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THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST – C- June 2, 2013

The Book of Genesis 14:18-20

The first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 11:23-26

The holy Gospel according to Luke 9:11b-17

Again this Sunday we are invited to ponder a doctrinal mystery that we might enter into it and be transformed by it.  This feast used to be called by its Latin name: Corpus Christi.  On this day, grand processions happened.  The Consecrated Host was placed in a golden monstrance.  The priest clad in a gold-threaded cope with a humeral veil around his shoulders to prevent his hands from touching the vessel, processed, carrying the monstrance through the streets and byways of the parish.  A thurible wafting smoke from burning incense would be carried before the monstrance.  Three times along the way, there would be a pause in the procession and the people gathered would be blessed as the monstrance was moved in cruciform over them.  It was a moment for adoration of the objectified Eucharist.

It wasn’t on the feast, but I remember one evening standing in the area before the grotto at Lourdes.  In the distance the procession of the sick had begun.  The sound of voices singing the hymn to Mary could be heard as aides pushed wheelchairs or carried stretchers bearing the sick to the shrine.  Before long these vulnerable ones in varying degrees of illness surrounded me.  I watched and tried to sing but emotions constricted my throat.  What was clear was that the young attendants cared for their charges and wanted to minister to their every need.  They were praying that they might be present for one of the miracles that are reputed to happen in that holy place.  And I will never forget the radiant smiles on the faces of the sick and disabled.

At the end of the procession came the priest carrying a monstrance.  He moved among the sick.  Some reached out to touch his cope as he passed by.  When at last he arrived at the altar in the mouth of the grotto he lifted the monstrance, blessed the assembled and then departed.  It was over.  The crowd began to disperse.  I was amazed to see the glow that wreathed most of the faces of the sick as they began their return trek to the hospital.  I don’t know if any physical miracles happened that night; but there was not doubt about the transforming miracle of consolation and peace.

Are the processions and benedictions the most important part of the observance of this feast?  I wish I could say yes to that, but I can’t.  For me what is most important about this feast is the opportunity to ponder the meaning of what we do when we gather around the Table and celebrate.  Yes, the Eucharist is a sacramental presence of Christ, but Eucharist is also the action of giving thanks to God through the renewing Christ’s dying and rising until he comes again in glory.

We can take our lead from the first reading from the book of Genesis.  Abram, later called Abraham, returns as a hero having been a victor in battle against eastern kings that threatened the communities in the Jordan Valley.  Melchizedek, priest of Salem (Jerusalem), comes out to meet Abram and brings bread and wine.  Melchizedek blesses Abram and praises God for the victory.  And Abram tithes to Melchizedek from the spoils of his wealth from the battle as a sign of his gratitude to God.

Those few verses from Genesis contain the elements of what we do each time we gather to worship.  The word Eucharist means thanksgiving, the action of giving thanks to God.  We assemble around the Table on which have been placed those same simple elements that Melchizedek offered, bread and wine.  The basic elements of food and drink are signs of God’s bounty in providing for our needs.  In that ancient meal, God’s blessing on Abram was invoked.  They praised and blessed God for the victory.  In our gathering we give thanks to God through the One who conquered everything we fear.  Sin, suffering, and death will never reign again.  In our sharing in the Eucharist, we share in that victory.

Paul wrote his first Letter to the Corinthians before any of the Gospels had been written and within thirty years of the Resurrection event.  Paul wrote to correct abuses around the worship practices that had arisen in the Corinthian community.  Elitism was developing among the Corinthians determining who could partake of the Eucharist and who were excluded.  In a nutshell, the wealthy had access.  The poor laborers did not.  Paul wanted it understood that the Eucharist is for all.  All are welcome at the table.  To exclude is scandalous behavior.

We hear the essentials of Eucharist.  We hear from Paul what he received personally from the risen Christ.  The core actions of Eucharist in imitation of what Jesus did on the night before he died must be part of the celebration.  Jesus took bread.  He gave thanks.  He broke the bread.  After identifying the bread as his body, he gave the bread to all of those assembled with him to eat.  Jesus took the cup of blessing, the cup of wine, and identified the wine as his blood.  With it he proclaimed the New Covenant of relationship with God.  He gave the cup to all of them and invited them to drink.  With the drinking, the covenant is sealed.

