This is My Body

(Corpus Christi, Year C)

Today's feast of Corpus Christi* brings back happy memories. During my years in Peru it was an occasion to have a solemn procession with the Blessed Sacrament, not just inside the church like we do on Holy Thursday, but around the main square and down a number of streets. The people had great reverence, making the sign of the cross, taking off their hats and bowing when the Body of Christ passed in front of them.

I never had to use the test of St. Anthony of Padua. He was carrying the Blessed Sacrament thru a town in a monstrance. Everyone showed deep respect except for one man. He scoffed, not because he did not believe in God, but because he thought the host was just a sign, a symbol of Jesus. When the procession was over St. Anthony challenged him. "Even a dumb animal knows better than you," he said to the sceptic. The scoffer laughed all the more. So the next time they had a procession, Anthony called for someone to bring forward a donkey. On one side they set some hay. But instead of going for the hay, the donkey inclined his head to the Eucharist. The sceptic's face turned red. He did not need to be reminded of what the saint had previously told him.

Now that story may have a bit of legend in it, but it underlines something so important for us today. In our supposed sophistication we can miss a simple fact. Some of the Protestant reformers overlooked it, but Martin Luther himself never forgot it. When he debated with Zwingli over the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, he listened to his theory of the nudum signum or the naked sign. For Zwingli communion was a mere symbol of Jesus presence. Luther responded by writing Jesus words on the floor, "Hoc est enim corpus meum, This is my body." Then he proceeded to underline the word est or is. Today we can miss the simple fact that even the founder of Protestantism saw so clearly. The host we receive in communion is the Body of Christ.

As Catholics we have expressed this reality of Jesus' Presence with the word transubstantiation (Catechism 1376). It's a big word and it has a long philosophical history behind it, but it means that even tho the appearances remain to our senses--taste, smell, touch, look of bread--the very substance changes. The substance of the bread becomes the Body of Christ. Transubstantiation is an exact way of expressing Jesus' declaration, "This is my Body."

Because the Eucharist is the Body of Jesus we invite the communicant to a moment of adoration before receiving. The priest or eucharistic minister holds up the host and says, "The Body of Christ." Our response of recognition or adoration is "Amen."

That moment before we receive Jesus is so brief, we are encouraged to prolong that adoration apart from Mass. In our parish we have begun Eucharistic Adoration all day Wednesday and all nite Friday. Other parishes have perpetual adoration. Perhaps we will arrive there some day. To spend time before Jesus in the Sacrament brings such tremendous graces. Just one example: parishes that have perpetual adoration have seen a number of young men respond to the call to priesthood. It only makes sense. Prayer to Jesus in the Eucharist is the solution to our vocation crisis. He said it himself. "pray to the Lord of the harvest..." Families in our parish have reported marvelous results from the time they have spent in adoration. They have seen wayward children (drugs, alcohol, etc.) change the course of their lives, turn back to their homes and to God himself. Spending an hour before the Blessed Sacrament will do your family and your parish more good than anything else you can do.

But the Eucharist is not only for adoration--even tho that is our highest activity before God. The Eucharist is many dimensional. As the Second Vatican Council teaches us, "The Eucharist is the source and summit for the Christian life." To attend Mass not only strengthens us, it is in itself the high point of our lives as Christians. One of the most important dimensions of that participation is underscored by the first and second readings. They point to the Mass as the Sacrifice of Christ. That Sacrifice was foreshadowed by Melchizedek offering in sacrifice the bread and wine. (Gen 14:18) St. Paul makes it more explicit by saying, "when eat his body and and drink his blood we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes." (I Cor 11:26) To attend Mass is to be transported to Calvary, to stand at the foot of the cross with St. John and the Blessed Mother. We are caught up in the saving death of Jesus.

Participating in Christ's sacrifice has some important implications. Our lives joined to Jesus become an offering to God. That is why I underscored last week that to receive communion we must be living coherently. I'd like to elaborate because it is easy to fall into one of two extremes. A person can think they are so unworthy they never come forward for communion. It is an error to think you have to be a "saint" to receive the host. No, Jesus clearly came for sinners, for people like you and me. None of us, not even the pope would be worthy in the strict sense.

However in our age which emphasizes "self-esteem" it is more susceptible to the opposite error. We can fall into the dualism where we receive communion whenever we happen to attend Mass but live in a way completely contrary. And we don't even notice the contradiction. It is one thing to sin, recognize it and repent. It is quite another to sin and then rationalize it. "Well, everybody is doing it." St. Paul call this "receiving the body and blood of Jesus unworthily" and his makes it clear such action will not bring a blessing, but a condemnation. (I Cor 11:27ff.) I'd like to give some examples to illustrate the difference between being a sinner and receiving Jesus unworthily.

