Broken Bread

(Homily for Corpus Christi Sunday, Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ)

During my thirty years as a priest, I have had the privilege of celebrating Mass in a variety of settings: ancient European cathedrals and simple parish churches; hospitals and jails; high in the Andes Mountains and on merchant ships. However, none of these settings quite equals where I celebrated my first Mass of Thanksgiving: the Catacomb of Saint Priscilla in Rome.

It had only enough space for my parents, four brothers and a few friends, but it possesses one of the great treasures of Christian Art – a second century fresco called Fractio Panis. It shows seven people (six men and one woman) at a table. At the head of the table sits an impressive, bearded personage. His head is thrown back and in his extended arms he holds a small loaf. It depicts the Eucharistic act which St. Paul mentions in today’s second reading – “breaking of bread” (klasis tou artou -- fractio panis).

The act of breaking takes place not just so the bread can be shared. The significance goes deeper. Jesus was “broken” on the cross before he could become food. Although we receive Christ’s glorified body – his full divinity and humanity – yet he comes to us in a broken, humble form.

We keep before our eyes the reality of Christ broken, crucified, especially as we pass through our present crisis. Some claim this is the greatest crisis the American Church has ever faced. Although many would dispute the claim, nevertheless, it is a great humiliation. It sometimes feels like those days after September 11. Can all this really be happening?

If, like me, you sometimes get discouraged, I recommend a chapter from Everlasting Man, titled “The Five Deaths of the Faith.” Chesterton describes five times when it seemed the Church had been totally flattened – only to resurge stronger than ever.*

In some ways it is only to be expected. Jesus was broken, humiliated in a way we can barely glimpse. Thus he became nourishment for a myriad of weak followers. This Sunday we celebrate that gift. We adore the Glorious Body of Jesus – but we receive him as humble, broken bread.

************

*”Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.”

Another book I heartily recommend is At the End of an Age by John Lukacs. It contains his reflection on the nature of historical and scientific knowledge:

Just as the purpose of medicine is not perfect health but the struggle against illness, just as the purpose of law is not perfect justice but the pursuit of it though the vigilance against injustice, the purpose of the historian is not the establishment of perfect truth but the pursuit of truth through the reduction of ignorance, including untruths.

Humility and hope: two virtues we need very much at this moment - both as members of the Church and of a society undergoing profound changes.

Spanish Version

From Archives (Corpus Christi, Year A):

2017: Life in Christ Week 10: High Point
2014: Like Someone Dying of Hunger
2011: Afflicted with Hunger
2008: Who May Receive Communion?
2005: Reverence for Eucharist
2002: Broken Bread
1999: Notes for Homilist

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