To Be Close to Jesus

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

(Corpus Christi)

For the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, I share with you a transcript of the homily I preached one month ago for my daughter’s First Holy Communion. If you prefer, you may listen to it here.

When I was in high school I had a part time job working in a warehouse. It was good work for a teenager, but it was boring work. Not that boring is bad. Now if you are a parent, like me, your child has come up to you at some point and said, “I’m bored!” And, if you are like me, you’ve probably responded by giving your child a list of possible chores they could be doing. “Clean your room. Unload the dishwasher. Put away the laundry.” Of course they don’t want to do those things. We don’t either! When a child complains about being bored, they are not looking for work to do. They are looking for games to play, for secrets to discover, for wilderness to explore.

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The Indwelling of the Body

Solemnity of the Body & Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

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Last Sunday the Church celebrated the great solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. On that day above all others we meditate upon the mystery of the inner life of God revealed to us in Christ; that the one eternal God exists as a community of three Persons. Divinity is Trinity in Unity. It is impossible for us, with our finite human minds, to fully understand what this communal life of God must be like, but theologians tell us that the three divine Persons are so united in love that they actually dwell within one another.
The Father lives in the Son and in the Spirit. The Son lives within the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit lives within the Father and the Son. Where any one of them are, there is the whole united Godhead. We cannot imagine what being inside another person must be like, although true romantic love can inspire in us something like a desire to dwell within our beloved. But even if we could imagine living inside of another person, that’s only part of the equation. In the Trinity, the Person you are dwelling inside of also dwells in you. To live inside of someone who is also inside of you is impossible, right?
But something like the mutual indwelling of the Trinity is what God calls us to. On the night before He was to suffer, Jesus prayed to the Father “that they may all be one, just as You are in Me and I am in You” (Jn 17:21). He doesn’t say “with me,” but You are in me and I am in You. Christ wants us to have that same sort of indwelling unity. We may think that this is impossible — but all things are possible with God.
This Sunday, we celebrate the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, also called Corpus Christi. It is the day that the Church celebrates in a special way the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The gospel reading for the feast of Corpus Christi comes from John chapter 6, from what is called Jesus’ “Bread of Life” discourse. In it, Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (Jn 6:56). Jesus uses the same sort of language here as He does to describe His relationship to the Father.  You are in me and I am in You.

The Eucharist is not the only thing we refer to as the Body of Christ. We also use that term to refer to the Church. And just as with the Eucharist, we do not use the term metaphorically. The Catholic Church is, in a real and substantial way, the Body of Christ. The Church is the continuation of the Incarnation here on earth. When you are baptized into the Church, you are baptized into Christ’s body. You become a part of His Body. Jesus is the head. We are the members. As St. Paul says in the second reading, “We, though many, are one body” (1 Cor 10:17).

Now think about what happens when you receive the Eucharist. It may look like you are just receiving a little piece of bread and a little sip of wine that a man in fancy robes said some nice words over. But we know it is more than that. We know that the bread and wine is not ordinary food and drink, but the Flesh and Blood of the Son of God who became flesh for us.

So now we, who dwell within Christ’s Body by grace of our baptism, are now able to receive Christ’s Body within us by the grace of the Eucharist. We dwell within Christ at the same time that Christ dwells within us. You are in Me and I am in You.

As Catholics, we know that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. We know that the bread and wine, once consecrated, become the Body and Blood of Christ. This is a miracle, and more than we deserve. But for Jesus, it isn’t enough. Jesus does not stop at giving us His Body and Blood. He gives us His divinity. He gives us, in the Eucharist, a taste of the Trinity. He draws us into the life of God, a community of Persons dwelling within one another in an eternal communion of Love.

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Gospel For Today: Corpus Christi

THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (CORPUS CHRISTI) (B)

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Today we celebrate the solemnity of Corpus Christi, that great solemnity of the Eucharist, which the Second Vatican Council calls “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11).  The popular hymn At That First Eucharist sings of it as the “great sacrament of unity,” and the Catechism says, “The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion of the divine life and that unity of the People of God” (CCC 1325).

