Sunday, June 14, 2020

For the Life of the World

A week ago, we celebrated First Holy Communion for 11 of our younger parishioners. It reminded me of my own First Communion, 65 years earlier. When I posted my First Communion picture on my blog 10 days ago, my sister, who has been sorting out our mother’s things,  an accumulation of decades and decades of memories, told me she had found my First Communion armband and would save it for me. What does one do with a 65-year old First Communion armband?

Most of us can remember our First Communion. Hopefully we remember more than the fancy outfits, photos, and presents. Hopefully, we remember it as a special moment of joy and grace that has been repeated over and over again, every time we have received this sacrament. Presumably we have done that many times, since we have all lived in this relatively unique period in the Church’s history when frequent Communion has been both encouraged and the common experience of most of us – at least until our recent experience of the sudden suspension of so much of the Church’s public sacramental life because of the pandemic that continues to threaten us. That unwanted and unexpected experience should invite us to reflect more seriously on what may have been in danger of becoming at times a relatively routine activity.

But however frequently or infrequently received, Holy Communion can never be allowed to become routine, for, as we just heard from Saint Paul, the bread that we break is a participation in the body of Christ, thanks to which, we though many, are one body.

But what does it mean to be “one body”? Preaching on Pentecost Sunday to another group of First communicants in early 5th-century North Africa, Saint Augustine famously told them to listen to Saint Paul if they want to understand being the Body of Christ. He told them what you receive is the mystery that means you. It is to what you are that you reply Amen, and by so replying you express your assent. … So be a member of the body of Christ, in order to make that Amen true. [Sermon 272]

The New Testament tells us how, from the beginning, Christian communities devoted themselves to the breaking of bread and prayers [Acts 2:42]. As the Church grew in size and expanded in influence, the Church’s experience of sharing in the one body of Christ, would in time transform, first, the Roman Empire and, then, the ever wider world – as it still must continue to transform each one of us and the wider world which we are all a part of.
The current crisis which we are experiencing in our country, the consequence of a long legacy of injustice and institutionalized violence, mixed in for good measure with a global pandemic, has reminded us how we are all part of the common sufferings of our society, sharing common responsibilities to one another and to our one world.

When Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians about their sharing in the body of Christ, much of what he had to say was in fact a criticism, warning them that they were in danger of missing the main point and receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood in an unworthy way, doing so to their peril.
Perhaps the Corinthians couldn’t quite help bringing their worldly divisions and inequalities with them - any more than we can. That is why what happens at this altar is so important, intended as it is to enable us to go beyond our individual self-enclosed limits and self-referential relationships and so bring a new unity to the world. For Jesus’ command to his disciples to do as he did is an invitation to a whole new way of life, made possible for us by what Jesus himself has already done on our behalf.
Today’s celebration invites us to focus in a particularly active and conscious way on the purpose of Christ’s presence in this sacrament, this sacrament of our unity, this sacrament which makes the Church what it is in our world. This annual festival 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 real bodily presence given to us for the life of the world.

Homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, June 14, 2020. The entire Mass may be viewed on the Immaculate Conception Church Facebook Page and later on the parish website

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