We must not miss the last words of the ritual that Paul quotes: Do this in my memory.  To remember is to make present.  Whenever disciples gather around the Table and do this, the Lord is present and in their midst.  The action proclaims Christ’s death, but not to depress.  Rather Paul reminds us that we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.  Eucharist is essentially a hope-filled action that reminds us that the battle may still have to be waged, but Christ remains the victor.  We know how everything will work out.  Eucharistic people are people of hope.

The Gospel proclaimed today does not take us into the upper room for the Last Supper.  Rather we hear proclaimed one of the major incidents that is recounted in all four of the Gospels – the miraculous feeding of the multitude.  Notice the context.  Jesus proclaims the good news of the coming of the kingdom and he heals those needing to be cured.  The number of those gathered is huge.  We are meant to understand the great number hungry for the Word signified in that gathered crowd that have been listening to Jesus all day.  Evening is on its way.  The Twelve are keenly aware that the crowd is also hungry for food.  They bring their concern to Jesus; but Jesus challenges them to meet the people’s needs.  Give them some food yourselves.  They tell Jesus that there are 5000 people gathered.  All the Twelve have are a few loaves and a couple of fish – a meager amount to say the least when you consider the magnitude of the need.

There is an important lesson for us all in what follows.  Have you ever felt overwhelmed in the face of some huge problem?  As you listen to the evening news and hear accounts of disasters and wars, when images of starving people and the world’s weary fill the screen, don’t you feel weak and inadequate before the magnitude of the issues?  After all, all you have are a few loaves and a couple of fish.  Or so we are tempted to think.

Jesus tells the Twelve to get the people seated in groups of about fifty.  5,ooo make up a mob.  Groups of 50 can coalesce into small faith communities.

Scripture scholars give two interpretations of the multiplication of the loaves.  All underscore the action words in the narrative.  Jesus takes the loaves and two fish, prays, blesses the food, breaks the loaves and the fish and gives the food to the Twelve to put it before the crowd.  One group of scholars says that there was a miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish, so much so that there was plenty for all to eat their fill and still for there to be twelve baskets of loaves and fish left over.  No one says that is not possible.  We do believe, after all, that with God all things are possible.  We heard that near the beginning of Luke’s Gospel as part of the Annunciation narrative.

The other scholars say that when Jesus put the meager gifts before them, placed all that the Twelve had at the people’s disposal, something just as miraculous happened.  Individuals brought forth food from their own stash and shared the little they had with each other.  Lo and behold there was more than enough for all.  The people in the crowd had been transformed by Jesus’ action.  People closed in on themselves opened up to each other.  In their sharing they knew the bounty of God.  Did they recognize the unity that was theirs in the Lord?  Did they suddenly believe that together they could overcome the want?  Is that the miracle of the loaves and fish?

We come together as believers to celebrate Eucharist.  We come as we are with our gifts and shortcomings.  Our very selves become part of the offerings that are the bread and wine on the Table.  With the priest in persona Christi, we give thanks to God, pray the blessing, break up the bread and distribute the wine, as all are invited to take and eat and take and drink.  If the veil were lifted then and we could see the reality to which the sign points, we would recognize the transformation the Spirit empowers.

The Bread and Wine are the Body and Blood of Christ.  Those assembled at the Table are the Body of Christ, the Church.  God’s reign is coming through Christ.

Earlier, we talked about the processions and adoration that often are part of the Feast of Corpus Christi.  Those are fine as far as they go.  But something more is needed.  It would be sad if our participation in the Eucharist were one of passivity and adoration.  If we fully, actively, and consciously participate in Eucharist, then we must recognize that each celebration concludes with the Assembly’s being sent to bring Eucharist to the world.  You’ve heard it before.  Remember?  The mass is ended.  Go in peace to love and serve the Lord and one another.  That is the great insight in the second interpretation of the feeding of the multitude: the people gathered and transformed by their own resources blessed and broken, share of themselves and so meet the needs of the hungry.

In every country in our world, people gather to celebrate Eucharist on the Lord’s Day.  From these celebrations go forth those that will bring Eucharist to those who are sick and infirm and unable to be present for the celebration.  Others will go out, committed to work among the poor and the disenfranchised.  Some will be convinced of their calling to march in demonstration with the oppressed.  Some will choose to enter into community with those discards of society that most people never notice.  Others will give of their resources to help bring recovery to those devastated by the ravages of wind and rain.  In the process, bonds are formed.  We realize that if all would do their part there would be more than enough for each person to eat and drink and so know the bounty of God’s love that comes to us through Jesus.