Yet for many people the Eucharist can seem like a source of division.  Consider this not uncommon scenario.  You have been talking with a friend about your faith.  He is not Catholic, but has been asking questions about Catholicism.  You have been sharing what you know, and what the faith means to you (especially your love of the Eucharist).  You are excited by his interest and want to encourage him, so you invite him to come to Mass with you next Sunday.  To your great joy, he accepts.  You go to Mass together, but before you enter the church you remember something you need to tell him.  “Oh, before I forget,” you say, “During Communion, when everyone goes up to receive, you can’t.  That’s just for Catholics.  Non-Catholics can’t receive Communion in our Church.”
His face looks crestfallen.  He was excited about attending his first Mass, and now, despite all your efforts to be welcoming, he is met at the door by a message of rejection.  He gets offended, feeling he is not welcome at your table.  What can be done here?  How can we be welcoming and invitational to others (which is a necessary component of evangelization), while respecting the laws of the Church regarding reception of Holy Communion?
First of all, when bringing someone new to Mass with you, right before you sit down in the pew is probably not the best time to bring up the matter.  Talk with them well beforehand about what the Church teaches regarding who may and may not receive the Eucharist.  And make sure you know what that teaching actually is.  
The “Order of the Mass” booklets we have in the pews in our campus chapel contain this statement on the inside cover.  Most worship aids and pew missals used in other parishes will contain something very similar.
Reception of Holy Communion is open to Catholics in a state of grace (not conscious of any mortal sin), who have fasted for at least one hour prior to reception.  (Water and medicine do not break the fast.  The elderly and those who are sick as well as those who care for them, are not obliged to fast.)  Non-Christians, and those Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church, are welcome to worship with us, but should not present themselves for Communion.  We invite you to pray for Christian unity.

It is very important to understand that this is not a simple matter of “Catholics get to receive the Eucharist, non-Catholics don’t.”  If that were all it was, it would be exclusionary and divisive.  But this is not the case, and it is important that the newcomer you bring to Mass, and you yourself, understand this point clearly.

The invitation to the Eucharist is open to all.  But, as the Catechism reminds us, “To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and holy a moment” (CCC 1385).  The Catechism then goes on to quote from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. (1 Cor 11:27-29).

Christ promises life to those who eat His flesh and drink His blood (Jn 6:53), but Paul warns that those who do so unworthily risk receiving spiritual death.  The Church therefore, out of care for the souls receiving the Eucharist, wants to ensure that those who do so are adequately prepared.

This means, first and foremost, being in a state of grace.  In other words, the one receiving is not conscious of any mortal sin.  If one has committed a mortal sin (which includes neglecting the Sunday Mass obligation), one needs to have recourse to the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), to repent and receive the Lord’s forgiveness before receiving the Eucharist.  In this way you make your soul a welcoming home for the presence of the Lord.
Secondarily, you must also prepare your body.  This means observing the Church’s fasting requirements.  Currently, one is only required to fast for one hour before receiving Holy Communion (past generations had stricter requirements).  
So, if a Protestant Christian believes in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, is not conscious of having committed any mortal sin, and fasts for one hour, can he or she receive the Eucharist in the Catholic Church?  The answer is still no.  
The reason is that the Eucharist is not just one aspect of the Catholic faith which non-Catholics can take or leave.  The Eucharist is the faith.  Again, we turn to the Catechism, which reminds us that the Eucharist completes Christian initiation (CCC 1322).  “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.  For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself, our Pasch” (CCC 1324).  
We call the Eucharist “Communion” because it is both the sign and means of our communion not only with Christ, but with the Church (which, not insignificantly, is also called the Body of Christ).  In other words, it is by reception of the Body of Christ (the Eucharist) that our union with the Body of Christ (the Church) is made complete.  
Those Christians who remain outside of the Catholic Church are, by definition, not in full union (communion) with the Catholic Church.  We wish them to be.  We strongly desire them to be.  And we hope, though our witness and our welcome, and the Holy Spirit working through us, that they may seek to be united with the Catholic Church.  If they do so, then receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist will be the completion of that unity.  But until that time, reception of the Eucharist by a non-Catholic is a dishonest act.  
I find marriage to be a helpful metaphor here.  As Catholics we believe that the sexual act between a husband and wife is a beautiful, holy, life-giving act.  It is a supremely good act, but one that belongs properly only within marriage.  By that act the husband and wife are saying, “I give myself completely to you.”  This is why premarital sex is wrong, because you are saying with your bodies “I am united completely with you,” while in fact you are not united in marriage.  It becomes a dishonest and sinful act.
Likewise non-Catholics who receive the Eucharist, as well as those Catholics not in a state of grace, are saying with their body, “I am in full union with the Church,” when in fact they are not.  Reception of the greatest gift Christ intends to give to us therefore becomes an act of dishonesty and occasion of sin.  One begins to understand why St. Paul warned against this so strongly.
We don’t just want non-Catholics to receive Communion in the Catholic Church.  We want them to be in communion with the Catholic Church, and receive all the graces that entails.  So the next time you bring a non-Catholic to Mass and have “the conversation” with them about the Eucharist, make this point.  We care for their spiritual good, and it is for that reason the Church cannot admit them to Communion.  But we desire to; moreover we want them to desire to.  And if they do so desire to receive the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, that path is open to them.  It is a path to unity with His Church, to the fullness of the faith, to the source and summit of the Christian life.

