Sunday June 2, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of Corpus Christi
Reading I (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a)
Reading II (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
Gospel (St. John 6:51-58)
As we celebrate today this feast of Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ, we have come to the point that more than anything separates us from other Christians. If we think of all the points we have in common (which a lot of people will like to talk about), we all believe in the Trinity, we all believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, we all believe that He died and rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. There are many things we hold in common, but the point of departure with almost all other Christians is the Eucharist. The Orthodox believe in the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, and from there it begins to dwindle quickly. It is the Eucharist, more than anything, which sets us apart, which is most critical to our lives as Catholic people, because our belief in the Eucharist is that Jesus Christ is truly present there - Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. He is the Second Person of the Trinity so if we are going to profess our faith in the Trinity, it is the recognition that Our Lord promised He would remain with us all days until the end of the world, that He would not leave us orphans.
And so the question is how was He going to do that? Certainly, He is present in a number of different ways. He is present by His immensity as He is in all things, holding them in existence. He is present in His indwelling presence in all of those who are in the state of grace and that the Holy Trinity dwells within. One could suggest that maybe that is what He meant by the fact that He would not leave us orphans. But, in fact, He made it very clear in Saint Johnís Gospel, as we heard in the Gospel reading today, that He meant something far more specific than that: He was going to remain in the fullness of His person so that we would be able to be with Him and He would be with us. He told us that it was better if He left than if He remained because He said that the Spirit of Truth would not be able to come. It is the Holy Spirit Himself who we call down upon the bread and wine to change them into Our Lordís very Body and Blood so that Jesus Christ will be able to enter inside of us and not merely be there on the outside.
We need to think about what this really means for us. When we receive Holy Communion, we must keep in mind that it is not a symbol of Our Lord; it is not a piece of bread which suggests something to us; it is not a re-enactment of the Last Supper when we can think about how Jesus took bread and wine and gave them to His disciples; rather, what happens on the altar at Mass every day is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Just as Our Lady - along with Saint John, Saint Mary Magdalene, and that handful of faithful women - was there at Calvary, each one of us, every time we come to Mass, is at Calvary. Where the difference lies is that small group of faithful souls who was at the Cross was able to be there to witness the work of redemption, but on that day they were not able to receive the fruit of redemption, the fruit of the tree of life, which is the Cross; but we have that opportunity. Today and every day when we receive Jesus Christ, not only is He sacrificed for us on the altar, but we receive the fruit of that sacrifice: the very person of Jesus Christ.
When Our Lord told us that His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink, we must understand what He means by this. The Jewish people did not make that clear separation and distinction that the Greeks made and that we have made between body and soul. When He would talk about flesh, He meant His person. When He talked about His blood, the Jewish people understood that the life of the person was in the blood, and so to receive someoneís blood is to receive their life. When we talk about the Eucharist and receiving Jesus and that this is His flesh, we are not talking about the fact that we are receiving a little piece of His flesh, as if we were cutting off a chunk from His arm or even a piece of His Sacred Heart or any other part of His body - not at all. When you receive Holy Communion this morning, you will receive the entire person of Jesus Christ. Each one of us will receive the entire person of Our Lord, not a little part of Our Lord, but the fullness of His being.
Now if we think about that for just a moment, we need to look at the love of Jesus in the Eucharist. First, [we see] the humility of Our Lord. Saint Paul tells us, in his Letter to the Philippians, that "Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but rather He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men". But that was not enough for Him. As if to be able to demonstrate the absolute depth of His humility, it is not enough for Him to come down to earth in the form of a man, but He went beyond that and He gives Himself to us in the form of a piece of bread. If any one of us was offered the opportunity to be able to somehow give ourselves to someone or even just be present as a piece of bread, who of us would even think of such a thing? We would immediately protest that such a thing would be beneath our dignity. Yet here is Almighty God, the Creator and Redeemer of the world, in the form of a piece of bread - the omnipotent One present to us in utter humility and in passive form.
But there is a reason why he did this: It is because He loves you individually. He loves you so much that He wants to give Himself to you as a gift. Again, just stop and think for a moment. If Our Lord were to ask you the same thing that He asked Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, "Ask for a sign. Ask for anything you want. Make it as high as the sky or as deep as the netherworld," who of us would ever say, "Lord, I want You to be present to me in such a way that I will be able to receive the fullness of your person into myself." We might say, like Moses, "Let me see Your face." We might say, like Philip did to Jesus, "Show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Even that, most of us would quake in our boots to even think of such a thing! But we might have enough arrogance (which really is what it would have to be for most of us) to ask such a thing. But who of us would ever ask God to give Himself to us in the form of a piece of bread so that we could consume our God?
But that is precisely what He has done for us. He has given Himself to us, first of all, through the words of the prophet Isaiah, in a way that we would never imagine, and that is to become a little baby. And now he has done something which is even more unimaginable; that is, to humiliate Himself to the point of being present in the form of a piece of bread. But at the moment of consecration, everything which makes that a piece of bread is completely changed; there is nothing left of bread except for the form. It is now the person of Jesus Christ: His Body, His Blood, His Soul, and His Divinity - the fullness of His being Ė present in each and every host so that each one of us, when we receive Holy Communion, receives the fullness of the person of Jesus Christ.
