Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Deuteronomy 8:2-3,14b-16a
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
John 6:51-58


May 28-29, 2005 Body and Blood of Christ, Cycle A

Back some 28 years ago, my wife Betsy and I were roped into heading up the First Eucharist program at St. Isidore’s. We were fairly new to the parish and completely new to Religious Education. It was the first time that the parish had included parents in the preparation program, as a way of trying to support them in their role as the primary educators of their children in the faith. For many it was the first time they had had a chance to speak about or question their faith after all the changes wrought by Vatican II. Little did we expect the controversy and conflict and confusion that swirled around that program. We had the “70’s touchy-feely approach” advocates pitted against the “Baltimore Catechism or die” group. We found we were spending a lot of extra time on the phone answering questions, trying to solve conflicts, arranging for extra sessions for the parents so they could have their say and hear back. As it neared the end it seemed like we had spent so much time on these issues that we had spent less time with our daughter Kristin’s formation, which is why we got involved in the first place. At the last meeting, as we do today, we handed out Ziploc bags of unconsecrated hosts so that the children could taste them before first communion day. As usual, it was 20-30 minutes after the meeting ended before I got out to the car where Kristin was patiently waiting with her bag of hosts. As I pulled out onto 117 for home, she looked at me and said, “I couldn’t wait; I tasted a host.” “That’s great,” I said, “That is what they are for. What did you think?” She took a few seconds before answering and then said, “I think now I know what happens when the priest blesses the hosts.” This wonderful feeling of joy and fulfillment and a sense of a job well done in the face of many obstacles swelled up in me. It had been worth all the effort. “What is that?” I said, as I turned left onto Hudson Road. She replied, holding up one of the hosts, “When the priest says the prayers at Mass, this Styrofoam turns into bread.” It took some effort to keep the car on the road as that wonderful feeling collapsed.

Sometimes I shudder at the audacity we have in trying to teach 2nd graders to have any understanding of the deep mystery of the Eucharist. In the first place, it is a deep and wide mystery that we adults can never fully understand this side of death so how can we expect a child to get it. But even more important, we humans tend to stumble on the symbols and metaphors we use to try to understand such mysteries. We have this tendency to fixate on the symbols and metaphors, and instead of seeing them as windows and doors that open up for us a glimpse of the deeper mystery behind them, we see them as the end, as that all there is.

Who can tell me what really happens during the celebration of the Eucharist? I think most people would answer by saying that the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. While that is true and awsome and unique, that is not all that is happening. Stepping back from the particular symbols of the bread and wine, I would suggest that a more complete statement of what happens is that Christ is made present in a physical, tangible way. In fact the Church teaches us that Christ is present in the Word, in the person of the priest, and in the assembly as well as the unique presence in the Eucharistic species (Vat II, Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery Ch I, No. 9). There is more going on here than just the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

Our readings remind us of this. In the first reading, Moses speaks about the manna in the desert and we hear a prefiguring of the Eucharist. But Moses is using the bread come down from heaven as the symbol for the life creating and sustaining presence of God in the world. Under the stress and pressure of crises such as wandering in the desert, we see connection between the symbol of the bread and the reality of the life sustaining word that comes forth from the mouth of God more clearly but it is there in all situations.

And in the Gospel, for the first part of his sayings about being the living bread from heaven, Jesus is also referring to the wider mystery that all of life depends on him for its creation  and its continued  existence. And his reference to his blood is as a symbol of his suffering and death. To drink his blood is to take up our cross daily to follow him. To eat his flesh is to participate in the true life of creation. ( Maybe we understand this meaning of the bread and wine implicitly since so many who participate in this true life by eating the bread of salvation, shy away from joining in Christ’s suffering and death by drinking his blood. )

You see, as wonderful and unique and awesome as the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is, it is not the only transformation that takes place during the celebration of the Eucharist. The bread and the wine are, after all, symbols. Does anyone know what they represent? They represent us! So when we hear the priest invoke the Holy Spirit to make these gifts into the body and blood of Christ, we need to hear that he is asking for us, the real gift that is represented symbolically by the bread and the wine, to be transformed into the body and blood of Christ. Symbolically, that is all of us up there on the altar who we pray may be transformed into the body and blood of Christ.

Paul says it so succinctly: is not the bread we break and eat a participation in the body of Christ? Is not the cup of blessing that we bless and drink a participation in the suffering and death of Christ? That is what we pray; that is why we have come here today. To experience the presence of Christ in the person of the priest; to share in the presence of Christ in the Word so that we might become more fully the Word of God by which we all live; to share in the presence of Christ by eating his flesh and drinking his blood so that we might become more fully the body and blood of Christ. And all of this so that we might go forth from here to make Christ present in flesh and blood to the world we encounter this week.

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