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?