Words are not sufficient to comprehend the mystery of the Body of Christ.
Last weekend, our second reading was an extensive selection from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 12:12-30) St. Paul goes to great lengths to demonstrate to the Corinthians that while a body has many parts, it is all still one body. Growing up, (If we’re being honest, even sometimes when I was still in seminary!) readings like this one would make me roll my eyes and grumble, “ugggg, more Paul and his paragraph long sentences! What is he even talking about anyway?!”
There are always many layers to Sacred Scripture, but this section is almost certainly intended by St. Paul to teach the Corinthians about the Church. In seminary, we have an entire course to study the Church herself. We try to answer questions like, “What is the Church?” It’s harder than you’d think! One of the most ancient answers to “What is the Church?” comes from this weekend’s second reading: “you are Christ’s body.” (1 Cor 12:27) St. Paul then discusses the various roles and gifts people might have in within what he calls the Church.
When we recognize what St. Paul is doing in this passage, it can help us see how profound this reading is. It isn’t a teaching about biology or even about normal human relationships. St. Paul is telling us that the Church is the Body of Christ. We find this image of the Church in the earliest Church Fathers all the way through the most modern theology books.
This reading from tells us that the baptized are all united as one body, as the body of Christ. What we do impacts the whole body, the whole Church. This is one reason why confession exists. My sin doesn’t cause problems for just me. Because I am a member of the Body of Christ, my sin hurts everybody else in the Church. When I bring that sin to confession, not only am I healed, but the wound my sin has inflicted on the Church is healed too. It’s not all bad news, though. Being united as one body also helps us to understand why intercessory prayer and good works are so important, even if I don’t necessarily need them for my own soul. I can offer the graces from my prayers and good works to lift up the entire Body of Christ. Our unity as one Body of Christ also helps us to understand why divisions in the Church are so painful. When we fight amongst our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are harming ourselves just as much as we are harming the other.
The early Christians called the Church the Mystical Body of Christ, which many of us might think refers to the Eucharist. There is certainly a link between the two. The Greek text of the Gospels uses the same word (soma) in the Last Supper accounts as in these letters from St. Paul. We probably shouldn’t read too much into that, but we can’t ignore it either. There is a real and tangible connection between the Eucharist and the Church. The Eucharist is the sacrament which renews the covenant God made with us at our baptism. When we entered that covenant, we agreed to set aside Satan, evil, and the things of this world and to pursue God, virtue, and the things of Heaven. God promised that he would remain our Father and that we would be his children, united through the Son. The Eucharist is a visible reminder of this covenant we made with God, a tangible way to perceive our commitment to unity as one Church and Body of Christ.
The Lord sent his Spirit upon us so that we might receive salvation through the Son. The Son saved us by making us a part of his Body. Each of us has a different part to play in the Body of Christ. Let us strive to always build our brothers and sisters up, so that the Church, the Body of Christ may be a strong, visible sign of the unity we have with God and the salvation that Christ won for us.
We need to be ready to receive God when he comes to us in the Eucharist.
Homily for August 1, 2021
God doesn’t just give us what we want, he fulfills our needs and then some.
Homily for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B.
The Eucharist is God. That’s amazing!
Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2021.
If we dig into the history of worship, way back beyond the coming of Jesus Christ and even farther back than the Old Testament takes us, we see a few trends. We see that human being are innately religious. We see that the first human communities were formed around worship sites to help care for them so that people might come to perform and observe rituals to the gods. If the rituals were not done correctly, the people feared that the now-displeased deity would inflict punishment of some sort upon the people. As a result, a specialized group of people with the knowledge necessary to ensure that rituals were performed correctly developed. This priestly class became the people tasked with mediating between humanity and their gods. The priests were responsible for ensuring that their idols were fed and clothed properly and expected the worshippers to provide the necessary goods and materials to care for their gods.
