June 18, 2017
This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord, the feast usually known by its Latin name, Corpus Christi. This feast began in Liege, Belgium in 1247 when an Augustinian nun, Julian of Liege, received visions that God wanted his people to celebrate his institution of the Blessed Sacrament. Perhaps twelve hundred years after the First Eucharist at the Last Supper, people were beginning to overlook the importance of this sacrament. Maybe this still exists to some extent today. Consider how many people do not see the importance of celebrating the Eucharist every week. Consider how many people bring their children for the First Holy Communion and will not bring their children to their Second Holy Communion until next September, or perhaps, next Christmas. Perhaps people in both Julian’s day and our day have forgotten the truth behind the greatness of the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life,” as the Vatican Council famously stated. When respect for the Eucharist diminishes in our society, the other sacraments also decline. After all, Baptism and Confirmation find their fulfillment in the Eucharist. Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick exist in order to restore a person to the Eucharistic table. Marriage is a sign of the wedding banquet of the Lamb. And of course Priesthood takes its meaning from the Eucharist. The drop in vocations can be tied directly to a decreased reverence and love for the Blessed Sacrament.
This week we listen to one of the earliest New Testament writings - the Letter to the Corinthians (50-55 AD). St. Paul reminded them that the communion cup is a “participation in the Blood of Christ” and that “the bread we break is a participation in the Body of Christ.” (I Cor 10:16) About fifty years later St. Ignatius, bishop of the great city of Antioch, was defending this teaching which he had received from the apostles. He warned faithful Christians about those who “do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” Those people, he said, “deny the gift of God,” and “are perishing in their disputes” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110]).
I could give you a long list of quotes from early Christian writers regarding belief in the Eucharist, but it is not necessary. The Church historian J. N. D. Kelly (himself a Protestant) sums it up: “Eucharistic teaching,” he wrote, “at the outset, was...unquestioningly realistic, that is, the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood” (Early Christian Doctrines, 440).
Love for the Eucharist can be illustrated on a more popular level by the great preacher, St. Anthony of Padua. The saint once confronted a man who scoffed at the Eucharist. While others made a reverent bow, the scoffer held back. On his face he had a look of cold disdain. Anthony approached the man and asked him why he did not bow to the Sacrament. The man replied that he believed it was nothing more than bread. Anthony, according to one account, challenged the man to a test. Anthony would fast for three days and the man could also have his donkey eat nothing for three days. They then met in a town square where the man placed a bale of hay twenty feet from the hungry animal. When untied, the donkey walked toward the hay. St. Anthony then exposed the Blessed Sacrament and called to the donkey, “Mule, in the name of the Lord our God, I command you to come here and adore your Creator!” The donkey stopped as though someone had pulled him by a bridle, turned, and walked toward St. Anthony. The donkey bent his forelegs, bowing to the Blessed Sacrament with his head toward the ground.
This story may be something of a legend, but it illustrates an important point. As St. Anthony taught, even a dumb animal – in its own way – pays homage to its Creator. What about us? Sometimes we behave worse than a mule. Instead of honoring our Savior, we get caught up in transitory things. Do you need another modern Eucharistic miracle? I tell you a miracle that occurred a few years back when I was in Calgary. I brought the Lord to a family where the husband took care of his wife who had dementia. She even did not know her husband’s name. But whenever I held up the consecrated host and said, “This is the Lamb of God…” she came back to herself and answered the prayer as if she never had any sickness.
This weekend I want to make two concrete suggestions for how we can show greater honor and love for Jesus in the Eucharist. Try your best to attend the Sunday Mass. Do not use excuses such as, camping, hockey games, golfing, visiting grandchildren, parties, snow, rain, sunshine, work, job, too early, too late, etc. The second suggestion is to give the Lord one hour a week to adore the Blessed Sacrament on Thursday from 6 pm to 7 pm or Friday from 9:30 am to 10:30 am or any time, just visit the Lord in the tabernacle. The Lord gives you 168 hours a week, can you just spare 1 hour for him, and just for him? No matter how busy you are, come to the Lord in the Eucharist as Jesus says it bluntly: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (Jn 6:53) His flesh is “real food,” his blood “real drink.” By eating his flesh and drinking his blood, we remain in him and he in us. As we celebrate this feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ, we ask him to help us grow in reverence and love for this magnificent gift.
Here is a quote from St. Francis de Sales: "When you have received Him (don’t rush out for the doors), stir up your heart to do Him homage; speak to Him about your spiritual life, gazing upon Him in your soul where He is present for your happiness; welcome Him as warmly as possible, and behave outwardly in such a way that your actions may give proof to all of His Presence."