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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Gospel For Today – Corpus Christi

THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (CORPUS CHRISTI)


“Whoever eats my flash and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:54-56)

Who would believe such a thing?  It sounds absurd, and more than a little grotesque.  Everyone can nod in agreement when Jesus instructs us to “love thy neighbor” and “consider the lilies,” but eating His flesh and drinking His blood?  This sounds more like a horror film than the gospel.  It is no wonder the Jews were quarreling about this.  It is no wonder so many of them stopped following Jesus at this point in the gospel narrative.  
After so many left Jesus that day, because they either could not comprehend or could not stomach His command to eat His flesh and drink His blood, our Lord looked upon the Apostles and asked if they, too, would leave Him.  Peter simply said, “To whom would we go?  You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-69).  I love Peter in this moment, because by his answer he admits his own lack of understanding; but his faith in Christ allowed him to trust that the understanding would one day come.  
“Faith seeking understanding” was the motto of the great St. Anselm and it certainly applies to our approach to the Eucharist.  For there is only one reason to believe the Catholic Church’s teaching about the Eucharist, and that is trust in Jesus Christ.  For when Christ says, “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” we believe He meant it, and has the power to make it so.  When Christ said at His last supper, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood,” we believe He meant it, and has the power to make it so.  We do not understand how this happens, any more than Peter did.  But like Peter, we have come to know Jesus is God Incarnate.  And so we believe.  And we stand in awe at the God who not only would put on flesh and dwell among us, but would make that flesh into a form we could consume.  For this God is not content to dwell among us.  He desires to dwell within us.  What a gift our God gives in the Eucharist.  It is no wonder the word eucharist means “to give thanks.”  What other response would be appropriate?
It is no surprise then that Catholics throughout the ages have had a great devotion to the Eucharist.  St. Paul said that, “The bread we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16).  St. Ignatius of Antioch called the Eucharist, “the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, in His goodness, raised up again” (Letter to the Smyrneans, c. 110 AD).   St. Justin Martyr, writing in the year 155 AD, says, “This food we call the Eucharist… we do not receive these as common bread and drink.  For Jesus Christ our Savior, made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation.  Likewise we have been taught that the food blessed by the prayer of His word — and from which our own blood and flesh are nourished and changed — is the flesh and blood of Jesus who was made flesh” (First Apology, c. 155 AD).
St. Augustine, in the fourth century, preached, “You ought to know what you have received, what you are going to receive, and what you ought to receive daily.  That Bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Body of Christ.  The chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ” (Sermons 227, 21).  
These holy Fathers of the Church had such faith in the Eucharist because they had faith in the Christ who said, “This is my body.”  St. Juliana also had a great devotion to the Eucharist.  She lived during the first half of the thirteenth century and was superioress of the convent at Mont Cornilln in Belgium.  She longed for the Church to have a feast dedicated to the Body and Blood of Christ.   The Church has always commemorated the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, but as a part of Holy Week, anticipating as it does the death of Jesus on Good Friday, it is a season of sadness for the faithful.  St. Juliana desired a feast to celebrate joyfully the gift of the Eucharist.  She is said to have had a vision of the Church under a full moon.  In her vision, there was a single dark spot on the moon, signifying the absence of a solemnity to commemorate the Eucharist.  She mentioned the idea to several prominent figures in the Church, including Bishop Robert de Thorete of Liege and Pope Urban IV.
