|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
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
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.