Sunday May 29, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Corpus Christi
Reading I (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a)
Reading II (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
Gospel (St. John 6:51-58)
Today we celebrate one of the most important of all of the feasts in the Church’s year. It is the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and the Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ truly present among us in the Holy Eucharist. The importance of this feast is evident just from what it is, but it is far more important today than it ever has been because the belief of Catholics in the Real Presence of Jesus is at perhaps its lowest point ever in the Church’s history, at least among Catholics in America. We live in a scientific society, and we think that we have to be able to gauge everything in some sort of scientific way. If we cannot see it, hear it, taste it, touch it, if we cannot gauge it with some sort of computer accuracy then we are not going to believe that it is real.
When we look at what Moses told the people about what God had done thirty-five hundred years ago out in the desert, he tells them that God put them out there to test them, to test them by affliction. The only thing that is being afflicted with the Eucharist is our senses, and it is because they cannot grasp the reality of what is there. So God is not testing us now with affliction; He is testing us with faith. He is asking us to believe in something we cannot see or touch or taste or smell or hear. Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, but we cannot sense Him there. God is testing us to see if we are going to remain faithful, just like the people of old. Moses told them that God tested them with affliction in order to see that it was their intention to keep the commandments. Well, God is testing us now with faith to see if it is our intention to really, truly believe what it is that He has said.
There are lots of things we can talk about with the Eucharist. We can look at the second reading today from 1 Corinthians, where Saint Paul says, Is not the cup that we bless a participation in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? We can look at what Our Lord says in the Gospel when He tells us, Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. He goes on to say that His flesh is real food and His blood is real drink, and that anyone who eats the bread that He will give – which is His flesh for the life of the world – will have life eternal. We could talk all about how it is not an accidental change (that means that after the consecration the Eucharist still looks like a piece of bread and tastes like a piece of bread, still looks like wine and tastes like wine, but the reality has changed). We all know the teaching of transubstantiation to describe what happens in the Eucharist, how the substance (which is the underlying substructure that makes a thing what it is) has changed, so that which makes bread what it is has changed into that which makes Jesus Christ Who He is. It is not an exterior change, thanks be to God; otherwise, we would be cannibals, if that were the case. It is, however, a real change that takes place.
In the Eucharist, the fullness of the Person of Jesus Christ is there. When you receive a host, you do not receive a “piece” of Jesus. The Real Presence means “the Body, the Blood, the Soul, and the Divinity of Christ.” The Body, the Blood, and the Soul are His humanity, just like ours. His divinity is exactly what it says: His Divine Nature, the fullness of His Divine Person. And because it is a substantial presence of Our Lord, if you break the host in half, you do not receive less of Jesus. If you were to receive a hundred hosts, you would not receive more of Jesus. In each host is the fullness of Christ. If you break the host, even though there is less of the physical matter, the substantial reality remains the same now in both halves. There is not less of Jesus that is there.
We can talk about all these things, and they are all true. You can look at that beautiful sequence that we all just read aloud, the Lauda Sion, and all of those points Saint Thomas Aquinas makes regarding the Eucharist. They are all true. You can read all about the Eucharist in the Catechism, and it is all true. Still, we can walk away and say, “But I don’t believe.” The most brilliant theologian in the world who could explain the Eucharist better than everyone, if he does not have faith, what good is it? To know all of the teachings and not believe does not do a thing for us. God is testing us, not on the knowledge in our heads, but on the faith within our hearts. He is asking us now in this age where we think we have to be able to prove everything scientifically (which is totally foolish, anyway) to go beyond the senses, to go beyond any kind of objective test or proof that we can look at because we cannot.
Oh, sure, we can look at things and say, “Well, there are a couple of occasions in history where in fact there have been external changes in the Eucharist, where the piece of bread actually has become a piece of human flesh,” and we can talk all about the scientific elements of it. We can talk all about the many, many, many times that the host has begun to bleed and has sometimes saturated the altar cloth with human blood. You can ask yourself, “When was the last time you bit into a sandwich and it began to bleed?” Bread does not bleed. But that is not going to make us believe either.
All of the Eucharistic miracles are not the reason why we believe. We believe because Jesus Christ is God, and because He spoke the words. He is the One Who has told us that this is what we have to do. We believe because it is the gift of Jesus Christ, and that is something that must be in our hearts, not in our heads. The old saying is Fides quarens intellectus, which is “Faith seeking understanding,” not “Understanding seeking faith.” We do not understand first and then come to believe. The other old saying is For those with faith, no proof is necessary; and for those without faith, no proof will ever be sufficient. You can have all the intellectual knowledge about the Eucharist that you want and still not believe because your head is not going to tell you what is there – only your heart can.
