To refresh your memories, Jesus had performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, but then explains that he is the Bread of Life. Jesus shockingly states that His flesh is real food and His blood is real drink. When everybody starts to walk away, Jesus does not soften the claim by saying He is only speaking in symbolic terms. Because He isn't. He's willing to watch them go. This is a strong scriptural argument for the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.
Today Pope Francis managed to explain today's Gospel reading without a single reference to transubstantiation. In fact, he went one better. He said that what Jesus meant by that flesh and blood talk was the "sacrifice of his very life." That's right. It was not that bread and wine would actually become His Precious Body and Blood. Forget that. Our Lord was merely challenging people with the fact of his coming death, His "failure" as Messiah.
The reason everyone except Peter and the other apostles were willing to walk away was not because they were scandalized by the idea of consuming Jesus' flesh and blood, but because they were looking for "a winner."
Pope Francis does violence to the text, because he ignores where Jesus says: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him." John 6:56. How does one reconcile this with the claim that Jesus is merely referring to his death on the cross? Immediately after Jesus says this, John records the following in v. 60: "Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, 'This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?'"
Pope Francis goes on to talk about walking, "always on a journey," in some nice but not particularly Catholic language. You will be glad to know you are not "chained" to Jesus, but "profoundly free."
At this point Peter makes his confession of faith in the name of the other Apostles: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (v. 68). He does not say “where shall we go?” but “to whom shall we go?” The fundamental problem is not leaving and abandoning the work that has been undertaken, but rather “to whom” to go. From that question of Peter, we understand that faithfulness to God is a question of faithfulness to a person, with whom we are joined in order to walk together along the same road. All that we have in the world does not satisfy our hunger for the infinite. We need Jesus, to remain with Him, to nourish ourselves at His table, on His words of eternal life! To believe in Jesus means making Him the centre, the meaning of our life. Christ is not an accessory element: He is the “living bread,” the indispensable nourishment. Attaching ourselves to Him, in a true relationship of faith and love, does not mean being chained, but [rather] profoundly free, always on a journey.
Pope Francis says we must "nourish ourselves at His table, on His words of eternal life!" Christ is "not an accessory element: He is the 'living bread,' the indispensable nourishment." We accompany Him "always on a journey."
In the context, it is impossible to say Pope Francis is saying we literally nourish ourselves on Christ's precious Flesh and Blood. The "living bread," is "the indispensable nourishment," but the Pope avoids preaching what exactly that is. The nourishment of our daily walk with Jesus? Are we nourished "on His words of eternal life" in the same way we are nourished "at His table?"
At the end he invited members of the audience to ask themselves, "Who is Jesus to me?"
Did he deny transubstantiation and the traditional Catholic interpretation of this passage? No. But when he took it upon himself to preach from it, he didn't affirm it, either. A Lutheran or an Anglican or a United Church of Christ member or a Presbyterian could have heard this without a single objection. Perhaps that's the point.