When we look at the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and his followers, we find something different. Yes, we see holy sites and a specialized class of priests, and on first glance it looks very similar. But the priests act very differently. Our God specifically prohibited the making of images. Our God specifically tells his people that he does not eat the flesh of animals offered to him. The priests of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not there to provide for God. Our worship of God adds nothing to his greatness, but our worship of God is valuable for a very important group of people: us. By worshiping God, we express our desire for his closeness to us and his presence in our life.
In the liturgical celebrations commanded by God in the first reading tonight, the most important command is to remember. God says that This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution. What must we remember? God comes to our aid. When his people cry out to them, he is not a passive observer. This is why he sent his Son: to save us from the mess we got ourselves into. But these things are easy to forget. So we must memorialize these events. We must remember.
The Priesthood of Jesus Christ, in which Fr. Drew and I participate, assists us in remembering God’s love for us. The pinnacle of the worship of our God is the celebration of our Eucharistic Liturgy, and the pinnacle of the priesthood is the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy, which in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church we call Mass. In the Mass, we do this in remembrance of Him by making those events ritually present through the actions of the priest. When we celebrate the Mass, literally make the events of our salvation present, and even more so tonight. Tonight is not simply a night in which we remember the Last Supper. Tonight is the Last Supper. Tonight we do not simply remember Christ feeding his apostles with his Body and Blood. Tonight Christ feeds us with his Body and Blood.
When we receive the Eucharist, we receive God, and we receive his love in our hearts. Love is not a gift that can be hoarded. It must be given. In this great Sacrament of Love, God gives us the ability to love our neighbor. Tonight we are fed with the Body and Blood of God. We share in a Communion of all believers who have been similarly united with God. This is the glory of the Eucharist, a glory which our human senses fail to see. By faith alone can we behold this mystery, which enables us to follow the commands of Christ: to love God and to love our neighbor.
April 1, 2021
Thursday of the Lord’s Supper
Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; Psalm 116:12–13, 15–16bc, 17–18; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:1–15
When we surrender every attachment we have to God, he gives us even more in return.
Homily for the Second Week of Lent, 2021
The Church has taught, and Catholics have believed, since the very beginning that the Eucharist is something different. At Mass, ordinary bread and wine and changed into something beyond our imagination: the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Church had established this teaching well before Justin Martyr wrote, around 150 A.D., that only those who believe that the bread and wine are truly the Body and Blood are permitted to partake of the Eucharist. St. Irenaeus of Lyon, around the year 180 A.D., fought heresies, such as some forms of Gnosticism which denied the God became man, on the grounds that this would deny that the Eucharist was Christ’s body and blood. In response, St. Irenaeus asks them: who other than God could do such a thing? Through the centuries and millennia, the Church has never wavered in this teaching. Similarly, through the centuries and millennia, many struggle to believe this teaching. Jesus Christ himself had to confront this unbelief:
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,John 6:52-55
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“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.”
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
It has not changed. Last year, a Pew Research survey said that among Catholics who go to Mass every week only 63% believe in the Real Presence. If you include all of the people who don’t go to Mass, that number drops to 28%. Shockingly, 22% of people who identified themselves as Catholic expressly reject the teaching if the Real Presence of the Eucharist. Many have fallen prey to the idea that the Eucharist is some sort of symbol; however, in John’s Gospel we read that God himself refutes this understanding. What’s more is that in the Greek text it is abundantly clear that Jesus is not speaking about taking a meal with him or, in some symbolic way, consuming his Flesh and Blood. He is demanding not just that we eat his flesh, but that we gnaw and munch and chew on it, as an animal chews on its food. 1 The Eucharist is different than all of the other sacraments, in that it is not simply the power of Christ that becomes present and operates within us. Christ himself becomes present and operates within us. The only way this happens is if the Eucharist truly is the Body and Blood of Christ. A symbol would not work this way. Flannery O’Connor, in reference to the Eucharist said, “Well, it it’s only a symbol, to hell with it.”2 She was absolutely right. If the Eucharist were a symbol, the Protestants would be right, and the only prudent thing to do would be to leave and to cut our losses now.
