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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Moses said to the people, "You shall remember all the ways which Yahweh your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, to prove you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. He humbled you, and allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you didn't know, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh does man live.
Do not forget Yahweh your God, who brought you forth out of the land
of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; who led you through the great and
terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions, and thirsty
ground where there was no water; who brought you forth water out of the
rock of flint; who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
Brothers and sisters, the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not
a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not
a communion of the body of Christ? Because we, who are many, are
one bread, one body; for we all partake of the one bread.
Jesus said to the Jewish crowds, "I am the living bread which came down out of heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. Yes, the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
The Jews therefore contended with one another, saying, "How can this
man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly
I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life in yourselves. He who eats my flesh and drinks
my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who
eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I in him. As the
living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father; so he who feeds
on me, he will also live because of me. This is the bread which came
down out of heaven-- not as our fathers ate the manna, and died.
Whoever eats this bread will live forever."
* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published
numerous articles and reports.
** Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.
For your convenience, the
Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the
Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright ©
1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C.,
may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic
|The feast that we celebrate
today, the feast of the body and blood of Christ, Corpus Christi, is one
that has great meaning. So it’s important for us to try to come to
a deeper understanding of the full meaning of the feast.
Part of it is a very consoling and beautiful teaching and another part of it is very challenging and demanding.
The consoling part of it, we can understand if we remind ourselves of how this feast began. The feast began as one that came from the people. During the Middle Ages, back in the 13th century, people had a clear understanding about what the Blessed Sacrament really is; the body and blood of Jesus. So they wanted to celebrate that; the presence of God in their midst, in Jesus in this sacrament.
St. Juliana was a saint who in her prayer life first thought of the idea. Then St. Thomas Aquinas wrote all of the prayers and the hymns that we use on the feast. And it developed as a procession feast and wasn’t just something where people came together in church and celebrated Mass as we do this morning. No, it was what you might call an action feast and they acted on the truth of the Blessed Sacrament. And so they carried the Blessed Sacrament around their whole village; through the town, wherever they lived, their homes, their workplaces and so on, to dramatize the conviction they had that God journeys with us wherever we go. God is always with us and we have the Blessed Sacrament as the clear sacramental sign of God’s presence.
They would carry the tools of their craft with them. They would visit all of the special places they wanted God to be with them; hospitals or places where there were sick people, or places where there were hungry people and so on. God was journeying with them in their everyday life. And that’s a part of the feast that we need to think about -- how God is with us.
But it’s not only, as we discover when we listen to what Saint Paul says today, under the forms of bread and wine in the sacrament. Paul reminds us that as you and I receive this sacrament, we become the body and blood of Jesus. “We all receive,” Paul says “from the same loaf, the same bread. We drink from the same cup.” We receive the same Jesus and that Jesus becomes alive in us. And so we must minister to one another, just as Jesus gave his life for all.
So the sacrament of the Eucharist reminds us that as we become the body and blood of Jesus you and I have to reach out to one another, give our life for one another, and build up our sense of community. We are all one in Jesus whom we receive together this morning at this Mass. We become one body.
And there are ways of course that we must try to celebrate our community, our oneness. Ways that we can strengthen one another through our community. As I mentioned before Mass, we celebrate Mrs. Jones’s birthday; 89 years of her life, the last 48 of those have been part of this community. And we can remember, I’m sure, any of us who are regular members here, how her life has strengthened us as she has brought Jesus to us. When she stands at the pulpit and reads the scriptures, all of us listen because she reads with such power. She gives her life for this community and has done that for 48 years. Something to celebrate, I think, and something for all of us to say, “We, too, must more generously give our lives for one another and build up our community.” Sometimes, that can be done, as we do today, by giving support to one another, bringing Jesus and the love and the compassion and the strength of Jesus to those who are grieving.
Again, I mentioned earlier that we are celebrating the Mass today for Anthony Marzette and Mack Foster. Nichole Foster-Marzette is a member of our community; she and her son, Ralph. She lost both of those people very close to her this past year. She lost her mother a number of years before. She needs the strength and the support of this community. And she’s told me many times that she’s almost ready to give up except that there are people here to support and help her. And that’s what it means to be the body of Christ. We must become an evermore faithful, strong, supportive community for one another and then reach beyond our own community and reach out as Jesus did to all of those who are in need.
