Jun 24, 2011

Feast of The Body and Blood of Christ: "He is there!"

Bouveret: The Last Supper

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/062611.shtml

Here in the Pacific Northwest we are fortunate to be surrounded by outstanding natural beauty. Mountain climbing and hiking are among popular summer and sometimes winter activities. I think we humans just like to be up high. If we had wings we would give birds quite a run for their money.

The view is spectacular from the tops of coastal cliffs, homes built at the summit of high hills that look over sweeping valley vistas. For the truly die hard (not me!) mountain climbers, imagine the sight from the top of Mt. Hood over 11,000 in elevation. As a child, my Mother told me that one brother and I would always climb on chairs and tables so she once took chairs and turned them upside down on the top of a kitchen table so we couldn’t reach them. How long do you think that lasted before we figured out Mom’s ingenious method?

This weekend we celebrate a mountain top experience. The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) is a moment to recognize that in the celebration of the Eucharist we are up high. We are on the mountain top of our spiritual life. The Second Vatican Council (1963-65) reminds us: "The Eucharistic sacrifice is the source and summit of the Christian life." (Lumen Gentium: Constitution on the Church).

When the Body of Christ, the Church, is gathered for Word and Sacrament at a typical Sunday Mass, a small daily Mass in a simple chapel, at St. Peter Basilica in Rome, or some grand medieval Cathedral in France, we are always at the summit, on the mountaintop, up high. Whether the Mass is celebrated in English or any other language, it is the one and same summit we find ourselves on. Not as individuals but as the People of God gathered in gratitude and praise in the presence of Christ who comes to be our food in Word and under signs of simple unleavened bread and wine.

Jesus’ words in the Gospel this Sunday (Jn 6: 51-58) ignite a spirited debate between himself and the crowds. From two different perspectives they come: the physical world and the spiritual world. Jesus’ words about, “I am the living bread . . . the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Then he goes on to boldly state: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you . . .” This was just too much for the crowd. Here, they thought Jesus indeed crossed the line.

The crowds answer with shock: “How can he give us his flesh to eat?” No one took those words to imply cannibalism but they are furious at Jesus taking such language and using it to comment on the scripture passages concerning Moses journey in the desert and the manna God gave to satisfy physical hunger. Our first reading (Deuteronomy 8: 2-3, 14-16) refers to the bread from heaven.

So we have a tension between the physical language of the crowds, the literal understanding that there could be no reality beyond this material world. And the clear spiritual language of Jesus which invites us to go beyond what we know to stretch our selves in faith and believe there is another reality beyond what we can experience here. It is the argument of this present age.

More and more, the Church finds itself up against a very noisy world. There is little in the culture of today that supports faith and so those who choose to be members of a faith community and in particular those who choose to be committed to their Catholic faith must make a deliberate choice to do so. I don’t think we can be committed Christians and Catholics just because our parents or grandparents are. We have to be Catholic because we want to be. Every day we have to choose which voice we will listen to and then respond with more than just a half-hearted commitment.

The truth is that the media have a powerful influence on the way we think and act today. Freedom and choice more and more push the boundaries of what we hold sacred. So the reaction towards people of faith is everything from indifference to hostility. Not at all unlike the crowds who heard Jesus today say, “I am the living bread come down from heaven.”

Christ has given his flesh for the life of the world and every time we gather for this Eucharist we break open his living Word and feast on his living presence. On the cross Jesus gave his life freely. In the Eucharist we hear, “This is my Body and my Blood given for you.” The Body at the Last Supper and the Body on the Cross and risen three days later are one and the same.

As any mountain top experience would give us a new perspective so too does the Eucharist give us a greater sense of the unity of the Church and a spiritual strength that we could find no where else. There is no substitute for this central sacrament of the Catholic Church and therefore no better place that we can be to find anything stronger or more meaningful. Here we are changed; transformed to be more and more like the food we receive.

As we mark this great and core sacrament of our faith it may be good to wonder at what level we are standing during the celebration of Mass. Am I simply at the base of the mountain? Have I begun a climb up to open my heart more fully – to understand more deeply the presence of Christ in Word and Sacrament? Have I simply stopped climbing and just taken the role of a sit-down observer? Or am I constantly on the path in a continuous effort to reach the top and join with Christ and my brothers and sisters in the Lord – united as one in the Eucharist?

The holy Cure' of Ars, St. John Vianney who is patron of parish priests (a particular favorite of mine) said it both simply and profoundly.  In referring to the Tabernacle, he stated:  "He is there!"  For us Catholic-Christians, the Eucharist is not a "thing" or an "it."  The Eucharist is "He."  A true living presence who gives himself to us. What a view we have from the top!