MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST – A – June 18,2017

A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16a
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 10:16-17
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 6:51-58

 

Dear Reader,

Even the most shocking statements, repeated often enough, can become mundane to the hearer.  Consider Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, for example.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him/her on the last day.  Have you ever heard anyone gasp when that proclamation was proclaimed.  Seldom does someone stop his feet and storm from the Assembly.  No one ever put her hands over her ears and cried, “Enough!”

Why then did the first audience have all those reactions and add to them cries that Jesus was a madman?  John is quite clear that at the end of his discourse most who were present turned on their heels and departed, leaving only a few, stunned and shocked, who remained with Jesus.  He asked them, Will you also go away?

We don’t know the thoughts that raced through the disciples’ heads as they watched the scene unfold.  At the beginning of the preaching there were crowds pressing in to catch every word that came from Jesus’ mouth.  At the conclusion near violence erupted.  Some even may have picked up rocks to hurl at Jesus, so revolted were they by what he had said.  The few who remained with Jesus probably wanted to duck for cover lest they find themselves in harm’s way.  What degree of confidence do you imagine was in Peter’s voice when he responded, Where can we go?  We believe that you have the words of everlasting life.”  These were the ones, after all, who had given up everything to follow Jesus.

What is so shocking in Jesus’ remarks?  There is no wiggle room.  Remember the line from the song?  With me it’s all or nothin’/ it’s all or nothin’ at all.  Crudely put, that is exactly what Jesus has said.  Everything of importance depends entirely upon Jesus.  Life to day and for all eternity depends on gnawing at his flesh and drinking his blood.  That is the language he used.  Jesus wants his disciples to devour him.  I am the living bread come down from heaven.

Accommodation takes over after that for many of us.  As we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, (Corpus Christi) we immediately think we are celebrating the feast of the Eucharist.  Of course that is part of the feast.  But with that we objectify the meaning and mystery that Jesus puts before us.  We think of a host.  We think of a cup of wine.  In the course of the Eucharistic Pray, we look at the bread and proclaim the Body of Christ present.  We look at the cup and proclaim the Blood of Christ present.  And we adore.  All well and good; but there is much more.

To look and to adore keeps the reality at a distance.  We focus on the transcendence and do not have to deal with the imminence.  Nowhere in the Gospels and certainly nowhere in the Institution Narrative does Jesus say, this is my body, adore it.  Nor does he say that about the blood.  Take and eat.  Take and drink.  Do this in my memory.  Everything depends upon this.

Again, accommodation takes over.  It always has.  We look for more palatable interpretations for so much of what Jesus announced.  The centrality of poverty in the Christian walk – surely he didn’t mean that literally.  What, then, do you suppose he meant when he said, Go, sell what you have and give to the poor and come and follow me?  Then there is the commandment Jesus voices in John’s Last Supper account that has nothing about the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup.  There Jesus says, As I have washed your feet, so must you wash one another’s feet.  The operative phrase is, you must wash.  That is quite a bit stronger than, I think it would be a good idea if you would do this.  No, basic discipleship is total dependence on Jesus, simplicity of life, and the pouring out of self in service.  (I am certain you have noticed the impact of the example Pope Francis gives as he lives all three components of The Way.  And there are some who deplore what he is doing.)

There is a term that you might hear frequently today in reference to people who are inactive in the practice of their Catholic faith.  They are called Cultural Catholics.  That means they were baptized into the Body of Christ, the Church, have never denied that they are Catholics, but the faith has no practical bearing on the decisions made or lifestyle lived.  A step farther on that path are those who call themselves, Recovering Catholics.  It is safe to say that that is not what Jesus had in mind in issuing the call and challenge to be his disciples.  Jesus expects us to live lives that make no sense were it not for our faith in him.  That only happens as a result of our eating his flesh and drinking his blood, and devouring his every word.

Today’s feast, then, is a call to action, formation, and transformation.  Have you ever asked yourself what difference it would make if Jesus were not in your life?  Would there be any observable difference besides not having to go to Mass on Sunday?

The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is also the feast of the Church.  The Church is the Body of Christ.  That is what the Church teaches.  We, you and I, all one billion of us are that Body.  What impact does that have on our lives?  Certainly that is not something to boast about.  Nor should the fact become an icon on a tall pedestal to be gaped at in awe.  The truth is a call to action.  The Body of Christ in every age is broken and distributed in loving service.  It is all about love as the supreme call.  The commandments by which the Body lives are reduced to one all encompassing mandate: As I have loved you, so must you love one another.  Nothing demands more than Love.

I have great admiration for Dorothy Day.  (I strongly recommend Paul Elie’s The Life You Save May Be Your Own.  The book is intertwined biographies of four great Catholic writers of the last century; three of them converts to the Catholic Church.  Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor, the born Catholic in the group, and Walker Percy.)  It saddens me that there are those in the Church who think that Dorothy Day is an embarrassment to the Church because of the sins she committed in her youth.  She had thought she was an atheist.  She was a member of the Communist party.  She had an abortion.  It was the reality of the Church as the Body of Christ that motivated Dorothy Day’s conversion.  From the time of her Baptism, she lived the rest of her life witnessing to what acceptance of that reality meant in practice.  The Catholic Worker movement and houses of refute for the poor are only two examples.  Her life of poverty and prayer are others.

Rejoice in the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  Rejoice and be glad.  But please don’t stop there.  Embrace the implications.  You will never be the same.  You will never regret it.  It is not my word you have on this.  It is the Lord’s.

Sincerely,

Didymus

 

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