Sincerely,

Didymus     

WE WALK BY FAITH

The more I think about it, the more I conclude that the Lord’s final dialog with Peter has application for us all.  At least I can say that the older I get the more clearly I can hear the words and feel their appropriateness.  I tell you solemnly: as a young man you fastened your belt and went about as you pleased; but when you are older you will stretch out your hands, and another will tie you fast and carry you off against your will.  Granted, what follows in the text is the declaration that the Risen One is talking about the way Peter would die, his crucifixion after the manner of Jesus’ dying.  But if you focus on the self-certainty of youth in the first part and the absence of that in the latter part of the statement, you’ll see what I mean.

When I was young there was much that I was certain about.  As I remember, it all seemed clearly a matter of black and white.  This was wrong; that was right.  Nuance?  There was no such thing then.  I knew that outside the Catholic Church there was no salvation.  Sister told me that in my second grade catechism class.  I used to fret because half my family wasn’t Catholic.  Sister told me to pray and God would take care of them.  So I prayed.  I remember coming downstairs crying one night, unable to sleep.  I wept in my mother’s lap.  When she asked me what was wrong, I told her that I didn’t want her to go to hell.  She wasn’t yet a Catholic.  My tears might have hastened her conversion.  Still, now I think that was a terrible state of mind for a child to be in because of what was taught in religion class.

As a child I knew that if I did this and did not do that I would go to heaven.  And if there was any question all I had to do was pray and I would be given the answer and would know the direction I should take.  As I remember it now, there were many times I prayed for that direction and all there was, was silence.  For some time, I thought that must have been because I wasn’t praying hard enough.  Or, maybe I was distracted in prayer.  Can you imagine my relief when Sister told me that if I wanted to be sure that I would get to heaven, all I had to do was to go to Mass and Communion on nine first Fridays in a row?  To be extra sure I should add to that the five first Saturdays.  I could do that.  I did do that.  I was fine for a time in my surety.  But then I began to wonder again.

So often there was silence in the night.  Then as I persisted in prayer, it wasn’t so much that I began to hear the answers I longed for.  In the silence there was presence.  God is in the silence and the silence began to speak of trust.

Years have gone by.  Somewhere in that time I became aware of a mistrust I had in those who were too sure, too absolute in their declaration of what was right and what was wrong, of who was going to heaven and who would be damned.  Pondering the Holocaust had a lot to do with the change in my thinking.  A people looked away as their Jewish brothers and sisters were led off to the death camps.  Not many decried what was happening.  The Jews had been deemed inferior, even evil.  Fundamentalism, regardless of the persuasion, even Catholic fundamentalism began to emerge as the evil for me.  And that remains.

I began to see that part of faith is accepting that the walk of faith is one of uncertainty.  That’s what Jesus in Resurrection told Peter.  Peter may have been certain in youth.  He wouldn’t be in his later life.  And neither will we be.  The leap of faith is an apt phrase for believers.

The conviction of the fundamentalist drives many from religious observance.  I heard a man speak of his own spirituality even as he professed to not being religious.  He believed in God.  He didn’t believe in church.  My curiosity provoked me to ask for an explanation.  He told me that too many religious pronouncements condemned people he cared about.  Surely there must be more to religion that sexual morality.  Racism, he said, justified horrendous acts against people of color.  Sexism does the same thing.  If that is what Jesus teaches, he wanted nothing to do with it.  And lest I respond too glibly, he said he wanted me to know he had read about the era of the Spanish Inquisition.  Where was the Gospel in that?

I prayed about that.  And there was silence.

It is funny what comes in silence.  I’ve been surprised by phrases that come to mind, or passages from scripture or Shakespeare.  What would Jesus do?  Remember the plastic bracelets?  Well, I changed the phrase a bit and asked, what would Jesus say?  More and more it has become clear to me that Jesus did not speak in terms of moral specifics.  Do this.  Don’t do that.  But he did set a high standard.  Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.  Perfection is the Christian standard.  That can’t be imposed.  It can only be imitated.

For Jesus it is always about Love.  Love one another as I have loved you.  By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  And he also said, do not judge lest you be judged.  I have not heard that preached very often, at least not lately.

In prayer I have asked why it was that Jesus so blatantly welcomed sinners and ate with them?  Why did he say that believers had to become like little children?  What is it all about?  Alfie’s question has always made sense.

