of deep meaning, namely ; to be in his body as his members,(of which he is the head,) and to be partakers of his flesh , not separating ourselves from his oneness. Many of his disciples when they had heard this, as the Gospel saith, went back, and walked no more with him : for they understood not by the word Flesh any flesh other than such as they themselves were made of. The Apostle saith, and very true it is : To be carnally minded is death. The Lord giveth us his Flesh to eat : but to understand these words carnally is death. Where he saith : Whoso eateth my Flesh hath eternal life : we must not understand this as his Flesh carnally, as did they of whom it is written : Many of his disciples (not his enemies) when they heard this, said, This is an hard saying, who can hear it?
If his disciples took his words for a hard saying, how (think you) must his enemies have taken them? And yet is behoved him to speak in this fashion, that is, in such a way that all men would not understand them. A secret of God ought to make us thoughtful, not hostile ; and yet, when the Lord Jesus Christ spoke thus in mystery, many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him. They believed not that he was speaking of some great thing, nor that grace lay hidden under these words. Rather, they understood just as they pleased, after the manner of men. And so they thought that Jesus was claiming to be able to give to them that believe on him, that flesh (wherewith he, the eternal Word, is clothed,) as it were in slices. And so they said : This is an hard saying ; who can hear it?