The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Homily: Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Readings: Dt 8:2-3,14-16; Ps 147; 1 Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58


First of all...Happy Father's Day to all the fathers here today. I know, being a good father is a tough job, but somebody has to do it. And don't sneak out early or you'll miss the special blessing for fathers at the end of Mass.

Speaking of fathers and sons, some years ago, my elder son, who's into genealogy, asked me to look through my boxes of family documents for anything of interest. One of the first things I came across was the 65-year-old certificate from my First Holy Communion. Talk about a forgotten relic!

It provides only basic information: name, date, the parish, the pastor, all handwritten. Most of the certificate is a picture of a young boy and girl, dressed in their First Communion finery, kneeling at the altar rail. Remember altar rails? Standing behind the rail in the sanctuary, holding a host in one hand and a chalice in the other is Jesus, with two angels posed prayerfully behind Him.

It's a pious scene, a sweet scene, the sort of scene that today might bring about a few condescending smiles, even some cynicism. Yes, such naiveté is fine for children, but we adults...well, ours is a more sophisticated faith.

But as I continued to gaze at that picture I found myself transported from our adult world of pragmatism to a very different a world where miracles abound and God's hand touches all of a world of real faith in which the truth of a theological mystery like the Eucharist is readily accepted. I knew then that a world in which a child can be filled with wonder over God's presence in the Eucharist - that this is the real world. I also realized how misleading, how utterly false our grown-up world can be.

Instead of marveling at God's wondrous gifts, we spend our lives worrying about and fretting over every conceivable worldly thing. We worry about money and jobs and retirement and health. We worry about our children and our grandchildren, about their education, their jobs, and their worldly success. We worry about impressing others, about our friendships, about the clothes we wear, the house we live in, the vacations we take.

Yes, our place in this world so monopolizes our lives, we even define ourselves by how we earn a living. When someone asks "What do you do?" - or for most of us, "What did you do?" - we provide the standard answers: an attorney...a engineer...a sales rep...a teacher...a beautician...a mechanic...a policeman.

How many of us have ever answered, "I'm a Christian, a child of God seeking salvation"?

And why not? After all, that's your true vocation; that's why God created you in the first place. He didn't create you for a job that pays the bills, or promises a nice pension in retirement.

Yes, we live lives littered with all these important and urgent things, concerns so crucial that when placed alongside salvation they become...well, absolutely trivial. 

We ignore the mystery of God's creation and come to believe we can control our little piece of the world...until we're confronted with the stark reality of an illness, or an accident, or the death of one we love.

In our growing-up we've lost that childlike sense of wonder, the capacity to see and marvel at the mystery that fills our world. Lacking this we fail to recognize the face of God even when He's standing right before us.

This is why Jesus instructs us to be like the child, to be childlike, not childish. He wants us to reclaim that wonderful gift of faith He bestowed on us when we were children. How did Jesus put it?
"Father, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike" [Mt 11:25].
He wants us to believe as we once did, and to love as we once did. Brothers and sisters, God created us to love Him, and to serve Him by loving and serving others, and to spend our lives doing just that.

This is how we live our faith, the same faith I saw in the eyes of the children in that picture. Kneeling to receive Jesus in the Eucharist - Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity - they don't see a mere piece of bread. No, they see Jesus Christ standing before them, loving them, offering them the greatest gift he can offer: Himself.

Contrast them with those in today's Gospel passage, people who had lost their sense of childlike wonder and, when confronted with Jesus' words about the Eucharist, denied the mystery of God's power. Quarrelling among themselves, they ask, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" [Jn 6:52]

"This man..." They had witnessed miracle after miracle, acts only God could perform, but Jesus was still simply, "this man."

But Jesus won't let them take refuge in their cynical, adult ways. He forces the issue, repeating and expanding His claims.
"...unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" [Jn 6:53-56].
These were hard words for that incredulous crowd, just as they are for so many today. On that day in Galilee, John tells us, after hearing these words, "many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him" [Jn 6:66]. Just as many leave the Church today and the very Bread of Life because they cannot accept Jesus' Real Presence in the Eucharist. If they accepted it, they would never leave.

It's just a symbol, they say. Well, if it's just a symbol it's meaningless. Read the words of John's Gospel [Jn 6] once again...

No symbol can fill you with divine life.

No symbol can give you eternal life.

No symbol can raise you on the last day.

No symbol can bring you into communion with Jesus where He is in you and you in Him.

How did St. Paul put it in our second reading? 
"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" [1 Cor 10:16]
And later in that same First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul warns not to receive Jesus in the Eucharist unworthily: 
"Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord"  [1 Cor 11:27].
We don't have to answer to God for a mere symbol. We must answer for the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

This is what we celebrate today, Jesus' redemptive sacrifice, the beautiful Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. We used to call it simply Corpus Christi - the Body of Christ - and many of us will probably continue to call it that, if only out of habit.

But in her wisdom the Church changed its name to reflect more accurately the reality of what happened at Calvary and at the Last Supper, and what will soon happen on this altar at St. Vincent de Paul Church. For it is the Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant that was shed from the Body of Christ on the Cross.

In many places when this feast is celebrated, Catholics will process through the streets carrying the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ to a disbelieving world. In the same way, you and I are called to take Him - "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" [Jn 14:6] - to a world searching for meaning and hope, a world begging for God's love and Presence.

We are called to be like joyful children once again, ever amazed at God's gift of life, fully aware that we are "fearfully, wonderfully made" [Ps 139:14], and thankful for the miraculous gift of Christ's Real Presence to nourish our hearts and our spirits.

When we gather for Mass, we become one with Christ, transformed by history's deepest act of love. We become one with Christ in the starving child who aches for a piece of bread, in the victim of violence lying in the emergency room, in the young Marine dying of wounds in Afghanistan, in the African mother whose daughter was kidnapped by terrorists.

Did you know that all this happens here at Mass? We join our souls to Christ and offer our bodies with his on the Cross for the healing of the entire world. We do it for the salvation of the world, for the salvation of souls so that God's "will be done on earth as it is in heaven" [Mt 6:10]

This is what happens at Mass. The sacrifice of Christ - Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity - saves us anew. No words can explain it. But a child can understand it.

No comments:

Post a Comment