Saturday, May 24, 2008

Corpus Christi

(The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, A)

Each year the Church gives us this feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, better known as Corpus Christi, as a special opportunity to reflect on and rejoice in the inestimable gift that God gives us in the Eucharist. This gift is a mystery of God’s infinite love, and so there will always be more for us reflect upon. The readings we hear today provide three ways we can begin our reflection on this perfect gift of the Lord’s Body and Blood.

The Gospel we hear today is from the part of the Gospel John often called the “Bread of life discourse.” Jesus identifies himself with the “living bread come down from heaven,” proclaiming that he himself is the “true food” that places the nourishment of eternal life in the one who receives it. Each week we stand in awe at the fulfillment of these words in the holy Eucharist. The whole life, goodness, love, and blessing of almighty God, revealed for us in Jesus Christ, is poured out over this altar, hidden “under the little form of bread.” This is what St. Francis called the “sublime humility” and the “humble sublimity” of God.

On this feast of Corpus Christi, let us appreciate anew this great gift of the humble and self-sacrificing God. The same God who called forth the whole creation with just his Word gives himself to us as our true food. This is not a God who lords it over the world or who is controlling in any way. No, the original and perfect Life and Blessing and Goodness—this mystery we call “God”—is happy to sit in our hands as our bread, and to sit quietly in all of the tabernacles of the world. And in how many of those tabernacles is the real presence of Christ totally ignored! And yet, even though we ignore God so much of the time, he is not a God who pushes himself on us or is going to strike anybody down. Instead, God only wants to nourish us quietly—to nourish our spirits in Holy Communion, to strengthen our hearts in prayer, to illumine our minds in contemplation.

God is with us, nourishing us, leading us on our way. This is what we hear in the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy. To be freed from the slavery of Egypt was only the first step for the people of God; a long journey was to follow. And it is the same with us! Once we leave the slavery of sin behind and commit ourselves to a life of prayer and devotion to the will of God, we have only begun to become the Lord’s disciples. It isn’t easy, the Christian life: fighting our sins as well as the sinful structures and ways of our society, working to bend our minds and hearts to the will of God, it’s enough to wear you out, and many times we’ll feel like we are traveling in a desert. Just as God fed the Israelites with the miraculous manna, so now God gives us food for the journey in this “bread come down from heaven.” For we are a people on pilgrimage through this life and this world, and the Body and Blood of Christ is our food for that journey until that day when, whether we know it or not, we receive Holy Communion for the last time. Our final Holy Communion we call our viaticum, by which we mean quite literally our provision for our final journey of passing through the door that is Christ and passing over to the Father.

The Body and Blood of Christ we receive is our sustenance on our pilgrimage, but it is also our mission. As our mothers told us, “you are what you eat.” That’s the purpose of our Holy Communion: that we might become the Body of Christ. Just as Jesus Christ’s body was broken on the Cross for our salvation, the Eucharist we receive will help us to allow our hearts to be broken by the suffering of the world. And just as the Blood of Christ is poured out in the ratification of the new and eternal covenant, so we are meant to become that blood of God, learning to pour out the best of ourselves for each other and for the reconciliation of not only every injury that scars our own relationships but even the healing of the wars that scar the history of the world.

Let us receive the great gift of God, the Body and Blood of Christ, the food for our pilgrimage. And let us become what we receive.

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