So my challenge to you today, and for every single day when you receive Holy Communion, is to go back to your pew, kneel down, and close your eyes. Do not look at the people receiving Communion; they are not God. You have Jesus right inside of you; look at Him. You cannot look at Him with your eyes. The ears of the body cannot hear Him. Your fingers cannot touch Him. But the eyes of your soul can see Him. The ears of our soul can hear Him. Your heart can touch Him. We need to go beyond our senses and we need to be able to look with our soul. It is there in the depths of our being, where we can close everything else out and unite ourselves with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, that the real proof for the truth of Jesus truly present in the Eucharist is demonstrated. And the greatest miracle, the greatest proof of all, is the change that happens in our lives. Once again, all you have to do is look at all the bread you have eaten over the course of your life. I can guarantee you that there is not one single piece of bread that has made a change in your life. It cannot. But the Bread of Life is different. All we need to do is look at the countless saints throughout history. Look at friends and family members and our own selves, and see that we have been touched, we have been changed, because that is no longer a piece of bread – it is the reality of Jesus Christ.
If we want to look at the Church’s faith in the Eucharist, all we need to do is ponder the reality that if that piece of bread which is sitting upon the paten right now is not changed into Jesus Christ then each and every one of us is going to be condemned for eternity because we are guilty of idol worship. We kneel and pray to Jesus truly present in the Eucharist, and if we are kneeling and praying to a piece of bread then we have all violated the First Commandment and for two thousand years the Church has been in violation of the First Commandment, if that would be the case. And truly it is not, because the reality is that at the moment of consecration and from that point forward Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist.
If we have failed to recognize Him there, it is only because we are trying to understand with our minds or we are trying to grasp with our senses. In the Eucharist, neither one will be sufficient. We have to be able to understand and grasp Him with our hearts because it is in the heart that He gives Himself to us. It is heart speaking to heart, not mind to mind, or mouth to ear. It is heart to heart. If we recognize Jesus in our hearts, if we are willing to unite ourselves with Him in our hearts, then our lives will change. If we walk away from Mass week after week wondering how it is that our lives are not changed if this is God truly present in the Eucharist, do not blame the Eucharist. If my life has not changed, it is my fault, not the fault of Jesus. He is there in the Eucharist in a passive manner. Therefore, I have to open my heart. I have to be willing to listen to His voice speaking in the silence of my heart. I have to be willing to be obedient to Him, Who is calling me to Himself. If I refuse to do those things, that is not His fault. He is there truly present whether I am willing to accept it or not. He is there in my heart when I receive Him in Holy Communion whether I am willing to unite myself to Him or not. He is calling me to deeper holiness whether I am willing to do it or not. There is nothing lacking on His part because absolutely everything is given, the fullness of His Person. What more could we ask?
Some twenty-five or twenty-seven hundred years ago now, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, and He said to Ahaz, who was a faithless and horrible king in Israel: Ask for a sign. Make it as high as the sky or as deep as the netherworld; ask anything that you want of God. If God came to us and said the same thing, which one of us would ever, ever say, “I want You to humble Yourself so that I can receive You into my own self in the form of a piece of bread”? It would be beyond our wildest imagination, and none of us would ever even dare to suggest that God should lower Himself and humble Himself to that extent. And because we would never even ask, God, Who is more generous than we could ever even ask Him to be, has done exactly that. He has given Himself to us in the form of a piece of bread. He Who is almighty is there in a passive form waiting now for us to accept the gift that He has given, the greatest gift that humanity could ever be given in this world because it is the gift of God Himself.
Rather than showing Himself through extraordinary signs and wonders, He is asking us for faith. He has put us into this desert of a world and He is afflicting our senses by asking us to go beyond what is external, beyond what is sensible, and asking for an act of faith. Only when that act of faith is given will the fullness of understanding follow. And when that act of faith is made, then the greatest Eucharistic miracle of all will happen: Our lives will be changed and we will become holy. That is what the Lord is looking for. He is there ready and willing to do all these things in us. Now all that He is asking of us is that we would do what is necessary. We have to be the ones who are active and make an act of faith.
Today Jesus looks at each one of us just as He looked at Thomas, His apostle, two thousand years ago. From the Blessed Sacrament right there in front of us and in the words that He will speak in our hearts in just a few minutes when we receive Him, as He spoke two thousand years ago, so He tells us the same today: Doubt no longer but believe.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.