The Eucharist is one of those teachings that seem simple, but, in reality, defies all our understanding. Like the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which we celebrated last week, this teaching must be taken on faith. In the verses leading up to today’s passage from John, Jesus speaks of faith. Jesus tells us that belief in Him is essential to eternal life. If we believe in Jesus Christ, that means we must trust him, and if we trust him, then we must trust what he says. We must trust Jesus when he tells us that bread and wine become his Body and Blood. We must trust him when he tells us that we must eat it and gnaw it and munch it to have eternal life.
In the context of right now, I’m sure some might be thinking, “wait a second, if I have to literally eat Jesus, what is the point of this Spiritual Communion everyone keeps going on about?” This is an excellent question. Between a Sacramental Communion and a Spiritual Communion, much is the same. For both, we must prepare ourselves, especially through prayer. We should be in a state of grace, i.e., we should not be conscious of any unconfessed mortal sin. To receive Sacramental Communion, we must also fast from all food and drink—except water and medicine—for one hour, but this would also be praiseworthy for a Spiritual Communion. For both, we should participate to the extent that we are able in the Mass, uniting ourselves to the Sacrifice of Christ and asking God for his grace to fill our hearts. We should, as Jesus taught his followers in the parts leading up to today’s Gospel, strive to believe in Jesus and ask him to give us the Bread of Life, that is, himself.
The key difference between the two is in the reception itself. In a Sacramental Communion, we are assured that we are receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. We are fulfilling his Gospel command to eat his Flesh and drink his Blood. We receive actual graces due to God being present within us, and to the extent that we have prepared ourselves we are open to many more spiritual benefits. With a Spiritual Communion, the situation is a little different. Primarily, we are not physically receiving our Lord and fulfilling what he says in the Gospel. That does not make Spiritual Communion something unworthy, it simply means that it is different. We still receive many spiritual graces from Spiritual Communion, and God still inflames our hearts with love for him. We cannot allow ourselves to think, however, that Spiritual Communion is a fitting or good “replacement” for Sacramental Communion, because Sacramental Communion is essential for eternal life.
As we celebrate the Mass and approach the Eucharist, the True Presence of God in the Blessed Sacrament, let us strive to spiritually prepare ourselves so that in this Sacrament Most Holy, we may experience a taste of the Living Bread from Heaven, the Food of Angels, and the Sacrament of our Salvation.
June 14, 2020
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (Corpus Christi), Year A
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; Lauda Sion (sequence); John 6:51-58
What are we doing at Mass?
What is it that we’re actually celebrating at Mass?
To an outsider, I suppose, this would all look very strange.
All those strange things that the outsider would think we’re doing, well, we are doing them. But that’s the thing: we are doing those things. It’s not all just crazy talk from those weird Catholics. But we know that beneath the surface of the Mass, beyond the ceremony and the seemingly strange gestures and actions, something much deeper lives. One of the best summaries of why we do what we do at Mass can be found in the Mass itself, right in the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer, at the Memorial Acclamation. During this acclamation, which takes place immediately after the bread and wine have been consecrated and have become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, we say to Christ who is in the Blessed Sacrament, “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.” We say this because we know that through his death, Christ destroyed our death. Through his Resurrection, Christ restored to us the promise of eternal life. When Christ comes again, our bodies will be raised up, the Heavens and Earth will be renewed, we will see God in all his glory, and we will live with him for all eternity. Jesus asked us to do this in memory of Him at the Last Supper. It seems appropriate that we re-iterate what we are remembering. And then we thank God for such a great gift.
In the first reading we heard that Melchizedek offered bread and wine in thanksgiving to God on behalf of Abraham. (Fun trivia tip: The term for Melchizedek’s thanksgiving offering in Greek is eucharistia.) God had merely blessed Abraham. He died and rose for us, saving us from death and opening the gates of Heaven! How much more incredible, then, should our offering to God be? It is. When we offer our thanksgiving to God, we do not use mere bread and wine. We offer something far more precious for the gifts he has given to us: The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. There is nothing greater we can offer to Him. At every Mass, we remember Christ’s perfect sacrifice, and we offer the true Eucharist, the perfect thanksgiving to God for his mercy.
