Saturday, June 10, 2023

The Great Lifesaver: Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ

It feels that in various ways my homilies over the past few weeks have been building up towards this feast of the Eucharist which the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches is the source and summit of Christian life. That is to say that Christian spirituality, or Christian life, flows from the Eucharist (which is its source) and that Christian actions should be directed towards it (the summit).

To give you a sense of this building up to this feast, let us look at the words from the first reading today:

Do not forget the LORD, your God,

who brought you out of the land of Egypt,

that place of slavery;

who guided you through the vast and terrible desert

with its saraph serpents and scorpions,

its parched and waterless ground;

who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock

and fed you in the desert with manna,

a food unknown to your fathers.

He “brought forth water for you from the flinty rock”. Some weeks ago, on the third Sunday of Lent, we had read about the episode at Horeb, when through the power of God, Moses struck the “flinty rock” and drew life-giving water from it. That rock, I taught, was a foreshadowing of Christ, who in time would give him own body to be struck, so that life-giving water may flow from it, through the world, and into our bodies. I had also taught, that the rock could also be read as our stony hearts, which through the consumption of the Most Precious Body and Blood of our Lord, are converted into hearts of flesh so that we may love God, and the world, as the Son of God loved us.

Through these weeks I have also repeatedly stressed that our bodily actions need to demonstrate to our fickle minds that the hosts we receive at communion are in fact the Most Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the most precious thing in the world that we receive, and we need to ask ourselves if when we receive it we are doing so with the dignity that the Eucharist deserves.

Speaking of bodily actions, I have often emphasized my belief in the superiority of receiving communion on the tongue, and ideally kneeling. There is another reason I stress this form of receipt, and it is not because of what it does to the recipient, but what it does to the minister of the Eucharist. Speaking for myself, I often find myself moved when offering communion on the tongue. It engenders in me the feeling of being a parent feeding a child. This is an intense love, and if reception on the tongue allows the minister to experience this love, then the recipient is affording the minister this great grace. Once again speaking for myself, I find that it is the sense of responsibility to, and love for, the faithful that gives me the strength to maintain my vows, and I am sure this would be the case for other priests as well.

But enough about the past, let us attend directly to the words of the Gospel today, where Our Lord speaks to us, as much as he spoke to the people to whom the words were first addressed:

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.…For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.

My flesh is true food. What does this mean?

Before I go into this meaning, there is something else that needs to be articulated first, which is also a part of this true-ness. What we receive in communion is not simply a sign, or a reminder of the Last Supper. It is in fact the Body and Blood of Our Lord. Think about this for a minute.

It may not look like flesh and blood, but this is what Transubstantiation means, that the “accidents”, i.e., the physical features, of the bread and wine remain, so what we put into our mouths looks like baked wheat and wine, but the substance, its essence, has been changed, from the properties of wheat and wine, to the Body and Blood of Our Lord. As the lyrics of the hymn Tantum Ergo reminds us: “Praestet fides supplementum, Sensuum defectui” “Senses cannot grasp this marvel. Faith must serve to compensate.” It is because we have to rely on faith, and senses, or our mind, cannot grasp this marvel, that we ought to treat this Blessed Sacrament with reverence, even when we cannot understand. Do this long enough, and one day the great significance of the Precious Body and Blood of Christ will reveal itself to us.

Let us return then to the question of True food. To understand the meaning of True Food I believe we need to return to the understanding of death and life in the gospel. The evangelical understanding of death is not physical death, but spiritual death. This is the real death. And so, the food we receive through the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Our Lord is true food because it is the food that offers real or true nourishment, that is to say, nourishment of the spirit and “whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

But how is it then, you may ask me, that we continue to sin and thereby prevent our entry into heaven? Good question. As I have pointed out, however, is that such is the graciousness of our God is that in addition to the greatness of the gift of His life, He also offers us free will. He does not bind us to a way we may not choose. He wishes all to be saved, but He will not oblige you.

However, such is His graciousness, that, as in the words of St. Paul in his second letter to Timothy (2:13-15),

If we are unfaithful,

he remains faithful,

for he cannot deny who he is.

His nature was to die for us, that we might be saved, and so He comes to us, in His Body and Blood again, and again, and again, every time a Mass is offered, and repentant sinners return to Him for redemption of their sins.

One last thing. So many of us often ask: “What is the point of going for Mass when you see these people who are so pious at Mass and then go out and say the most poisonous and vicious things?” The corollary to this question is the following “Also, look at so many good people who never go for Mass. If they are good without going for Mass, without communion, surely this is a sign that you do not need to go for Mass?”

I was stumped for a while by these questions, until one day I realised, can you imagine how much worse the first set of people might be if they did not come for Mass and did not receive the spiritual renewal that Our Lord offers in His Body and Blood? And have you considered how much better these nice people – who are not Catholic, or do not go for Mass – might be if they went to Mass and partook of the saving Body and Blood of our Lord?

Consider, in this context, dear brothers and sisters, the words of the great theologian St. Thomas Aquinas on the Blessed Sacrament:

No sacrament contributes more to our salvation than this; for it purges away our sins, increases our virtues, and nourishes our minds with an abundance of all the spiritual gifts.

And so, my dear brothers and sisters, on this great solemnity celebrating the Most Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord let us commit ourselves to make use of the great lifesaver that we are offered every day, committing to regular confession, mass, and communion for this is the way out of the desert in which we live. Alleluia!

(A version of this homily was preached at the parish church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Aldona on 11 June 2023.)

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