Some weeks ago, I had a conversation with an old friend with whom I went to school. After catching up on the years intervening between our last encounter, he asked me if he could ask a theological question. Happy to oblige, he continued, "I get the whole God thing. But seriously: do you really think that God can turn a piece of flat bread into Jesus?"
My response was intentionally curt: "We live in a society where the want for comfort has been transformed into the need for a Snuggie."
When you think about it, his question finds its mirror-image in the state of marketing today. Is not the whole goal of a proper marketing campaign to convince you that some of your wants - certain foods, reliable transportation, a style of dress - are actually needs that can only be met by purchasing a product?
Isn't it funny how quickly so many of us think nothing of shelling out $5.00 for a Venti No-Whip Soy Latte with a Double Shot or paying exorbitant amounts of money for a pair of jeans, but inveigh against "the Church" for taking up a weekly collection? I know many schools that subsidize the cost of Catholic education...I don't know that Abercrombie & Fitch have quite the same goal in mind when you are handing over your credit card to by a new pair of distressed jeans.
The irony of the Eucharist is that it transforms our needs into our wants. Saint Augustine said it so well when he wrote, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." The only thing that will satisfy our restless longings is God; what we need, above all else is God. The event of Eucharist transforms this fundamental need into a want, a desire to join with others in Communion, gathered at the altar, where we join together as a desiring community.
I think the liturgy, viewed from one angle, is nothing more than a tutorial lesson in coming to know exactly how it is that our greatest need ought also to be our greatest want. The rituals build up to a climax where God Himself offers Living Bread to those gathered in memory of His Son. What we receive in the hand or on the tongue is, quite literally, a foretaste of the great banquet each of us has been invited to join.
Simple bread and bread. The basic staples of human life transformed to meet the fundamental desire of human longing. The difference between the Snuggie or the jeans and the Eucharist? Let's see if the Snuggie has 2,000 years of staying power of meeting the basic need and desire of the human condition.