The sinners in Jesus’ time were outcasts.  They were hated and shunned.  Jesus gave scandal when he invited them to share his table.  When he hosted them he affirmed their worth and proclaimed God’s love for them.  I doubt Jesus spent much table talk condemning the sinners’ behaviors.  He poured the wine and invited them to know they were the beloveds of God, loved with an unconditional and eternal love.  Why was Pope Francis’ washing of the young people’s feet, of youngsters both male and female, both Christian and not, so scandalizing for some?  Not to be judgmental about it, but I wonder how much the scandal rose out of self-righteousness?  How much it had to do with having no sense of being sinners, much less in need of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness.

That’s where becoming like little children comes in.  We become like little children when we empty ourselves of prejudice and presuppositions.  We become like little children when we return to square one and open ourselves to being taught.  Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.  Meek.  Humble.  Ah, now I begin to see.  If I am meek and humble I can stand and watch and strive to imitate and love as Jesus loves.  That’s what it’s all about, Alfie.

Now the silence comforts.  It isn’t that I see things more clearly, or that I know what the futre holds.  It isn’t that I have stopped wondering when terrible things happen to good people.  But there is an increasing sense of confidence and compassion as I continue my journey in faith.

Confidence comes from the Latin words that translate, with faith.  Compassion means to suffer with.  Not knowing what tomorrow may hold, I am able to walk confidently into the silence, believing that the love of God in Christ is there.  And I journey with compassion as I find myself entering into others’ sufferings because I am convinced they are my brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Most of all, when I remember that I am a sinner, I rejoice, because it is then that I also remember that I am forgiven.  That’s what redemption means.

That’s probably also why I love Eucharist.  It is then that I gather around the Table with others like myself and together we give thanks as we re-enter and renew the Lord’s dying and rising.  And welcomed in the Lord, we break the Bread and share the Cup and know that we are loved.

And that is all that I am certain about.  The rest I leave in God’s hands.

Even when the night is darkest, I have confidence there will be a dawn.

Sincerely,

Didymus

 

 

THE FEAST OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY – C- May 26, 2013

 The Book of Proverbs 8:22-31

The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans 5:1-5

The holy Gospel according to John 16:12-15

This Sunday is a doctrinal feast.  So also will be next Sunday.  On these two Sundays we celebrate the core mysteries of our faith.  We are invited to stand in awe and to rejoice in what we believe.  Our challenge is to live in the hope of one day being caught up into the glory in which we live now.  Paul said that what we see now dimly, as in a mirror, we shall see one day face to face.  Then we shall know even as we are known.  Hear the struggle to proclaim the indescribable mystery.

What do we believe about the Trinity, this mystery that no human and finite mind can ever fully comprehend?  We believe in God as a three-person community of love who is one God.  The Father loves the Son and the love that binds them is the Holy Spirit.  This is what the church teaches.  We believers my have flashes of understanding, momentary insights into the Reality, but we will never be able to say that we fully understand the mystery.  Ah, but take heart.  We will spend eternity living in the Mystery, getting to know God.  Some have said that if eternity were to have an end, we would still be only beginning to know.

In the lush poetry in the first reading from the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom speaks to us.  There are many scholars who say that Wisdom in Hebrew Scriptures is the Holy Spirit.  Others say that Wisdom is a manifestation of the Son.  It is possible that in some settings we can recognize the Spirit, in others, that she is the Son.

Hearing Wisdom speak of being with God from the very dawn of creation and long before that, we might be reminded of the opening words of John’s Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The Word was present to God in the beginning.  Through the Word all things came into being…through the Word the World was made.  That is the same imagery that we hear in the first reading as God sets about forming the heavens and the earth, the mountains, the sea and the sky; Wisdom is beside God as the craftsman.  And when creation is complete, Wisdom plays with God all the while and finds delight in the human race.  That sounds like a child delighting its parent and all the while knowing the parent’s love.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  The mystery of the incarnation puts before us the wonder that the Father sent the Son into the world to take on the human condition.  The only Son now has two natures, human and divine.  The chasm that from the beginning has separated the human from the divine has now been bridged.  God has entered into the human never to be separated from humanity again.

We hear God’s plea in Hebrew Scripture: Let me be your God and you will be my people.  When the Word becomes flesh, that union between God and people is realized.

