We're back with William Cavanaugh today, but different book, different thought.
There is no question about whether or not to be a consumer. Everyone must consume to live. The question concerns what kinds of practices of consumption are conducive to an abundant life for all. In the Catholic tradition, the Eucharist is a particularly important locus for the Christian practice of consumption.
In the Eucharist, Jesus offers his body and body to be consumed. "Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.': (John 6.35). The insatiability of human desire is absorbed by the abundance of God's grace in the consumption of Jesus' body and blood. "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life' (6.54), that is, they are raised above mere temporal pursuit of novelty. "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life" (6.27).
It would be easy enough to assimilate the consumption of the Eucharist into a consumerist kind of spirituality. The presence of Jesus could become another kind of commodity to be appropriated for the benefit of the individual user. Indeed, much of what passes for Christianity in our culture today is addressed to fulfilling the spiritual needs of individual consumers of religion. Many kinds of religion - or more commonly, "spirituality" - are largely about self-help, using God to cope with the stresses of modern life. The practice of the Eucharist is resistant to such appropriation, however, because the consumer of the Eucharist is taken up into a larger body, the body of Christ. The individual consumer of the Eucharist does not simply take Christ into herself, but is taken up into Christ. Jesus says, "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them" (6.56). Paul writes to the Corinthians: "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor. 10.16-17).
The act of consumption is thereby turned inside out: instead of simply consuming the body of Christ, we are consumed by it ... In the Christian view, we do not simply stand apart, as individuals, from the rest of creation - appropriating, consuming, and discarding. In the Eucharist we are absorbed into a larger body. The small individual self is de-centred and put in the context of a much wider community of participation with others in the divine life. At the same time we do not lose our identities as unique persons, for as Paul says, each different member of the body is valued and needed for the body to function (1 Cor. 12.12-27).
If we remain satisfied with the unity of our own communities, however, we have not fully grasped the nature of the Eucharist. For becoming the body of Christ also entails the we must become food for others. And this often involves moving beyond our own communities and comfort zones. Jesus teaches this lesson in a dramatic way in his depiction of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25.31-46 ... What is truly radical about this passage is not that God rewards those who help the poor; what is truly radical is that Jesus identifies himself with the poor ... In the Eucharist, Christ is gift giver, and recipient; we are simultaneously fed and become food for others.
William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (Eerdmans, 2008), pp.53-56.