This Sunday, the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood or Christ, I want to address a serious concern: how we can grow in reverence for the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life,” as the Vatican Council famously stated. When respect for the Eucharist diminishes, the other sacraments also decline. After all, baptism and confirmation find their fulfillment in the Eucharist. Penance and Anointing of the Sick exist in order to restore a person to the Eucharistic table. Marriage is sign of the wedding banquet of the Lamb. And of course priesthood takes its meaning from the Eucharist. The drop in vocations can be tied directly to a decreased reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.
Some people have gotten the idea that devotion to the Eucharist is a medieval invention which we can now brush aside and get on with more important matters.* Nothing could be further from the truth. This morning we listened to one of the earliest New Testament writings - the Letter to the Corinthians. St. Paul reminded them that the communion cup is a “participation in the Blood of Christ” and that “the bread we break is a participation in the Body of Christ.” (I Cor 10:16) About fifty years later St. Ignatius, bishop of the great city of Antioch, was defending this teaching which he had received from the apostles. He warned faithful Christians about those who “do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” Those people, he said, “deny the gift of God,” and “are perishing in their disputes” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110]).
I could give you a long list of quotes from early Christian writers regarding devotion to the Eucharist, but it is not necessary. The Church historian J. N. D. Kelly (himself a Protestant) sums it up: “Eucharistic teaching,” he wrote, “at the outset, was...unquestioningly realist, that is, the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood” (Early Christian Doctrines, 440).
Devotion to the Eucharist can be illustrated on a more popular level by the great preacher, Anthony of Padua. The saint once confronted a man who scoffed at the Eucharist. While others made a reverent bow, the scoffer held back. On his face he had a look of cold disdain. Anthony approached the man and asked him why he did not bow to the Sacrament. The man replied that he believed it was nothing more than bread. Anthony, according to one account, challenged the man to a test. Anthony would fast for three days and the man could also have his donkey eat nothing for three days. They then met in a town square where the man placed a bale of hay twenty feet from the hungry animal. When untied, the donkey walked toward the hay. St. Anthony then exposed the Blessed Sacrament and called to the donkey, “Mule, in the name of the Lord our God, I command you to come here and adore your Creator!” The donkey stopped as though someone had pulled him by a bridle, turned, and walked to St. Anthony. The donkey bent his forelegs, bowing to the Blessed Sacrament with his head toward the ground.
This story may be something of a legend, but it illustrates an important point. As St. Anthony taught, even a dumb animal – in its own way – pays homage to its Creator. What about us? Sometimes we behave worse than a mule. Instead of honoring our Savior, we get caught up in transitory things.
This Sunday I want to make a concrete suggestion for how we can show greater honor for Jesus in Eucharist. One of the things which can mar our reception of the Eucharist is doing the Sign of Peace in an incorrect manner. It is natural for us Americans to turn the Sign of Peace into a social event, but that is not its purpose. It is an ancient gesture which has a sacred character. In speaking about the sign or kiss of peace, St. Cyril of Jerusalem expressed it this way:
“Do not assume that this is the customary kiss exchanged by friends in public. No, this kiss joins souls together in search of complete forgiveness from one another. So the kiss marks the fusion of souls, and the expulsion of all resentment from wrongs.” (Mystagogical Catecheses 5.3)
During the rite of peace, there is always some guy who acts like he is running for senator and who tries to shake as many hands as possible. We might imagine that a drawn out Sign of Peace will attract people, especially the young, but it will not. Jesus creates community; when we try to do it on our own, it becomes hollow. Make a sincere gesture of reconciliation to those near you and know that, in Christ, it extends to all. A Church Father described the Sign of Peace in these words: “Each of us gives the kiss of peace to the person next to him, and so in effect gives it to the whole assembly.”**
We need a certain sensitivity in giving the Sign of Peace to others. People in our parish come from many different cultures. For those brought up in the United States, a handshake is probably the most common gesture. Others prefer a respectful bow, while others will exchange a ritual embrace (like the Holy Father does at a papal Mass.)
Whatever the gesture, do it with dignity, then turn to the Lord. It is because of him that we seek reconciliation. Jesus says it bluntly: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (Jn 6:53) His flesh is “real food,” his blood “real drink.” By eating his flesh and drinking his blood, we remain in him and he in us. As we celebrate this feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ, we ask him to help us grow in reverence for this magnificent gift.
*This is usually expressed in a sincere and attractive manner: that we must "see Christ in the other person" or "in the assembly." Who can argue with that? The problem is that in practice it results in a kind of vague pantheism - or disappointed cynicism. It is better to say (with St. Augustine) that, yes, the image of God exists in every person, but that image has been distorted and clouded over by sin. Thus each of us has an absolute need of God's grace to restore the broken image. So we turn to the only thing here on earth which we can worship - the Blessed Sacrament.
**Here is a more complete quote:
"This kiss that all exchange constitutes a kind of profession of unity and charity that exists among them. Each of us gives the kiss of peace to the person next to him, and so in effect gives it to the whole assembly, because this act is an acknowledgment that we have all become the single Body of Christ the Lord and so must preserve with one another that harmony... loving one another equally, supporting and helping one another, regarding the individual’s needs as the concerns of the community, sympathizing with one another’s sorrows and sharing one another’s joys." (Theodore of Mopsuestia, Baptismal Homily 4.39)
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Holy Family Seattle ~ Elementary Principal Pre-8
Elementary Principal Pre-8 ~ Holy Family Parish in Seattle, WA, a multicultural and heavily bilingual (English/Spanish) parish, is seeking a strong, practicing Roman Catholic leader who will be dedicated to ensuring the parish school educates and prepares students for a Christ-centered life of faith, learning and service to others. We seek a certified candidate who has teaching experience and is skilled in meeting the challenges of a diverse population. The school is very proud of its diversity (73% diversity rate in the academic year 05-06): Asian/Pacific Islanders 31%, Hispanic 21%, Caucasian 27%, Multicultural 17%, African American 3%, and Native American 1%.
The successful candidate will possess strong knowledge of Catholic schools and have the ability to collaborate and communicate with the pastor, parents, staff and parish community to encourage support and unity within the parish and school. Communication with the overall parish is vital, and the preferred candidate will live in or near White Center and participate in the activities of both the parish and school.
The successful candidate must have the ability and experience to manage the school budget and to creatively develop and support fundraising efforts and recruitment of new school families.
The successful candidate will work to promote the school's philosophy statement: “Holy Family Parish School provides a Catholic Education through which each child grows in faith formation, moral guidance, academic excellence and sense of community which prepares our children to enrich the world with their talents and gifts.” Please visit www.holyfamilyparish.net for more information about Holy Family Parish & School.
Deadline date for applications is June 14, 2005.
Please make application to:
Catholic Schools Department / Personnel
910 Marion St
Seattle, WA 98104-1299
Send letter of interest and resume to:
Principal Search Committee Chairperson
Holy Family Parish
9622 20th Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98106
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