Jesus is the full revelation of God.  Remember the words Jesus spoke: Philip, those who see me see the Father.  What Jesus does is what God does.  Through Jesus we learn that God is a God who heals, forgives, and longs for all people to know they are loved, regardless of gender or race.  God is a God who serves.  Remember Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.  That is the depth of service God wants to lavish on people.  God wants to serve, not to be served.  Think of the scandal that Pope Francis caused when he washed the feet of women and non-Christians in a youth prison as he celebrated Holy Thursday.  How dare he not confine this holy rite to twelve men?  What will this mean for the direction of the church during his papacy?  Some of us hope that the church will throw off the trappings of splendor and power and emerge again as a servant church.  If the church as the Body of Christ recommits to doing what Jesus does, it will happen.

In the Easter Season we have just completed, we spent 50 days rejoicing in the redemption that is ours in Jesus’ dying and rising.  There is a reason why the church forbade kneeling during the celebration of Eucharist in the Easter Season.  Kneeling was taken as a sign of unworthiness and of an intention not to participate in the Eucharist, i.e., to receive Holy Communion. When the Church agreed to ‘allow’ kneeling during the Eucharist, the proclamation was also quite clear that it would not be allowed during the Easter Season, since standing is a sign of our redemption and participation in the resurrected life of Christ. We stand washed clean in the Blood of Christ.  The white robes worn by the newly baptized remind us that in Baptism we have put on Christ.  We live in Christ and Christ lives in us.  Because of that identification with Christ, God looks on the baptized with the same love God has for Christ.  Extraordinary, isn’t it?  God is smitten.  That is how God acts in our midst.  That is how God’s love embraces us.

Remember last Sunday’s Feast of Pentecost?  We rejoiced in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  In John’s Gospel it is clear that it is impossible to understand who Jesus is and to comprehend the meaning of what he preaches and teaches left to our own devices.  So, Jesus goes back to the Father in the Ascension in order to send the Holy Spirit who will guide the Church in all truth.  That means that those in whom the Spirit dwells will be enlightened and so be able to know and believe in the risen Christ and act as he does.

Jesus commands the disciples to love others as Jesus loves them.  By this will all people know that your are my disciples, if you love one another.  If they, if we love as we are commanded then just as Jesus is the full revelation of God, so will we be the full revelation of Christ.

The Father creates.  The Son redeems.  The Spirit sanctifies.  Yet it is one God who does each and all.  Three persons.  One God.  That is the mystery we celebrate today.

A final note:  If the Spirit empowers us to believe, the Spirit will empower us to act as Jesus does.  We will do that if we get the message right.  At present the Church struggles with division and scandal.  Vitriolic tirades lash out at the Church.  Some are leaving the Church because the scandals have broken their faith.  Others are leaving because they are not experiencing the Gospel in the Church.  It is more clearly proclaimed out there. Still others leave because they do not feel welcome able to respond to their call to minister due to their gender.  And still others depart because they do not feel welcome or respected because of their sexual orientation.  Perhaps this time of turmoil is necessary in order for the Church to be purified, to do penance and to reform.  The Spirit must inspire so that the proclamation can be heard again: All are welcome here.  Come to the Table.

At the same time, the Church thrives in various parts of the world, especially in those areas that know oppression, poverty, and disease.  In those trenches, lay people, Sisters, Brothers, and Priests serve the communities, risking their health and their lives in order to do among those people what Jesus does.  Those servants witness to the dignity and worth of the lowly ones.  They build schools and teach in them.  They build clinics and treat patients there.  They shelter orphans and rescue exploited girls and women.  They stand before those in power and tell them this oppression must cease.  They say the poor they serve have a right to live in dignity, freedom, and peace.  And those who are the recipients of their service know that they are witnessing Jesus act.  People recognize God’s love revealed through these ministers of both genders.  And through them the Spirit inspires the nearly broken to rise up and live in hope, knowing that they are loved.

Ask any of those many serving in Africa and India, in South America and in Asia what keeps them going and they will tell you without hesitation, it is prayer that inspires them.  That time of being silent and open to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit draws them deeper into Mystery.  As they gather in small communities often in poverty and even squalid conditions to break bread and share a cup they are strengthened.  They experience the revitalization that comes with grace.

I will wager these servants pray for the Church, for her awakening, her healing, her renewal, and her peace.  With Pope Francis they pray that the Church will be poor, serving the needs of the poor.  Their prayer and the pouring out of self that is the fruit of the Eucharist gives us the confident assurance that in, with, and through the Trinity living and acting through them in the human family, the deliverance will happen and the renewal will begin.

Now, see the significance in this.  Next Sunday we celebrate the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  Plan ahead.  Look forward to the feast.  Then imagine if we enter into that celebration and are vulnerable before it how we might be transformed.

Sincerely,

Didymus