To Be Close to Jesus
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
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.
If you’re bored that means you have idle time. And while idle hands are the devil’s playthings, idle time can be a blessing. We need idle time. It gives us space in our lives to ponder, reflect, muse and create. Someone told me recently that you can’t write a poem, or draw a picture, unless you first have a blank page. Boredom is like a blank page in your day. It’s an opportunity to create something wonderful.
So as I said, I was working in this warehouse when I was in high school. And one day, I must have been about 16 or 17 years old, I was at work, sweeping the warehouse floor, and I was bored. I remember I had a peppermint candy in my mouth, which when you think of it, is pretty much the most boring kind of candy there is.
And in my boredom, my mind starts to wonder. For reasons unknown I began to wonder what it would be like for someone from the past to eat a peppermint candy for the first time, something so small and commonplace that we take for granted. So I imagined I was a Viking from the eighth century (I’m not sure why I chose to be a Viking, but there you have it). I’m in the eighth century and I imagine my diet is pretty bland. Probably a lot of root vegetables. And someone from the future appears to me and gives me one of these red and white peppermints. I put it in my mouth. What would that be like?
I’ve never tasted processed sugar before. I’ve never tasted peppermint before. I’ve never had a hard candy that you just suck on and let dissolve in your mouth. So the whole experience, the taste, the texture and the smell, is new to me. And suddenly, while I’m there sweeping up this warehouse floor, I am tasting a peppermint candy for the very first time. And it’s the most amazing thing. It’s like sensory overload. My mouth starts watering, and my heart is beating faster. It’s almost miraculous. And I think, if I were an eighth century Viking, I’d run off to tell everyone about this amazing new food someone just gave me, but I wouldn’t even have the words to describe it.
It’s probably been close to 25 years since I performed that little thought experiment. But I still remember vividly the sensation of having that mint in my mouth, and allowing myself to experience it as if for the very first time.
There is so much good that we take for granted in our everyday lives — gifts that God gives to us that we overlook or fail to appreciate. But if we take the time to step back and allow ourselves to experience these things as if for the first time, we can appreciate again just how amazing they are. And if this is true of something as simple as a peppermint candy, it is certainly true of the greatest gift God gives us, which is the gift of Himself in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the daily bread of our faith. It is what brings us together at Mass each and every Sunday. We can, and should, receive it frequently. But just as with anything we experience on a regular basis, it is easy for us to take it for granted. Today, as we celebrate the great occasion of seven young people receiving Holy Communion for the very first time, you and I have the opportunity to step back, engage our imagination, and receive Christ in the Eucharist as if it were our first time, as well.
Imagine you’ve never heard of the Eucharist before, and someone explains it to you. Here is something that looks like bread and wine, but is not bread and wine. Through the words of the priest the bread and wine on the altar become for us the Body and Blood of Jesus. And who is Jesus? Jesus is God. God, the maker of the Universe, eternal and almighty, gives Himself to us — to eat.
To be a practicing Catholic is to be a God-eater. That’s astounding. One might even say it’s unbelievable. But we believe it, not from any external evidence, but from a deep and abiding trust in Jesus who said, “This is my body, do this in remembrance of me.”
It is impossible for us to approach the Eucharist with anything resembling adult skepticism. Our grown-up minds insist that things make sense. We distrust things that are not what they appear to be. We don’t know what to do with mystery. We like for things to be analyzed and categorized. But the Eucharist resists all of our attempts at adult comprehension. Instead, it demands of us a child-like acceptance.
A couple of weeks ago I was taking a walk with my daughter Maddie, who is receiving her first Holy Communion today. They had just had a practice here at the church, and she was telling me, “We got to taste the bread and wine,” (she didn’t like the wine very much), but she told me, “It wasn’t Jesus yet. It was just bread and wine. But when we do it for real, it will be Jesus.”
And I wondered as she told me this, whether the idea of eating Jesus seemed strange to her. I mean, we don’t often talk about eating people, and when we do it’s never a good thing! How was she understanding this? So I asked her, “Does it seem strange to think about eating Jesus? Why do you think God would do that, to become food for us to eat?”
Without even pausing for a second, she just said, “So he can be close to us,” and then ran off to look at a flower growing by the bank of the creek. I just stood there and thought to myself, Wow. I’m really over thinking things.
“So he can be close to us.” That is precisely right. That’s why God made us. That’s why God redeems us. That’s why God became Incarnate in Jesus Christ. That’s why Jesus suffered on the cross. That’s why he gives us Himself in the form of bread and wine. He wants to be close to us. He baptizes us to make us part of His body. And He gives us the Eucharist so that He can become part of ours. That’s how close he wants to be to us. He wants to be part of us, and for us to be part of Him. His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity united with our body, blood, soul and humanity.
We speak of God’s love for us. We speak of God’s love so often that it, too, can be taken for granted and lose something of its wonder. The greatest tragedy, I think, would be to live your life never knowing that you are part of an amazing love story — that you are being pursued by Love itself.
Listen to these words from the Apostle John from our second reading: “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” And from John’s gospel: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.”
He wants to be close to us. Children accept this more readily than adults, because they trust more easily. Maybe you’ve taken the Eucharist for granted. Maybe you don’t receive it as reverently as you should, or with as much devotion as you should. We’ve all been guilty of this. Maybe you’ve even doubted Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, because you struggle to believe what your eyes can’t perceive, or maybe you just think it’s too good to be true. That’s understandable.
If this has ever been true of you, I invite you now to follow the example of these children. Become like a child. Trust like a child. And receive the Eucharist at this Mass as though it were your very first time. Experience God’s love again. Trust that this is not ordinary bread and wine. This is Jesus. He wants to be close to you. Knowing that is enough. In fact, it is everything.