Corpus Christi – 14
Deu.8:2-3, 14b-16a, 1Cor.10:16-17, Jn.6:51-58
A tough old cowboy told his grandson that the secret to long life was sprinkling a little gunpowder on his oatmeal every morning. The grandson did this religiously and, sure enough, lived to the ripe old age of 93. When he died he left behind 10 children, 28 grandchildren, 35 great grandchildren and a 15 inch foot hole in the wall of the crematorium.
There’s even a better secret to a long life than putting gunpowder on your breakfast cereal: it is Jesus’ teaching about eternal life in today’s gospel. The Holy Eucharist as our spiritual food on Holy Thursday and Jesus’ mother Mary as our mother on Good Friday are the two last precious gifts given to us by Jesus. Corpus Christi is the celebration of the abiding presence of a loving God as Emmanuel – God with us – in order to give collective thanks to our Lord living with us in the Eucharist.
The feast gives us an occasion to learn more about the importance and value of the “Real Presence” so that we may appreciate the Sacrament better and receive maximum benefit from it. We believe in the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist because Jesus promised it after miraculously feeding the 5000. Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist during his Last Supper. Jesus commanded his disciples to repeat it in his memory. “Nothing is impossible for God.”
We explain the real presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist by: “transubstantiation” which means that the substance of the consecrated bread and wine is changed to the substance of the risen Jesus’ glorified Body and Blood by the action of the Holy Spirit, and its accidents (like color, shape, taste etc.), remain the same.
The feast of Corpus Christi is one of those special celebrations, like the feast of the Trinity that follow the Easter Season and Pentecost in the liturgical calendar. The feast of Corpus Christi, (literally, the body of Christ), is referred to these days by the more lengthy title, “the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.”
This feast traces its origin to the time of St. Thomas Aquinas who requested Pope Urban VI in 1264 to inaugurate the celebration. The Pope agreed and St. Thomas wrote the lengthy sequence from today’s mass. That prayer exquisitely expresses the glory of the sacramental presence of Christ in the form of bread and wine which becomes spiritual nourishment for persons of faith as they live out their commitment to Christ in today’s world.
I read a story about a cannibal on his long plane ride. When the airhostess gave him the menu for the meal, it took him a long time to decide. Finally, he called the airhostess and said: “Miss, can I have the passengers’ list instead.”
Imagine that you went to your doctor for a routine physical check up. The doctor saw some things she was concerned about and sent you to get some tests. The tests came back with very bad news. The doctor told you that the tests showed that you have only about six months to live and the tests were highly reliable and accurate. But the doctor said she has discovered a special medicine that would cure the problem. She promised you if you took this medicine, a medicine with no troubling side effects, you would in all likelihood enjoy good health for another 20 or 30 years.
You have known the doctor for years, you know she is knowledgeable and you’ve always trusted her. How much time would you spend dealing with all the doubts that flood your mind? Would you be foolish to trust or not to trust? What you decide to do may all come down to that: trust.
Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, if we want to live forever, we must eat his body and drink his blood. Would we be foolish to trust what he tells us or not to trust it? The Jews who first heard him asked: “How can that be?” A reasonable question! We still ask it. But the answer is beyond the reason; it is answered only by faith.
Jesus said it and he said it in the clearest possible terms. When his hearers questioned him, he repeated what he had said and said it more emphatically: “Amen, amen, I say to you (whenever he prefixes a statement with ‘Amen, amen’ he’s saying this is really serious). Then he said “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you”
If you look up today’s gospel passage in our Bibles, you will see that after Jesus insisted we must eat his body and drink his blood in order to have eternal life, many of his followers started walking away, saying to themselves that he was out of his mind. What is important here is what Jesus didn’t do. He didn’t say, “Wait, don’t take me literally.” He didn’t say, “you misunderstand me – I don’t mean you really have to eat my body and drink my blood.” Jesus just let them go: he knew they understood him perfectly.
The apostles, however, stayed with him even though they didn’t understand what he was saying any more than anyone else. When Jesus asked them, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” It is quite marvelous how Jesus devised a way to feed us with his own flesh and blood. He has given us the Eucharist, which is his real presence.
The Eucharist is truly his body and blood. Yet it remains a mystery for us and we are still asking, “How can this be?” It all comes down to faith in the one who tells us, “This is my body. This is my blood.” I think this is the biggest challenge to our faith in the Church today. It is also the biggest comfort to those who believe.
Once we are truly convinced that the Eucharist is Jesus’ body and blood, and then it is much easier for us to see how it is the source of eternal life for us. Jesus gave us a simple image to help us see how, through the Eucharist, he brings us eternal life. He told us, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” By our union with him which endures and is nourished through the Eucharist, his divine life flows into us.
In the first reading, Moses told God’s people to “remember and not forget” what God had done for them – the miraculous provision of food in the manna given to them. Today’s feast inspires us not to forget what Jesus does and continues to do for us through the Eucharist.
Let us appreciate the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, by receiving him with true repentance for our sins, due preparation and reverence. Let us be Christ-bearers and conveyers: By receiving Holy Communion, we become Christ-bearers as Mary was, with the duty of conveying Christ to others at home and in the workplace, through love, mercy, forgiveness and humble and sacrificial service.
Let us offer our lives on the altar along with Jesus’ sacrifice, asking pardon for our sins, expressing gratitude for the blessings we have received and presenting our needs and petitions on the altar.
And so we cannot live without food. Jesus says the same with the Eucharist in this gospel: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you do not have life within you,” (v. 53). Catholics who skips Holy Communion is showing that he/she does not believe in these words of the Lord. Amen.