Sunday, June 18, 2017

For the Life of the World.

As I said at the beginning: to those to whom it applies, Happy Father’s Day

The American Father’s Day is, of course, a 20th-century invention. The Church, however, has her own, much older calendar, according to which today is celebrated as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, commonly called Corpus Christi since first celebrated in the 13th century.

I may have told this story here before, but on Corpus Christi I think it is worth repeating. As a seminarian in the summer of 1984, I was at Saint Peter’s Parish in Toronto, where I was assigned to visit Catholic patients in the local hospital.  One day, as I was doing my regular hospital visit, I found myself trying to communicate with an elderly, totally non-English-speaking, Hungarian woman, whose name was on my list to bring Communion to, but who clearly had no notion who I was or why I was visiting her.

Now, generally speaking, the quality of most of our human interaction depends – at least in part - upon how well we listen and communicate with one another. If you can’t understand another person - or he or she can’t understand you - some communication may still occur in non-verbal ways, but it will likely be rather limited.  Speaking for myself, certainly some of my most frustrating experiences have been when communication has been limited because of a language difference.

Such experiences, of course, can cause one to feel inadequate, which, in turn, further fosters frustration. And frustrated – very frustrated - was exactly how I felt that summer day in the hospital. All I wanted to do was get out of there as fast as possible.  But my job was to bring her Holy Communion. So, I dutifully took out a Host and held it up for her to see. Suddenly, her confusion about who I was and what I was doing there no longer seemed to matter.  I no longer mattered. The sight of the Host resulted in instant recognition. She made the Sign of the Cross - and began to pray.

In all these intervening years, I have never forgotten my meeting with that devout old woman in that otherwise deeply depressing place - and what that experience impressed on me about the power and importance of the Eucharist.  Experiencing her response to the Real Presence of the Risen Christ – the real, body-and-blood presence of our living and loving Lord, present and active in his Church - impressed on me the meaning of those familiar and seemingly simple words of St. Paul, which we just heard: The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

In the Eucharist, as the Church teaches, Christ is “truly, really, and substantially” present under the appearance of bread and wine – his flesh given us as Jesus himself said, for the life of the world.  In both good times and bad, in sickness and in health, Christ is present in the Eucharist, and we in turn experience his presence and share in the new life he offers the world through his Church.

Clearly, the uniquely precious moment of Communion is intended to continue, permeating every moment and aspect of life - just as Christ’s real presence in the Mass continues in his Real Presence in the Tabernacle, prolonging our act of adoration as his Church in the world. As St. Augustine famously put it (in his commentary on Psalm 98): “no one eats that flesh without first adoring it; we should sin were we not to adore it.”

Corpus Christi originated as a popular expression of the Church’s devotion centered on Christ’s presence in this sacrament. Each of the Church’s liturgical festivals, seasons, and devotions highlights in a particular and specific fashion some significant aspect of our Catholic belief and life. Today’s celebration invites us to focus in a particular and specific fashion upon our devotion to Christ’s Real Presence, celebrated sacrificially in the Mass and prolonged in continued adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, whether reserved in the Tabernacle or exposed on the altar for an experience of more intense adoration. This annual festival of our devotion to the Eucharist invites us to a fuller, more conscious, and more active participation in the body of Christ, the Church, by believing firmly, celebrating devoutly, and living intensely Christ’s Eucharistic Presence given to us for the life of the world. 

Homily for Corpus Christ, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, June 18, 2017

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