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We Become What We Consume

June 14, 2020

A reflection for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), Year A. The readings are Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; Psalm: 147; 2 Corinthians 10:16-17 and John 6:51-58.

A few years ago I read a reflection by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI – and I shared it with you – that talked about how we don’t have to understand the Eucharist. We just have to do it. He then quotes British theologian, Fr. Ronald Knox, who says that Christians in general have not been very good at following the teachings of Jesus: We don’t turn the other cheek; we don’t love our enemies; we haven’t stopped committing adultery; we don’t feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison; we haven’t gone to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Good News and to make disciples of all nations; we haven’t recognised God in the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed and the refugees. These are all things that are easy to understand, but we don’t do them.

But the one thing we have done as Catholics is the thing that is impossible to fully understand: We have kept the Eucharist. The last thing Jesus asked us to do before he died was to keep the Eucharist, and this we have done even when it makes absolutely no sense and we don’t fully understand.

And we’re even self-righteous about it. “I go to Mass every Sunday and get my little wafer!” We have no idea what it means or why we are doing it, but we do it. God forbid that we go to Mass and we miss Communion! (Coincidentally, has that ever happened to you? Happens all the time at Catholic rallies and large conferences like World Youth Day – where they never get to you, you never get to them, or they run out!)

And then we get hit by this crisis (or should I say gift?) and we are deprived of the Eucharist – a time when it seems that God is reminding us that “man does not live from bread alone, but from every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3). And some people were all up in arms, “It’s my right to receive the Eucharist; they can’t deny me the Eucharist!” Maybe some of you felt that way. Others maybe feel that they need the Eucharist. This is our weekly sustenance. Like in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, God provides for us, He sustains us; He feeds us. We need the Eucharist and we are suffering without it. Those people know, as Pope Francis has reminded us many times, that the Eucharist is not a ‘prize for the just, but medicine for the sick.” (EG #47) Maybe some of you feel this way. Others maybe, even though they felt sad and miss the Eucharist, are OK because they see how “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” They understand – and Pope Benedict wrote about this – that periods of “Eucharistic Fasting” may be good for us; we don’t have to receive the Eucharist at every Mass. Some maybe are OK with not receiving the Eucharist because they see it as an act of solidarity with the millions of people around the world who do not have access to the Eucharist – ever! They don’t have priests; they don’t have Mass – like the recent Synod on the Amazon reminded us. There are also many people right here who go to Mass regularly but are not able to receive the Eucharist because they are not in full Communion – they are not Catholic – but they come because they are married to a Catholic – or because of unfortunate circumstances they find themselves in irregular marriages and cannot receive Communion. But they are at Mass every week even though they are only in partial Communion with the Church. I bet there are a few of these in your own parish. So, maybe some of you are deeply aware that some of our brothers and sisters are never able to receive the Eucharist and so you are OK with not receiving as an act of solidarity with them – as a reminder that they exist; as a reminder that we are blessed and privileged to be able to receive the Eucharist.

I suppose there is a fourth group of people who are neither here nor there with missing the Eucharist – they don’t go to Mass every week anyway. They are probably not watching Mass online or on TV either. But, I bet, when it was Good Friday or Easter Sunday, they missed coming to get their little wafer. They also miss it at weddings and funerals.

Just before the Gospel, we heard the words of a beautiful ancient hymn, referred to as the “Sequence”. It is one of the few sequences that remain – there are only four left. But it used to be that many feasts had a sequence –a hymn– that went with it. Now we only have four: The Easter Sequence, the Pentecost Sequence, the Corpus Christi sequence for today, and there is also a funeral sequence. The one for Corpus Christi – the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, is called Lauda Sion– “Praise, O Zion” and was written by St. Thomas Aquinas. In it Aquinas included the key elements about our belief in the Eucharist: We believe that the Eucharist is Jesus – He is living bread and it is life-giving bread, just as we heard in the Gospel today. The Eucharist is not a sign or a symbol; it is God himself. Even if you receive a small fragment of the Eucharist, you receive the FULLNESS of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s why we must always approach the Eucharist with full respect and reverence. That’s why we must not be in a state of mortal sin when we receive the Eucharist. That’s why the Eucharist should not be received by those who do not believe that Christ is really, truly, actually, present in the Eucharist. That’s why we can adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

But there is something else. Aquinas put it in the Sequence (but I think it gets lost in the translation) and St. Paul mentions it to the Corinthians in today’s second reading: When we eat the bread and drink the wine, we become participants in the body and blood of Christ: We become the Body of Christ. When we receive the Eucharist, we become ONE.

And that is why I think this “COVID Eucharistic Abstinence” has been good for us. If this time makes us hunger for the Eucharist, then it should also make us hungry for justice and for peace and for equality and for life. It should make us hungry for everything Jesus taught and lived for. It should make us hungry for all those things that Jesus taught –about morality, about the poor, about justice, about forgiveness, about respecting the dignity of others– that we understand, yet we don’t follow. When we receive the Eucharist we are not just receiving Jesus so that He can be inside of us to bless us, feed us and heal us.

We are receiving Him inside of us so that we can be at his disposal, to do His work, to do His will.

In a week or so, we may be able to come back to Mass. Some of you already are able to come and receive Communion, depending where you are. Some of you will be moved to tears when you come back –we really missed being at Mass. Just please, don’t go back to the way you used to be. Don’t approach Communion, as if you were getting your little weekly wafer. Don’t come to the Eucharist hoping to keep Jesus all to yourself. Come with deep respect and reverence, ready to become what you consume, to become the Body of Christ and then, because you do it, it will make sense and you will understand.

From → English, Reflections

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