This is what it means to be the body and blood of Jesus. And, again, we remind ourselves that when we receive the body and blood of Jesus under the forms of the bread and wine, we become that body and blood of Jesus. We rejoice in that, we take consolation in that, and we commit ourselves to be like Jesus in giving our life for others; especially in building up our community.
As I suggested, the understanding of Corpus Christi, the body and blood of Christ, can be very consoling and very helpful to us. But when we probe this mystery and this teaching of our faith in somewhat of a different way, we find it very challenging.
The first lesson, today, reminded us that as Moses spoke to the chosen people he said to them, “Remember how God brought you through the desert for forty years. God tested you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep the commandments or not. God made you experience want. He made you experience hunger. But then he gave you manna to eat to show that you do not live on bread alone, but on all that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
What Moses is telling the people is that that manna, the food they ate in the desert, was a symbol for the Torah, the law, the word of God, and that they must take-in the word of God, just as they took-in the manna and ate it and allowed it to nurture their bodies.
They needed the word of God to nurture their spirit, to guide them. They needed the wisdom, the truth of God, in order to find life, real life, to satisfy the hunger of their spirit, of their soul.
You can satisfy the hunger of your body with bread, but it’s only the word of God that will nourish and satisfy the hunger of your soul, your spirit.
So you must listen to the word of God, you must, in a sense, eat it. Take it in deeply so that it forms everything that you do and becomes part of you.
And then Jesus said in the gospel, in that long teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but I am now the bread of life. The manna they ate in the desert did not give them everlasting nourishment nor strengthen their spirits forever. But now I am the living bread, the manna that gives life forever.”
And what he means by that is that just as that manna was symbolic of God’s word, so now Jesus clearly is the word of God. Everything that Jesus is, what he says, what he teaches, is what will nourish us spiritually and give us spirit life -- if we take it in and follow him. But this is what can be so challenging.
A couple of years ago, Pope John Paul II preached a homily in the Holy Land on the Sermon on the Mount; that other very long discourse of Jesus that’s recorded in Matthews gospel. And John Paul, in reflecting on that, said, “Jesus’ call has always demanded a choice between the two voices competing for your hearts. Even now on this hill, he was on the mountainside where Jesus had first proclaimed those words 2000 years ago. Or we could say even now in this church that Jesus’ call demands a choice between the two voices competing for our hearts -- the choice between good and evil, between life and death. Which voice will the people of the 21st century chose to follow? “
To put your faith in Jesus means choosing to believe what Jesus says, no matter how strange it may seem -- choosing to reject the claims of evil, no matter how sensible and attractive they may seem.
Which voice will we follow?
I have a sense that very often we’re not aware that there really are two voices competing for our hearts. One is the voice of Jesus, the manna who came down from heaven, the word of God that wants to nourish us. The other is the voice that we hear in the world around us, from our culture or very often from our leaders.
I became very aware of this yesterday. A couple times I heard President Bush on the radio. They were giving excerpts from the talk he gave at the graduation of the class of cadets at West Point, our military academy. Here’s how his talk is described in this mornings paper.
President Bush told nearly 1000 graduates at the United States Military Academy today that the cold war doctrines of containment and deterrence were irrelevant in a world where the only strategy for defeating America’s new enemies was to strike them first. Here are his words. “If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge.” And then the reporter says that in a toughly worded speech that seemed at preparing Americans for a war with Iraq, Mr. Bush added, “The only path to safety is action and this nation will act.”
Compare those words with the words of Jesus. Can you imagine Jesus threatening to destroy a nation? We’re going to act first. We’ll use our military power and we’ll destroy them.
Jesus would never say that. He’s the manna that came down from heaven, the word of God, the only word that can give us real life.
Which voice will we listen to?
Most of us, I think, automatically assume we have to listen to the president, follow whatever he says. Shouldn’t it be much more automatic that we listen to Jesus and follow what Jesus says?
Of course, it’s challenging and very hard to stand up against what seems so popular. But if we want real life, life for our spirit, if we want real peace, peace in our heart, and ultimately peace in the world, we must choose to follow the voice of Jesus -- the true manna who came down from heaven, the true word of God that gives life to all of those who hear that word and heed it.
Today, as we receive the body and blood of Jesus in Communion, I hope each one of us will be deeply aware that we then become the body and blood of Jesus. We become Jesus in the world where we live and that we help to build up our community more and reach out beyond our community. But I also hope that, as we receive the body and blood of Jesus, and we say amen to this sacrament, that we will be saying amen to the word of Jesus and try to live that word so that we will share deeply and forever in the life that Jesus promises.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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