Deacon Cornell’s Homily


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


June 25-26, 2011, Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Cycle A

"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus' words were hard to understand to those listening 2000 years ago and are still hard for many of us to understand 2000 years later. One problem is that there are just some things that need to be looked at from an insider's point of view to really be understood. For example, those of you who are parents know that there is no way you can explain what being a parent means to someone who has never raised a child.

Another issue is that there are some things that require an ability to believe and to think in symbols to be able to understand them. A few weeks ago someone told me about a conversation they had with a teenager who had said, "I am into science so I don't know if I can believe in God." I had to chuckle, not at the teenager's lack of understanding about God, but at his lack of understanding about science. To be a scientist today you must have the ability to believe in things that you cannot prove, and be able to think symbolically. Einstein's theories were proven after decades of work by scientists who first believed his theories before there was any proof. Those who stuck to the old classical ways of understanding the world could never understand what Einstein predicted. As for thinking symbolically, what does it mean to say that light is a wave and light is a particle? Light is neither, but by using those symbolic ways of describing light we are able to build lenses, and lasers, and photocells, and LED High Def TVs. There is scarcely any aspect of modern physics that can be "seen" with our 5 senses; they can only be described and hence manipulated through symbols.

To begin to understand the Eucharist, we need the same kind of faith and ability to think symbolically that a scientist does, along with the same actual experience practicing our faith that you need to understand parenthood. Some recent surveys have indicated that a substantial percentage of American Catholics do not believe that the consecrated bread and wine are the real body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ. So it should come as no surprise that we hardly seem to attach any importance to receiving communion or to what participation in the Eucharist means. People don't seem to give any thought to the Eucharistic fasting for an hour or to take the time to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving.

The readings and the prayers of today's feast remind us that the Eucharist is indeed a sacrament of initiation. Initiations require an active response. Just as Moses calls the people of Israel to respond to the covenant God has initiated with the action of feeding them, so Jesus calls us to respond to the new covenant by becoming his Body and Blood. As with any initiation, the Eucharist is not an end but a beginning. The consecration of the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Christ is not an end. We don't come here to celebrate the sacrament of Eucharist just so that we end up with the real body and blood sitting in the tabernacle, or even so that we consume Christ's body and blood and have it become part of us at a biological and molecular level. The reason we celebrate the Eucharist is so that we might become the Body and Blood of Christ when we are sent forth into the world. We celebrate the Eucharist by bringing the gifts of bread and wine, which are symbols of us, to the altar, giving thanks to God for the gift of our lives, and then invoking the Spirit to change these gifts which represent us into the body and blood of Christ. Christ gives us his body and blood in Holy Communion so that we might be formed more fully into the body and blood of Christ that brings eternal life, the life of the Trinity, to the world.

That puts a lot of things into a clearer perspective. If we are here for a private meeting with Jesus in the flesh we might think that doing baptisms at Mass is really an inconvenience that delays our meeting. But if we realize that we are here to become more fully the body of Christ so we can go out of here to bring salvation to the world, we know that we need lots and lots of members of the body if we are to make any headway in this world.

If we are here for a private encounter with Jesus in the flesh we might think that even non-Catholics should be able to receive communion because Jesus wouldn't ever turn anyone away. But if we realize that what we are doing when we receive communion is giving our whole person assent to the fact that the bread and the wine are really the body and blood of Christ given for us and by receiving them we join ourselves more fully to Christ as church under the unifying service of the Pope, we realize that non-Catholics could not assent to that.

And here is the really tough thing to understand, and at least for me, to enter into. If we are the body and blood of Christ through baptism, strengthened in confirmation and renewed again and again in Eucharist, what does Jesus mean when he says that the one who feeds on this flesh which is true food, and this blood which is true drink, will have life because of Christ? The question I quoted in the beginning becomes for us, "How can we give ourselves as true food and true drink to those who seek life in Christ?" I suggest that the only way we will begin to understand this is to have faith that with God anything is possible, and to practice that faith by receiving Communion with awe, and then, with humility, trying to live as the body of Christ we have become.

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