And then, as everyone offering thanksgiving to God must do to, we partake of the gifts we have offered to God. Christ told us that he would give us his Body and Blood so that we might have eternal life. Those who partake of his Body and Blood, then, shall live forever. The mere act of receiving our Lord brings us in communion with Him and with all of our brothers and sisters in the Church. In this communion, our Lord offers us salvation. It is through this communion, with our Lord and with those who belong to his Church, that we are redeemed. By this communion, we may be washed clean of our sins, drawn closer to our Lord, and invited to participate in the kingdom of Heaven. When we partake of these most precious gifts, God abides in us in a true and unique way. This is why we must prepare ourselves—especially by the sacrament of Confession—to receive Communion, to make a proper and holy dwelling for our Lord.
Today, we celebrate. Our Lord has given us his Body and his Blood so that we might have eternal life.
June 23, 2019
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Lauda Sion Sequence; Luke 9:11b-17
We are nearing the end of Lent. Next week, we celebrate Palm Sunday, where we read through Jesus’s Passion and Death. In just two weeks, we celebrate Easter Sunday, and we remember the most important event in the history of the universe. But we aren’t there yet. We still have time to prepare ourselves to celebrate these most sacred mysteries. We still have to root out the last traces of sin in our lives, ask God to forgive us, and to turn fully towards God’s loving mercy. There is time to turn away from the past and look toward the future.
God, through his prophet Isaiah tells us today to remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago. He calls us instead to look at his work, saying to us, see, I am doing something new! God tells us that he is bringing streams of living water to the desert, so that his people can live. But the water God gives his people is so much more than refreshment for our bodies. God’s water is refreshment for our souls. When we first encountered this water in Baptism, God built a river through the desert of the world leading directly to our hearts, so that his water of love and grace could flow directly into our souls. God is constantly sending his water into our souls, so that we can drink and live.
Sometimes, though, it is hard for us to perceive this stream of grace and love. The woman in today’s Gospel probably struggled to see these waters. She had been caught in adultery, still punishable by death at that time. The crowd wanted to stone her, or at least the crowd claims to want to stone her. Jesus does not even engage the question. He instead draws in the sand. We don’t know what he wrote. Too much ink has been spilled over 2,000 years trying to guess what Jesus wrote. If it was important, the Gospel writer would have told us. What the writer tells us is that Jesus did not engage the crowd. Instead he said let him who is without sin cast the first stone. This is so much more than calling the angry mob on their bluff. What he is really telling them is that they have no authority to judge this woman, because they too are sinners under the eyes of the law. The crowd eventually disperses, leaving only Jesus and the woman. I imagine that the woman was still quite terrified. Jesus, being totally sinless under the law, would have been justified in casting the first stone. Instead, he does something new. He tells the woman that she is not condemned. He tells her to go forth and sin no more. Jesus has forgiven her. He gives her a drink of his healing water. He builds a stream of living water into her soul so that she may stop sinning. But he also tells her to Go. Jesus tells her to go, and to bring his living water into the rest of the world.
We hear this same word, go, at the end of every Mass: Go in peace. Go in forth, the Mass is ended. Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your Life. Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. Like the woman in her encounter with Jesus, our sins are forgiven when we encounter Jesus at Mass. The woman received living water, but we receive something even greater: the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, which is truly, really, and substantially present in the Eucharist.1 The Eucharist feeds and nourishes, and it strengthens our souls to receive God’s grace. Finally, we are sent forth to the world, just like the woman in today’s Gospel. At every Mass, Jesus is doing something new. He is transforming us and sending us out, so that we might transform the world around us.
As we approach the
culmination of Lent, as we approach the deepest mysteries of our faith, as we
approach the holiest and most important days of not just the year, but of all
time, let us remember that Jesus desires to do something new in us. He desires
to forgive our sins, and he desires for us to go and be streams of living water
that bring life back into the world.
April 7th, 2019
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11