At that time bishops had the privilege of ordering feasts celebrated in their diocese of their own authority, and so Bishop Robert ordered such a celebration to be held.  Pope Urban IV admired the feast and on September 8, 1264, issued a papal bull called “Transiturus” that extended the celebration to the entire world.  St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the Angelic Doctor, was asked to compose the Mass and Office for the new solemnity.  His prayers written for this occasion are still to this day some of the most beautiful ever written.
The celebration of Corpus Christi quickly spread and many local customs grew up around this great feast. One that has stayed with us to today is the Corpus Christi procession.  Very early in the fourteenth century, not long after the feast was instituted, the custom developed of carrying the Eucharist in a procession through the town after the Corpus Christi day Mass.  Bishops and Popes encouraged this devotional practice, some even granting special indulgences to those who participated.  In the sixteenth century, the Council of Trent recommend Corpus Christi processions as way of publicly professing Catholic faith in the Real Presence of the Eucharist, which was being challenged by many Protestant sects, including the followers of Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, who believed the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence to be “derogatory to the heavenly glory of Christ” (Institutes book IV, ch xvii, 10 sqq). 
Just as in John 6, there continue to be those scandalized by the Eucharist.  How can the infinite God of heaven become bread?  But one just as well may ask how that infinite and eternal God could become man?  Man or bread, both are finite and so equally distant from the infinite.  For God all things are possible.  The wonder is that God would love us to much that He would desire to so humble Himself for the sake of His creatures.  Thus are the Incarnation and the Eucharist intimately linked.  Both are essential to the Christian faith.  In our own age, the Second Vatican Council has called the Eucharist, “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11).  Our Catechism teaches that “in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself” (CCC 1324).  
The Eucharist is the starting point of our faith, humbly receiving Jesus.  And it is the greatest height our faith can reach, union with our Creator.  It is the beginning and the end for it is Jesus Christ, who is Alpha and Omega.  It can be a cause for division, as history has shown.  But it can also be, and should be for us, the cause of great unity.  For it is through the Eucharist that we are united with Christ.  And when you and I are united with Christ we are also united with one another in Christ.  “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many,are one body, for we all partake in the one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:17).
I will leave you with the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, writing of the wonder of the Eucharist.
Desirous that we be made partakers of His divinity, the only-begotten Son of God has taken to Himself our nature so that having become man, He would be enabled to make men gods.  Whatever He assumed of our nature He wrought unto our salvation.  For on the altar of the Cross He immolated to the Father His own Body as victim for our reconciliation and shed His blood both for our ransom and for our regeneration.  Moreover, in order that a resemblance of so great benefits may always be with us, He has left us His Body as food and His Blood as drink under appearances of bread and wine.
O banquet most precious!  O banquet most admirable!  O banquet overflowing with every spiritual delicacy!  Can anything be more excellent than this repast, in which not the flesh of goats and heifers, as of old, but Christ the true God is given us for nourishment?  What more wondrous than this holy sacrament!  In it bread and wine are changed substantially, and under the appearance of a little bread and wine is had Christ Jesus, God and perfect Man.  In this sacrament sins are purged away, virtues are increased, the soul is satiated with an abundance of every spiritual gift.  No other sacrament is so beneficial.  Since it was instituted unto the salvation of all, it is offered by Holy Church for the living and the dead, that all may share in its treasures.  

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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