Gospel Contemplation: Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
Gospel Contemplation is a way of praying that St. Ignatius proposes quite frequently in his Spiritual Exercises. You are invited to use your imagination to enter the scene, to take part, to let the scene unfold. As Ignatius suggests, notice the people, listen to them, watch what they do [SE, 106, 107, 108]. Perhaps you may sense an invitation to be one of the individuals in the scene and engage in a conversation with one of them. You can do this on your own, or use the text below as a guide.
If this way of praying is new – simply relax and try to become engaged in the scene. Try not to worry about what you are “supposed to” be doing. If you find yourself distracted during your prayer, very gently bring yourself back to the scripture text or your imaginative contemplation.
If at any point during the guided contemplation your imagination comes to life in such a way that God invites to you stay with a particular moment, follow the invitation that you sense, rather than move on to where the written contemplation is going. In that case you might want to stop reading and continue on your own.
Background to the text
Today’s gospel reading is part of what is known as the Bread of Life discourse. It takes place the day after the feeding of the five thousand. The next day, the crowds go looking for Jesus, and finally find him in Capernaum. When he begins speaking to them, he points out that they have come looking for him not because of the signs he performed, but because he fed them with bread. He tells the crowd not to work for food such as that, that will not last, nor for the manna that came from heaven – but instead for the food that endures for eternal life, which he himself will give them.
Quiet your body and mind
- Choose a position where you can be relaxed but alert.
- Breathe deeply several times and let your body relax
- Breathe out any worries or stressful thoughts and put them in God’s hands
- Become aware of God’s presence here with you now, looking at you with love.
Ask for a grace
- Ask God for the grace of eternal life, God abiding with you here and now.
Read the scripture passage
Read the passage slowly, savoring the words and beginning to imagine the scene. Read it twice if that helps you to visualize it.
Jesus said to the Jewish crowds, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.’
It’s the day after Jesus fed the five thousand. Jesus is nowhere to be found, and the crowds are looking for him. They go down to Lake Tiberias and get some boats to go to Capernaum to look for him. You go with them. Be there, in your imagination. See the boats, the people piling in. You get into one of the boats. Feel the wood of the boat you are in, how it rock in the water What kind of day is it? How is the water – choppy or calm? What can you hear? What do you smell?
What moves you to seek Jesus? What are you hungering for?
Imagine arriving in Capernaum, disembarking from the boat. Jesus is not hard to find – the crowd seems familiar with where he might be. Where have you found him? And having been found, Jesus begins to speak.
He says that his own flesh is the living bread come down from heaven, given in sacrifice for all, and that whoever eats of his flesh will live forever.
He offers his whole self. How do you feel when you hear this?
You move closer to where Jesus is, and he turns and speaks to you personally. He says to you that if you eat his flesh and drink his blood, you have eternal life. He says this in the present tense – that you have eternal life. You have it now, it’s not only in the future. He explains further, that “eternal life” means that you remain in him and he in you. Let this sink in.
He is inviting you to take him into yourself, be nourished by him, and he will abide with you, giving you life. It’s an intimate gift. How do you feel? How do you respond?
Take a moment to talk with Jesus about this. You might share with him, as well, your experience of not being able to receive him in the Eucharist during the months of quarantine, and what that has been like for you. Listen to his response to you.
And when you are ready, close with a favorite prayer.
Review of Prayer
St. Ignatius recommends that we review our prayer. A written review has many advantages. It enables us to look back on our prayer experience, and to notice what happened. It allows us to be fully present to our experience of prayer. We do not write while we are praying. The review of prayer enables us not to judge ourselves or look for how well we are doing. It helps us to become more sensitive to how God is speaking to us in the here and now. It is also a precious record of our journey with God, which nourishes wholeness and integration.
Some questions to assist with your review:
What happened in your prayer?
What feelings did you experience?
During the prayer period, when did you feel encouraged?
When did you feel discouraged?
Did you receive the grace you asked for?
What did you receive?