Homily for Sunday, 26 June 2011
Body and Blood of Christ (Solemnity): Deut 8:2-3, 14-16. 1 Cor 10:16-17. Jn 6:51-58.
This Sunday we celebrate the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (it used be the feast of Corpus Christi). Jesus presents his flesh to eat, but don't worry, it's not a call to cannibalism! It's like a call to allow the Trinity give us a kiss on the cheek!
The first reading recalls how the ancient Jews, on their journey to the promised land, got fed miraculously by the 'manna' (Ex 16) and were saved from the plague of serpents etc.. They had escaped from slavery in Egypt (the Exodus). In that sense, I suppose we should all appreciate that the world tries to enslave us - in a search for riches, honors and pleasures and Christ offers to free us from that. That's why he offers his Body and Blood. Do you really appreciate that you're on an exodus too? Our physical lives in the world don't last more than a few years. In that sense, the Gospels (along with the many other books in the bible), form a good nourishment for us. The writing of a guy like me is just a little bit of tomato ketchup to help people eat up!
The son of God himself became physical flesh and blood (incarnate) for a few years, and got a good message across, and Christ is very present with us now also, but not in the same way. He's not physically present, and in that sense it's a sacramental presence. But do you open to Him? The Word of God doesn't want to be confined to your book case!
At mass we listen to the readings and we receive communion and they're both the clever way in which the Trinity try to get your body and blood to become a little part of the 'Body and Blood of Christ'! It's good news, so the name Eucharist begins with 'eu-', which means 'good', as in eulogy or euphemism (as opposed to pessimism), but it's far from a fable! It's as true as can be!
As we swallow the host at mass, we can be saying "yes" to the will of God as expressed in the readings and we ourselves then become his hosts! Will you let him live today in you? Do you really mean in the Our Father ("your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven")? But what is his will in your little corner of the earth? It's good to spend some time meditating the readings of the Mass and think of how to apply them to your own life and to the world around you. That never gets me bored. Also, think of what you'd say if it was you that had to give the homily at mass a few hours later! Then you can share your thoughts as you take a cup of coffee later with your friends and family!
We talk of 'taking communion' at mass (a common-union) and that links well with the second reading where Paul emphasizes that all of us eat the same thing. The union of each individual with Christ forms a 'common-union'. It links us all together. This is a good follow up to the celebration of Pentecost two weeks ago, when strangers started understanding each other. Being in a line queuing for communion is a little symbol of something much deeper - of the fact that Christ unites us and we're all called to a big party in Heaven. In that sense we form his 'mystical body' in the world (which is the whole Church). And even though you are looking at a priest on the altar at mass, it's actually Christ himself that's celebrating. That's why the priest takes care to repeat the precise words of Jesus at the Last Supper ("Take this, all of you..."). The priest is only a 'Joe-Bloggs' like me that's dressed up in his Alba and stole, but it's the risen Christ himself that's expressing his love: "I'll give my life for you". That's great! I like the idea of Charles de Faucauld that each celebration of mass is like a celebration of Christmas day!
But it's not a fake celebration like a fairy story for kids. As we go through life in the world, problems and challenges do come our way (MS is just a tiny example), so it's important to appreciate that that's all part of our growing up. A good sports trainer doesn't just get his lads to meet up in the pub. He trains them. It's after that has led them to play a good match that the meeting in the pub will be fun! So let’s accept whatever way Christ wants to train us.
With regard to the Eucharist, I like the way the Gospel tells of what happened as two of the followers of Jesus were walking away from Jerusalem thinking that Jesus was dead and gone, and Jesus then appeared to them on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24). But in order to be recognised, he actually ate a meal with bread with them and it's clearly speaking to us of the Eucharist: 'Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way (to Emmaus) and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.' (Lk 24:35). Many of our 'separated' brethren in the Protestant churches respect the celebration of the Eucharist, but they won't believe that Christ is actually present therein. They reckon that that would be crazy. I like being 'crazy'! (I'm certainly on a certain road to MS!). Born in a stable and dying on a cross, Christ is a crazy lover. He is Love itself. I'd love to see Protestants and Catholics unite. We can all learn from each other. I like the way in 1924, although considered the likely winner, British sprinter Eric Liddell refused to run in the 100m heats at the Paris Olympics because it fell on a Sunday! Do you remember the film 'Chariots of Fire'? (plus the music!).
The words of the Last Supper ("This is my body ...and blood") seem to be on a different road to the roads of modern intelligence and science, but that's the road to faith. It's a different road, but it runs beautifully alongside. There's humility in Christ that attracts me a lot! The king of heaven and earth becomes one of us (incarnated), born in a stable and dying on a cross. When the people of Jerusalem were welcoming him, He arrived on a donkey (a borrowed donkey!), and ended up being condemned to crucifixion. "Christ became a cursed thing for us" (Gal 3:13). And it was all prophesied: In the writings of the prophet Zechariah, centuries before, it says 'See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt' (Zech 9:9). Such humility makes Him King of our hearts. That's the one kingdom for which He longs. We celebrate mass regularly, at least on Sundays, but I like to celebrate each time as if it were my first and my last and as if it were the only one of my life!
Even if it means waiting and waiting in the silence of the tabernacle, God keeps it up - as if He's bending over backwards to convince us. "Whoever eats this bread will live for ever" (Jn 6:51). That's kind of important - I'm going to die physically, and you are also, but 'eating this bread' is much more than just a matter of opening our mouths! We've got to open our hearts. That's a stiff door! And it's a door of generosity because there's a 'sending' involved ... Jesus says "Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me" (Jn 6:57). So having that life goes hand in hand with being sent!
I think the Eucharist is food for a journey - in other words, there's a sending! Around 1990, my mother started a weekly time of prayer - of Eucharistic adoration, and it turned out to be precisely the time that her youngest son (me) was off on a spiritual retreat in Spain and he felt inspired to become a religious missionary. To me that's an interesting link between my vocation and the Eucharist. It meant taking off my doctor's coat and saying good buy to the nurses, but the Eucharist of Christ is a complete bowing out of mundane appearance and importance. My everyday prayer to God is to free me from preoccupation with what 'the world' thinks of me. I found my leader. As the second reading today emphasizes, this is a question of participating with Christ. That's much more than just 'comulgating'. It's more than just receiving the host in our mouths. We receive Christ in our hearts, and decide that yes, we want to love as He showed us. Or I should say, that we want to let Him love in us! So my doctoring goes on, but in a deeper way.
I think that the best way to celebrate how Christ offers us his Body and Blood is by offering Him our body and blood! And if we do so, we're not alone. We're a big family. To quote the first reading: 'The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.' (1 Cor 10:16-17).
Let's allow the Trinity give us this kiss on the cheek. Let's have a good feed on Corpus Christi and give thanks by passing the feast on to 6000 million brothers and sisters!