The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ||May 29, 2005|
Nathan has shared with us a very important part of the understanding of the Blessed Sacrament, the body and blood of Jesus. It's very clear, as he points out, that just as physical food and drink nourish us, we'll never be spiritually nourished unless we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus.
I thought that I might take our reflection in a little bit of a different way this morning. Besides emphasizing the truth of the reality of the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I thought it might be helpful for us to ask ourselves what Jesus meant when he told the disciples -- I'm going back to the Last Supper now -- he said, "Do this in memory of me." Or as it is recorded in John's Gospel, "I have given you an example so that as I have done you also must do."
Do what? What does Jesus mean by doing the Eucharist? That's what he says, isn't it? He says, "Do this." He doesn't say, "Adore me." He doesn't say, "Build big churches where I'll be enthroned and everybody can come and worship." He doesn't say that. Now, I'm not denying that adoring God's presence in the Blessed Sacrament is an important part of the Eucharist, but that's not what Jesus emphasized. He said, "Do it!" Do what?
Well, first of all, celebrate a meal. The Eucharist, Jesus wants us to understand, is coming together as a family or as a community of disciples, gathering around the table and then doing what he did at the Last Supper -- sharing a meal. This time, though, the meal becomes his very own body and blood. But the emphasis is on coming together and sharing a meal. That is why when we celebrate the Eucharist now we have our altar right in the midst of the community, so we can be around the altar just as a family is around the table. We don't have a barrier of a communion rail between us and the table.
We're all gathered together to celebrate a meal and, you know, it's so clear that Jesus meant this. When you look in the Gospel of St. Luke, Easter Sunday night, the first Eucharist was celebrated after Jesus was put to death and rose from the dead; it was celebrated in an inn along the road. Jesus invited the disciples to come in and have a meal and that was the first Eucharist. In the breaking of the bread they recognized Jesus.
When you look in the Acts of the Apostles or the letters of the Paul you discover that in the early church, most of the time people gathered in their homes and they celebrated the Eucharist as a meal gathered around the table. In the experience that you discover from Paul's letters, very often they actually shared an ordinary meal first because that's such a great way to bring people together. As they went on, that meal evolved and expanded into the sacred meal of the body and blood of Jesus. So the very first thing we understand about the Eucharist is that we come to do something, we come to celebrate a meal together.
But, of course, then it becomes a very extraordinary meal -- the body and blood of Jesus. As Jesus himself points out, his body becomes the bread of life. It is a fulfillment of what we heard in the first lesson today. In the first lesson the Jewish people, or the chosen people, where traveling through the desert, and they were experiencing a lot of suffering, pain and depravation, especially, of food and drink. God gave them, blessed them with manna, which was a very special, extraordinary, food for them. But notice what Moses says: "God made you experience want. God made you experience hunger, but he gave you manna to eat which neither you nor your ancestors had known and that was to show that no one lives on ordinary bread alone, but all that proceeds from the mouth of God is life for human beings."
Manna became for the Jewish people a symbol of the word of God. God had them experience physical hunger, or allowed that to happen, so that they would understand that there is a deeper hunger that can only be fed by the word of God. That gives, then, extra meaning to what Jesus says in today's Gospel: "I am the bread of life. I am the word of God that gives life. You must listen to me, my words and how I act. I am that bread that nurtures your spirit, the bread of real life."
Manna is not enough. Ordinary bread is not enough. Every word that comes from the mouth of God is what nourishes us spiritually and so is the Eucharist. That's what happens isn't it? We gather and we listen to the word of God in the scriptures, but also in Jesus who becomes present.
Jesus intended that his action at the Last Supper would be a message. The Last Supper, of course, is what Jesus celebrated before his death and resurrection. He said that the bread and the cup were "the signs of my life, death, and resurrection." And so Jesus spoke a message when he celebrated that first Eucharist. That message was what happens through his death and resurrection, and if we listen deeply we discover that Jesus speaks a very important message and that this is really the word of life.
I came across this just recently and I thought it was such an important part of the message that I put it in today's bulletin. I hope that you will take that home and read this and reflect on it: "The Eucharist is God's absolute 'no' to violence."
That is the word that Jesus is preaching through the Holy Eucharist. Every time we come, gather around this table and celebrate the Eucharist it is God's absolute "no" to violence. This was the message delivered at a retreat given for Pope John Paul II and his household during this past Lent. You'll see this in the article in the bulletin, "Echoing the late pope's call to focus this year on the Eucharist, the preacher of the Pontifical Household directed the final Lenten meditation of the pontificate" -- the very last one that John Paul was to experience -- "on 'God's absolute "no" to violence.' " According to Capuchin Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the Eucharist keeps alive this "no" by which Jesus 'defeated violence, not by opposing it with greater violence, but suffering it and laying bare all its injustice and uselessness." That is a very deep insight into the Holy Eucharist. It is the word of God and this word of God is a "no" to violence. Isn't that clear when you understand that the Eucharist is a bringing of Jesus' presence into our midst -- the life, the death, the resurrection of Jesus on the cross. It was an absolute "no" to violence and "yes" to love, to life, to God.
And that's what happens at every Eucharist. It's an absolute "no" to violence. "Christ defeated violence", Father Cantalamessa says, "not by opposing it with greater violence but accepting it, suffering it, and laying bare its injustice and uselessness."
Jesus "inaugurated a new kind of victory," a victory of love and forgiveness over violence and hate. That's what the Eucharist proclaims: "This is Jesus the bread of life."
Father Cantalamessa concluded by saying, "Resurrecting Jesus from the dead, God declared once and for all on what side truth and justice are and what side error and lies are." Violence is a lie. Violence goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of the Eucharist. We must say "no" to violence as the Holy Eucharist proclaims.
So if we truly "do" the Eucharist then we listen to this word of God and we take it into our lives and we understand that Jesus as the bread of life nourishes us spiritually with this message.
But then there was even more at the Last Supper that showed what Jesus meant for us to do when we "do" the Eucharist, to do more than just adore Jesus and the Blessed Sacrament. In John's Gospel, there is no description of the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, but there's a very important action. Jesus gets down and washes the feet of his disciples. When he celebrates the Eucharist Jesus says, "This is my body which is given for you. This is the cup of my blood of the new covenant which is poured forth for you."
Jesus is saying that he gave his whole self in service, and he dramatized that by doing the work of the slave, washing the feet of his disciples. That was when he said, "I've done this as an example for you so that as I have done, you also must do."
So if we really take Jesus seriously, every time we come forward to receive the body and blood of Jesus during the eucharistic celebration, we're saying "yes" to what he did: pouring forth his whole being in service to the least of his brothers and sisters. This is what Jesus did and he says this is what the Eucharist is. He asks us to what he did, to follow his example.
When we come forward to receive the Blessed Sacrament the minister says, "The body of Christ" or "The Blood of Christ"; we say, "Amen." "Amen," which means "yes." I hope we begin to think very carefully to try to carry out what that yes means. It means that we will do what Jesus did. I should say what Jesus does, because he's still alive in our midst and we will be part of his work. We will listen deeply to his words, as Jesus who is the bread of life, nourishes us spiritually, but also carry on his work. Do what he does. Give ourselves fully in service to one another and in service to the least of the brothers and sisters of Jesus. Make your "Amen" a very real acceptance of everything that Jesus asks us to do when we celebrate the Holy Eucharist.
In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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