Tag Archives: Corpus Christi

CORPUS CHRISTI, 2018

A former World War II GI said that, after jumping off the landing craft, he had to skip and hop to avoid the injured who were moaning on the sand; he had to run carefully around the bodies of the dead soldiers that had accumulated in large numbers on the beach at Normandy that fateful June 6, 1944. I was 13 years old at the time, surely not mature enough to realize the significance of the event.

It was the same GI who told of seeing a 19-year-old soldier get the brunt of an exploding shell and being left with a gaping hole in his hip, its white bones fragmented and jagged, protruding through flesh and skin. “Hang in there. You’ll be OK. They’ll send you back to England and then you’ll be shipped home. The war’s over for you.” And the young man answered with boyish innocence and manly courage, “You know, I didn’t intend to get injured.”

And so it is that we treat the body — the body of our fellow human beings, the body of family and nations and the world, the body of Christ. We maim and we kill, physically or emotionally, to keep the stranger, the different one, away — a much quicker solution than the awkward, challenging struggle toward reconciliation. Kill in the trenches, kill in the streets, kill even in the womb. Do away with the person. Leave a body, a body that cannot dialog, cannot assert itself. There’ll be more space then, more time, for us as bodies are removed.

What a tragic perversion of the mind and heart of Jesus! The body is a reflection of society: one body, many parts, many functions. Not one of them should go unhonored; all are necessary, useful, beautiful in the eyes of their creator. Never should one part, one member, scorn another as inferior or unimportant.

I once received a lovely note from a relative of mine, a young woman, very appreciative of the gift of life, ambitious and hard-working. Her work — she surrounded the word with quotation marks — was that of a bicycle tour guide. Her graceful, strong body had traversed hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles on two continents. She wrote to me, “I feel so fortunate to be able to cycle as my job…sharing a wonderful meal with my group in an old castle in Ireland or biking with them through the olive groves of Toscana, Italy”.

The very day I got that happy, thoughtful message I had been reading accounts of the poor in Latin America and the valiant efforts of the volunteers from other countries who had gone to help save their lives and attain a measure of dignity and justice. What a contrast, I thought, among the members of the Body of Christ. Yet, the plain fact is that that body requires both tour guides and missionaries; it includes the vibrantly healthy and the suffering sick, the rich and the poor, militant activists and secluded contemplatives, light skin and dark skin, males and females, heterosexuals and homosexuals, English-speakers and Spanish speakers, and on and on and on…

Jesus could not have made it clearer that he wanted us to honor all these differences and try always to achieve, not exclusion, but inclusion.

Today, Corpus Christi Sunday, we join all who believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic bread and wine. But I think that we should not make too much of precisely how he is present in this mysterious sacrament. After all, what is to be gained from our analyzing and theorizing and theologizing when we know that we can never fully understand this pure gift of love? We ought to give ourselves, instead, to the demanding, far more important matter of his presence in the people, how he continues to suffer in them, and hear him calling for our attention, for hands and hearts that can make a difference for the better.

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CORPUS CHRISTI, 2017

Jesus must have known what sensitivities he’d be trampling on whenever he spoke of giving his flesh to be eaten and his blood to be drunk. Not only did those words unavoidably suggest cannibalism; but they also stood in flagrant contradiction to the centuries-old condemnation of any such practice by the sacred law of Moses.

The Jews were convinced that they were divinely destined to be different in their moral values — different from all other tribes and nations around them. Therefore, they could have no part in the abominations that were customary among other peoples.

Eating non-kosher meat and drinking blood were two practices that were associated with pagan worship and expressly forbidden by the Mosaic law. Faithfully observant Jew that Jesus was, he knew full well what binding prohibitions these were in the religion he had practiced all his life. We can only imagine, then, how shocking and revolting it was to his fellow Jews to hear of his intention to give them his flesh to eat and his blood to drink. This was deeply disturbing to them, not only because it sounded like cannibalism, but also because it was a bold and unacceptable affront to the most sacred law of the prophet Moses.

This wasn’t the first or the last time that Jesus knowingly upset his followers and risked losing many of them — risked losing his own life as well. He was using powerful expressions that would sear and burn, that would cause debate and division. He was making unforgettable proclamations of a message so shattering in its radical newness as to be never surpassed. He was initiating a whole new order of life, a new relationship between the human race and God.

By choosing, as he did, the familiar images of eating and drinking when he spoke about the relationship between himself and us, Jesus was calling our attention to some vital components of human life. First was that most fundamental of all desires, simply to stay alive and to keep on living. The second was hunger — physical hunger for food, the hunger for love and unity and happiness and pleasure. And third, the hunger to fulfill our nature, our individual personhood — “to be someone” and all that we can be, all that we want to be.

Jesus concludes his thus-far troubling lesson by saying that we can fully satisfy all our hungers, all our desires, through him. He claims to be our total food, our life-giver and sustainer. To know him, to receive him eagerly into our lives as the complete food that satisfies every honorable hunger, is to enjoy a relationship with God of a kind never before attainable.

The bread and wine of Eucharist are appropriate symbols for the sacrament, of which unity is a major theme. The bread is made of countless grains of wheat, no two exactly alike, yet forming one whole loaf. It is broken, as we are so often by the cares of our lives. The wine begins with the crushing of grapes, as we are crushed by the burdens we inevitably carry. Jesus promises to heal us, to make our worrying unnecessary, if we feed on him in faith and trust. He calls us, different as we are from each other, to become harmoniously one in our families and communities, our cities, our world. Eat of me, he says, and, I promise you, you will be one.

We must admit that we barely understand and so little appreciate what it is we are invited to accept in Eucharistic Communion. But for more than 2,000 years Christians have found God, themselves and each other in the mystery that lies at the heart of it. It just may be that we need to give a bit more thought to what we are doing — or to what he is doing.

