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Corpus Christi (Mass of Thanksgiving)
June 14,
2009
Reverend Todd O. Strange

          Perhaps on this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, there is no better place to speak about its meaning than St. James Cathedral. If you come here on any Sunday you will see people of virtually every walk of life and perhaps as many personal ideologies.

          But it’s not just St. James Cathedral. If we look around the world at the variety of cultural settings in which the Catholic faith is expressed, despite their distinct flavors of Catholicism and so many other differences that would seem to set us apart, there is something that binds us. That something is the Body and Blood of Jesus. Let’s face it, the Eucharist brings together people who might otherwise have nothing to do with each other. That we manage to stick together, what more proof is needed to tell us that this Body and Blood is indeed miraculous.

          While our faith, on a deeper level, is experienced in this unity, on another level we Catholics often view each other from opposed sides, whether it’s over a specific issue or the way we live out our faith, day to day. Despite the unifying power of the Eucharist, there all too many things that can divide us Catholics. Division comes all too easily. I remember one of my close fellow seminarians making the point that as priests, we are going to need to be able to bring people together, rather than foster division. That sounds all too obvious, I know, but bringing the Catholics of the ‘soup-kitchen, Dorothy Day variety’ into unity with the ‘highly-devotional Mother Angelica variety’ is not automatic.

          This celebration hits to the very heart of why we are Church. It was the Second Vatican Council document on sacred liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) that described our worship and celebration of the Eucharist as the ‘source and summit’ of our faith life. Because while our worship and our reception of the Eucharist is the most profound expression of our unity in Jesus Christ, it is also the fuel for our spirit that compels us to live his mission and carry his message, out these doors and into the world.

          I suspect that if I were to go person to person, asking just what the Eucharist is, I would get a range of answers, different, yet all of them right: it is Jesus’ sacrificial self-giving, it is our spiritual sustenance, it is a visible sign of God’s covenant. It’s all that and still more, and one reason it unites us Catholics is because of what we see in it. Our faith sees more than mere bread and wine, and regards these elements as windows or portals into another reality, divine in every sense. This very Eucharist, because it is sacrament, is that most intimate meeting point at which the giver and receiver become one; creature and creator unite; it is unity of the human and the divine at its most profound level.

          As a convert to this faith, I didn’t grow up with this notion of what the Eucharist is. In fact for much of my life, prior to discovering new depths to my faith, I would have been largely indifferent to any such notion of sacrament. But I came to believe, though it wasn’t overnight. As there were things that were drawing me to this Catholic faith, it was more than reading about it or hearing it declared that revealed this reality to me. Instead, I came to experience the Body and Blood of Christ. I saw it in the wonderful priests who modeled priesthood for me, in their love for the people they served. I saw the Body and Blood of Christ in the quiet yet powerful faith of those who sat in silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, day after day. I came to experience the Body and Blood of Christ in the organizations that serve as Christ’s hands and healing words for the world.

          And as I was preparing to enter into this Church, I came to hunger for all this. I came to hunger for a Jesus that I realized could be physically experienced. And eventually I came to see what so many others saw. Through the witness of so many others as they were being the Body of Christ and then finally receiving the Body of Christ, the depth of what the Eucharist is resonated in my heart.

          But in thinking about what Jesus’ Body and Blood means for me today, I think about what we heard in the gospel reading today, Mark’s account of the Last Supper. It said. While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’”  Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave. This four-fold act characterizes Jesus’ self-giving.

          About five years ago, in January of my first year of theology studies, I was on a group retreat with about 15 other seminarians. The priest who led the retreat made a point to us that I have not since forgotten. He told us that if we were to become priests, in order to truly be of service, we must allow ourselves to be taken, blessed, broken and given. Having just recently promised Archbishop Brunett--and all of you--my obedience in service to the Church; having just been ordained by the laying on of his hands and his anointing my hands; having just received my assignment; and considering all that awaits me in this ministry, somehow, being taken, blessed, broken and given becomes all too real. In ways that I can’t yet fathom, this must and will occur.

          But this is not my task alone. Taken, blessed, broken and given—we all must be sacramental signs of the unity to which Jesus calls us. Perhaps each of us can look within and recognize ways that we foster division, whether in matters pertaining specifically to our faith or otherwise: right in our homes, right in our very hearts. Division comes all too easily. Whether in the social sphere, the government or here in our Church, the words liberal and conservative are used all too readily to fuel division.

          But in thinking about this unity, I think it’s important to understand that the Passover was traditionally a meal shared within the family. Mark’s gospel account we heard today stated that Jesus chose to share his Passover meal with the disciples, various as they were and divided as they might otherwise have been. He brought them together as his surrogate family, just as he today calls us all to him as family. For us, while we can overlook Christ’s presence in these elements of the Eucharist, seeing it only as bread and wine, we also can manage to overlook Jesus, present in the unlikely assortment of people he called to be his surrogate family—that is, us.

          It was in a homily on this very solemnity in 1968, that Pope Paul VI said, “Is not the Eucharist perhaps a sign to which our modern world should turn if unity is the goal? The world seeks peace and strives to bring it about. At times it disrupts and disturbs it. But it always, as it were, fatefully yearns for it and tries to re-establish it…Let us at least who believe in and are devoted to this operative mystery, accept Jesus' invitation to be one (John 17, 2 1); to seek to establish harmony; to foster what unites us and not what divides us; to ‘build up the Church’ which is the Mystical Body of Christ.”

          While it is many things, this body and blood, this sacrament of unity, is what brings us together each Sunday and gives us a common mission: my mission, your mission. And it is our trust in and focus upon Jesus that will draw us into a deeper unity. Just as grapes are crushed to become wine and wheat is threshed to become bread, together we must allow ourselves to become shaped in response to Christ’s call.

          Just as I had to discover Jesus, present in his Body and Blood, we each do in our own way. Each of you experienced something that brought it home for you: from the head to the heart, from intellect to experience. But I think we rediscover it, time and time again. And for those of us who don’t yet see what Body and Blood of Christ is and does to us, I hope you’ll remain open to what God reveals in His own way, in His due time. Because somehow, I believe that at this very table, with Jesus, and strengthened and unified by him in this Blessed Sacrament, you and I must allow ourselves to be taken by Christ; to be blessed by him; to allow ourselves to broken and reshaped; and to be given to the world: that fed by the Body of Christ, we might more fully become the Body of Christ. 

Father Todd Strange

 

 

 

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