A person could think, "Well, I have taken drugs. If someone knew, they would ask what I am doing going to communion". But having taken drugs in the past is very different from currently doing so--or being a drug pusher. If you are trying to get off drugs or alcohol, you are just the person who needs the strength of communion. The same would apply to sexual sins. It's one thing to have committed adultery and repented. Or to be struggling with some sexual tendency and sometimes fall. It is quite something else to be blithely carrying on an affair or living with someone apart from marriage. The danger especially with the latter is a self-justification which leads to pride, even flaunting ones sin.

A few years ago this principle was tested by someone who worked for Planned Parenthood. She wanted to be accepted as a Eucharistic Minister. The priest made it clear that she could be--if she gave up her membership in the pro-abortion organization. This does not mean that someone who advocates abortion or who has had one is excluded from communion. But like everyone else they must repent. Sinners are welcome to the table. But there is a big difference between a sinner and a hypocrite. A sinner struggles while the hypocrite judges. The sinner repents; the hypocrite rationalizes. The sinner confesses; the hypocrite gossips. Do you see the difference?

I know this is a difficult concept for many people today. They will call on us to be "compassionate," to accept them just as they are. They point to Jesus' tremendous acceptance of the woman caught in adultery. Yes, yes, yes. But we must add those final words which in fact show the greatest compassion, "Go and sin no more." (John 8:11)

In our parish this week there will a meeting for those who want to know more about Courage. It is a program to help those with homosexual inclinations to live the teaching of the Christ. As someone said, "He accepts us as we are. But he does not leave us there." When we attend Mass and participate in his sacrifice, that should be so clear. He died for us. But if we start getting comfortable with our sins, we make a mockery of his death.

To make friends with sin is to become an enemy of the cross. The Bible calls that "growing old in our sins." (cf. Dan 13:52) But Jesus does not want us to become decrepit; he wants to renew us, in a sense to make children again. People in this country are spending thousands of dollars to look younger. They pay to have their face and other body parts "lifted." They may purchase a young face, but they are still old inside. It is much better to have an old face and be young inside. Jesus can restore our inner youth, in fact make us children again. He does so when we come before him humbly. He nourishes us miraculously like he did for the people in the desert. Come to him, join yourself to his sacrifice and be fed by his own body.

The Spanish breviary has a Corpus Christi hymn which makes this invitation with a bold image:

Oveja perdida, ven
sobre mis hombros, que hoy
no sólo tu pastor soy,
sino tu pasto también.

Lost sheep, come
upon my shoulder, for today
not only am I your pastor
I am your pasture as well.


*This feast has origins which go back many centuries. The institution of a separate festivity dedicated to the Body Christ has an interesting history. It owes its beginning to when a priest who had doubts about the Real Presence was celebrating Mass. In his struggle of faith, he asked for a sign. During the consecration the host he was holding began to bleed. I have seen the pictures and read the testimony to that and other eucharistic miracles and have to say it is pretty impressive. Most recently a priest celebrating Mass at Betania in Venezuela (one of the few sites of apparitions by the Virgin which has been recognized by a local bishop) experienced that same miracle. I saw a video (Betania, Land of Grace) which documented the event. Some people recoil from such miracles as being too physical, too un-spiritual, but in light of John 6:41ff. we should not be overly quick to reject them as inappropriate.


From Archives (Corpus Christiy - Year C):

2013: Eucharistic Coherence
2010: Why Do I Have To Go To Mass?
2007: Our Daily Bread
2004: Communion for Kerry?
2001: The Eucharist Makes It Through
1998: This is My Body

Complete List:

2013: Eucharistic Coherence
2012: Afflicted with Hunger
2011: Most Precious Possession
2010: Why Do I Have To Go To Mass?
2009: What Have I Given You?
2008: Who May Receive Communion?
2007: Our Daily Bread
2006: Language of the Body
2005: Reverence for Eucharist
2004: Communion for Kerry?
2003: To Worship His Body and Blood
2002: Broken Bread
2001: The Eucharist Makes It Through
2000: Combatting Impatience
1999: Notes for Homilist
1998: This is My Body
Jesus: True Bread of Life (How to Receive and Reverence the Eucharist)

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