CORPUS CHRISTI 2016

We don’t get theological technicalities from Jesus; he speaks plainly, most often in simple stories whose meanings are clear.  From that consistent style of his, we can be sure that he had no obscure theology in mind on the night before his death when with bread and wine he made the simple parting gesture of love, in which he said, “Remember me. And don’t ever forget that I’ll be with you always.”

The essence of that gesture, which has become our Eucharist, is undoubtedly presence: Jesus’ desire and his plan to be with us in a unique way.

Friends and lovers can be present to each other not only when they are face to face, body to body. They can be thousands of miles apart and be really present to each other in many ways.  The sound of a melody, the remembrance of a shared experience, a card or a letter taken from a drawer, a photograph, are but a few examples of how human beings can be present to each other even though they are physically apart.

We Catholics maintain that there is a personal presence of Jesus in Eucharist – not merely in the transformed bread and wine, but in the entire Eucharistic event.

It seems to me that it is no more useful to dissect and analyze this mystery than to analyze any act of genuine love.  Some things are so sacred, so precious, so profoundly personal, that to subject them to microscopic examination is to guarantee that they will not be appreciated.  The words “Body and Blood” are, of course, anatomical in their normal usage.  But in the context of the Eucharist I understand them to mean simply real – real not in the sense of physicality, but real in the sense of sacrament.

When we do this sacred action together week after week, this fluid action called Eucharist, Jesus is uniquely present.  Unseen, yes, but as intentionally and really present to us as he was to his original disciples and apostles, minus the physical, or bodily, elements.

We must content ourselves with that alone and not be distracted by the scrutinizing that goes on in our theological laboratories, which can only do further violence to the uncomplicated plan of Jesus to remain with us, not merely in memory, but in here & now sacramental presence.

I am not aware of Jesus ever asking to be adored, but only to be welcomed and loved in return for his own unconditional love of us.  He invites us to follow him with trust and to accept the gifts he offers.

Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ — the remarkable, nearly unbelievable, fact that God, as St. John so graphically put it, has pitched a tent in our midst and made it the dwelling place of Jesus.  This is not God up and out above the clouds; nor is this a deus ex machina, a divinity that enters the human situation occasionally, whimsically, to fix things.  This is the divine presence in the thicket of humanity, scratched and bruised with us, always present, always giving life and hope and peace in the midst of trouble.

When our Catholic lives are over, and while we still have the presence of mind to reflect on their most precious treasures, I believe that we are going to appreciate as never before what our regular encounter with Jesus through Eucharist has given us.  We will understand more clearly than ever before what a source of strength and guiding wisdom it has been for us all along.  We will understand with unprecedented gratitude what he meant when he said he would be with us always.

Corpus Christi — Body of Christ – himself — us.  How else would he have arranged the journey?

 

HOMILY FOR CORPUS CHRISTI 2015

We don’t get theological discourses from Jesus; he speaks plainly, commonly, most often using simple stories to make his meaning clear.  Judging from that consistent style of his, I think we can be sure that he had no obscure theology in mind on the night before his death when with bread and wine he made a parting gesture of love, a way of saying, “Remember me. Don’t ever forget that I am with you always, because you are my friends.”

The essence of that gesture, which has become our Eucharist, is undoubtedly presence: his being with us in a unique and immediately recognizable way.

Friends and lovers can be present to each other in ways other than physical.  They can be thousands of miles apart and yet be present to one another.  The sound of a melody dear to both, the remembrance of a shared experience, a card or letter taken from a drawer, a photograph, a familiar place: these are examples of how human beings can be present to each other even though they are physically apart.

We Catholics maintain that Jesus is uniquely present to all who seek him in the sacrament of Eucharist. 

It seems to me that it is no more useful to dissect and analyze this mystery than to analyze any act of genuine love.  Some things are so sacred, so profoundly personal, that to subject them to microscopic examination is to guarantee that they will not be appreciated.  The words “Body and Blood” are, of course, anatomical in their primary, conventional usage, and therefore inevitably suggest a kind of cannibalism.  But in the context of the Eucharist I understand them to mean simply real – real not in the sense of physicality but real in the sense of sacrament.

When we do this sacred action together week after week, this fluid action called Eucharist, Jesus is uniquely present.  Unseen, yes, but as intentionally and really present to us as he was to his original disciples and apostles, minus the physical, or bodily, elements.

We are left to content ourselves with that alone and not be distracted by the scrutinizing that goes on in our theological laboratories, which, I maintain, can only do further violence to the uncomplicated plan of Jesus to remain with us, not merely in memory, but in here & now sacramental presence.

Jesus does not ask to be adored, but only to be welcomed and loved in response to his own unconditional love of us.  He invites us to follow him with trust and to accept the gifts he offers.

The popular bumper sticker urges us in another context, “Keep It Simple.”  We would do well to apply that advice here as we contemplate and honor the risen Jesus in Eucharist.

Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ — the remarkable, nearly unbelievable, fact that God, as St. John so graphically put it, has pitched a tent in our midst and made it the dwelling place of Jesus.  This is not God up above the clouds; nor is this a deus ex machina, a divinity that enters the human situation occasionally, whimsically, usually to fix things.  This is the divine presence in the thicket of humanity, scratched and bruised with us, always present, always giving life and hope and peace in the midst of trouble.

When our Catholic lives are over, and while we are still able to reflect on their highlights, I believe that we are going to appreciate as never before what our regular encounter with Jesus through Eucharist has given us.  We will understand more clearly than ever before what a source of strength and guiding wisdom it has been for us all along.  We will understand with deep gratitude what he meant when he said he would be with us always.

Corpus Christi — Body of Christ – himself — us.  How else would he have arranged the journey?