We need, then, to ask ourselves, "How do we receive? What is the disposition of our hearts?" To think that we would consume our God! But we must allow ourselves at the exact same moment to be consumed by our God: that as we receive Him, we allow Him to receive us; that as He gives Himself to us, we in turn give ourselves to Him so that there is this beautiful exchange that happens: As Our Lord gives His heart to us, we give our heart to Him. As He enters into our heart, we enter into His. As He gives His entire person to us, we need to give our entire person to Him. This is the most intimate act that can ever happen. There is nothing more intimate that can possibly take place in this world. Yet it is merely a foreshadowing, a foretaste, of what we are called to for all eternity, where Our Lord has told us that He is going to prepare a banquet. Each one of us is called to the banquet of the Lamb where Jesus Himself will be the food upon which we feed. The bread of angels, which becomes the bread of man, is merely the foreshadowing of what He has for us for eternity.
If this is the foreshadowing - that we receive God, that we literally become the temple, the sanctuary, the holy place, where the Lamb of God makes His dwelling, where our heart becomes the throne for the King of kings, where the King of Heaven must become the King of our hearts - just think for a moment what that means for you. Your soul, for that time when Jesus is present, becomes Heaven. Think of the humility of Jesus Christ, that He is going to come into the soul of this sinner and He is going to make that place Heaven and He is going to make this heart His throne where He is going to worshiped by the holy angels! What kind of worship and adoration and thanksgiving must be ours?
We need to consider that because there is a real problem in Catholicism these days. I do not know that people would actually suggest this, but it is the way it would appear on the outside: As Catholics, we go to Mass on Sunday - and because we showed up we get a piece of bread; that is the "reward" for having come to Mass. That is not true at all. This is God, and He is present our souls sacramentally. Truly present, the saints tell us, for 15 - 20 minutes. So I have to ask the question: Why the beeline for the door? Why the rush for the parking lot when Jesus is present within our souls? Why do we not want to remain with Him as He is so willing to remain with us? Why the absolute rush to get out to the car when we could stay here in church and commune with Jesus Christ? If the goal that you have (without good reason) is to be the first one out of the parking lot so you can beat the rush, I have a suggestion: Be the last one to the parking lot and there wonít be any rush then either. Remain with Our Lord.
Saint Francis de Sales, when people would leave after Communion, used to send two altar boys with candles to walk on either side of the person as they walked to their home because Jesus was within them and they were like a tabernacle. The Lord was right there; so in order to show the reverence that the person refused to show, Saint Francis would send the altar boys to escort the person home. There is a priest in our own day who was so frustrated with the fact that people were leaving Mass early. He had tried over and over to tell the people to quit leaving Mass early and to stay and make a thanksgiving and be with Our Lord. Finally, out of frustration, he made a huge sign and put it right above the back door. It said simply: Remember, Judas was the first one to leave Mass early.
We need to ponder that as we try to race out the door with Jesus within us. For what? So we can go out into traffic and commit some sins? Imagine, with Jesus present right in your heart, the filth that might come out of your mouth, the gestures you might make, the anger and the frustration that you experience when you get out into traffic. To sin with Jesus right there, what a sacrilege! How much better to stay here and to pray and to adore and to give thanks to the Lord for the gift which He has given to you. In return, give yourself to Him as a gift. Then, filled with that prayer and the peace that comes with it, you can go to the car and you can make a peaceful drive home without sin and be able to take that prayer and that love and that adoration out into the world. That is the way Our Lord would want us.
The early Christians were willing to die for the mystery of the Eucharist. They understood. Saint Paul made it very clear in his Letter to the Corinthians; we heard a little part of it today. Go home and read 1 Corinthians, chapters 10-11, and realize that these were written before the year 60 AD. Saint Paul lays the belief in the Eucharist out very clearly. Read John, chapter 6, and see the clear teaching that was understood from the very beginning of Christianity. Ask yourself, "Would I be willing to die for the Eucharist? Is my faith in the Real Presence such that I would be willing to give my life?" If your answer to that is "no" then I beg you to read those Scripture passages, go to an adoration chapel, get down on your knees, and ask Our Lord to demonstrate to you that He is truly present. He will. You will walk out a changed person if your heart is really open to allow Our Lord to work. And if your answer to that question of whether you would die for the Eucharist is "yes" then let me challenge you to go a step further on the practical level: Make sure when you receive Our Lord that you spend the time giving Him the proper adoration, the proper gratitude, the proper worship; spend the time with Him, communing with Him in your heart. That is why He gives Himself to you this way: so that you can actually receive God into your heart. You can love Him there and be loved by Him there.
If you would say that you would die for Him, then at least, every day, love Him, adore Him, worship Him, be with Him. Spend that time with Our Lord after receiving Him in Holy Communion. Do not try to race out of the church as quickly as you can - God is right there with you. Be with Him and grow in love for Him so that if the day ever comes that He will ask that ultimate sacrifice, you will have grown so perfectly in love that there will be no choice, there will be no hesitation: You will give yourself for Him as He has given Himself to and for you.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.