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Corpus Christi
June 18, 2017

Click here to listen to this homily! (mp4 file)

    As I reflected on the readings for this wonderful feast of Corpus Christi, I realized that they had a lot to do with remembering. In one way or another that theme runs all through the readings. We heard it in the reading from the Book of Deuteronomy when Moses addressed the chosen people who all too easily forgot all the wonders God had worked for them:     forgot how God had brought them out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery and oppression; forgot how God had traveled with them through the barren waste of the desert for forty long years; forgot how God had come to their rescue when they were dying of thirst, giving them flowing water that gushed forth from dry, flinty rock; forgot, too, of how God had taken pity on them when they were hungry, feeding them with the miraculous manna, that mysterious bread that God rained down on them each day from heaven.

     Remember, remember, remember, Moses told these people who had gotten so used to God's presence that too often they took it for granted.

     That same note of remembering runs through the other scriptures we have heard this morning as well.  In the second reading, we heard Paul doing his best to jog the failing memories of his friends at Corinth who had lost some of the freshness and wonder of what it meant to gather to break bread in memory of the Lord Jesus.  Some very unworthy considerations had begun to take over their assemblies - such as who was the most important and who should get the best seats at table.  So taken up were they with their petty and selfish concerns that they were ignoring those in their midst who were poor and in need.

     And so Paul urged them to remember – to remember the single most important thing about receiving the Eucharistic body of Christ, to remember that the Eucharist is meant to unite, not divide:  "the many who eat the one bread become one Body in Christ," he tells them.  He wants them to remember that the Body of Christ is not just something they receive but something they become.

     And then the words of John's gospel spoken by Jesus so long ago in the Synagogue at Capernaum are also meant to awaken sluggish memories to what this bread and this cup are all about:  They are about life, the very life of Jesus given for us:  his Body broken for us, his Blood poured out in sacrificial love.  "Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."  The bread and the cup are about life: Christ’s life in us and eternal life with God.

     Do you believe this? Of course you do. You wouldn't be here if you didn't. But you can forget it, and so can I.  Or at least we can get so used to it that we take it for granted and too often fail to get very excited about it.

     The Feast of Corpus Christi is meant to rekindle our excitement, our sense of wonder about what is we are doing every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist.

     Some time ago, I came across an article in America magazine in which a Jesuit missionary who had just returned from Nigeria wrote eloquently about the Church there. He described the Church there as young, vibrant, and enthusiastic. He told how one very poor parish summoned people to Mass Sunday after Sunday. The church bell was a wheel rim from an old truck that hung from a tree next to the village church. Minutes before Mass someone began banging that rim with a piece of pipe. It wasn't, he admitted, the most beautiful sound in the world, but it did the trick. Within minutes a thousand people were gathered in that place to celebrate the Eucharist.

     They came together, he said, laughing and talking animatedly with each other. They seemed to know instinctively what it meant to be part of the Body of Christ. And their faith was evident in the way they treated one another, showing respect, love and care for each other long before they ever approached the table of the Eucharist. 

     He then went on to describe the Corpus Christi procession that took place in that same village. I quote:

     "On Corpus Christi day the Lord sent rain.  And all along the two mile route of the Corpus Christi procession the people danced and sang in the rain. It was the first time I recall the Blessed Sacrament being carried into the place of Benediction to the sound of resounding cheering and clapping.  Everyone was drenched, but no one thought of seeking shelter or running away.  Judges, lawyers, day laborers, doctors, mothers and children stood there in awe as if nothing was happening except the Eucharist."

     I like that thought: "Nothing was happening but the Eucharist." It’s exactly what I would hope we would take from this year's celebration of Corpus Christi: an awakened memory of what the Eucharist is and Who it is we receive in the Eucharist; a renewed faith in what it means to receive the Body of Christ and to become that very body; a deeper reverence and care for each other in this parish community - whether we know each other or not - because we are all of us the Body of Christ: made one by the one Bread we eat and the one Cup we drink.

     And I would hope, too that what was said of those people in the Nigerian village could be said of us as well: that whenever we come together to celebrate in this holy place, "we stand in awe as if nothing was happening but the Eucharist!" 

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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