Corpus Christi

Sunday morning, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, I celebrated Mass at Corpus Christi Parish in South Onondaga. Later in the day I celebrated Mass at Sacred Heart Basilica commemorating the canonization of St. John Paul II. Both events were joyous occasions for me. The most sacred Body and Blood of our Lord is a treasured gift of our faith. Not only on the feast of Corpus Christi but each time that we participate in the Eucharist we should do so with grateful hearts remembering the words of St. John Paul II, “From the Eucharist comes strength to live the Christian life and zeal to share that life with others.” The homily I preached on Sunday is printed below.

Today, the Feast of Corpus Christi, we begin with two stories. The first story comes from Flannery O’Connor, a famous Catholic writer of the last century, who tells the story about a Protestant friend of hers. The young lady started going to Mass at the Catholic Church with Flannery. After going to Mass for a couple of months, the Protestant friend decided to join the Catholic Church. When asked why, after going to Mass, she wanted to become a Catholic the woman replied, “The sermons were so horrible, I knew there had to be something else that made these people want to come to Mass.”

   The second story is taken from the life of St. John Vianney, the parish priest of Ars in France. Sitting in church one day before the Blessed Sacrament, the Curé of Ars was approached by a peasant who asked him, “What are you doing?” St. John responded, “Nothing. I just look at Him and He looks at me.” John Vianney knew the beauty of true friendship — just to be with the beloved. He reminds us that Christian contemplation is never a one-way gaze. It is always the meeting of two “looks”; our look at God and God’s look at us. If, at times, our gaze weakens, God’s never does. He watches over us always and everywhere with a Father’s loving eyes.

   Our readings today help us to appreciate the “something else” that draws us to the Eucharist. From the first reading we heard, “He fed you with manna.”  The author of Deuteronomy exhorts the chosen people to “remember,” to “keep in mind” all that God has done for them. God was very active in the life of His people. He led them out of Egypt, guided them through the desert, delivered them from their enemies and fed them. He provided nourishment so they could continue the journey; sufficient nourishment for each day. With the gift of manna God met their bodily needs but also pointed to the deeper reality that this bread would not give them everlasting life. Throughout their long sojourn in the desert God paid attention to His people, saw their plight and intervened to protect and save them.

   In today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals the full meaning of the manna from heaven. “Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Whereas the manna spoken about in Deuteronomy was a morsel of food that provided physical sustenance and strength to continue the journey through the desert to the Promised Land, in the Gospel Jesus tells us He is the bread of life. When, with faith we eat this bread — His flesh — the seed of eternal life that dwells within us is nurtured; we are strengthened for the journey that leads one day to the fullness of eternal life. The manna sustained the Israelites during their earthly journey, but Jesus’ bread of life sustains us for eternal life. The manna came from heaven down to earth, but the bread of life comes from the earth and lifts us up to heaven.

   “O Sacrament of devotion! O Sign of Unity! O bond of Charity” (St. Augustine, Gospel of John, 26:13). St. Augustine’s words sum up the words Paul addressed to the Corinthians in our second reading. “We, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” When we eat the bread of life, when we eat from the one loaf that is Christ, we are joined to Him and to each other. The Eucharist is the sacrament and source of the Church’s unity.

   Although many books have been written about the Eucharist it remains a mystery. Its full meaning eludes us. Do not let what is unknown and beyond your grasp keep you from the Eucharist. When Jesus spoke to the crowds about the bread of life and eating His flesh and drinking His blood, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (Jn 6:66). Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter answered, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68).

   Peter and the other disciples stayed with the Lord; continued to travel with Him; to listen to His words and observe His deeds. I suspect, after the Resurrection and Ascension, the faithful apostles often pondered Jesus’ words and deeds. Like the Curé of Ars they looked at the Lord and in turn the Lord looked at them. In this mutual gaze bonds of friendship and love grew and were strengthened. 

   When you come to Mass on Sunday, spend a few minutes looking at the Lord. He is here reserved in the tabernacle. He will become uniquely present when the bread and wine are transformed into His Body and Blood. Look at Him in love and be assured He looks at you with love.

   It is a special joy for me to celebrate this beautiful feast with you, parishioners of Corpus Christi Parish. Every time you enter this sacred place, be confident that the Lord is here waiting to nourish you with His Body and Blood, ready to travel with you on the journey of life that will lead you, in His own good time, to the heavenly banquet and eternal life.

   Later today, at Sacred Heart Basilica, I will celebrate the Eucharist commemorating the canonization of Pope John Paul II. For this reason I have St. John Paul on my mind and recalled his many instructions on the Eucharist. Allow me to share his words that apply in a special way to today’s feast.

   “Christ is present in the Eucharist, in the sacrament of His death and resurrection. In and through the Eucharist, you acknowledge the dwelling-place of the Living God in human history. For the Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Love which conquers death. It is the Sacrament of the Covenant, pure gift of love for the reconciliation of all humanity. It is the gift of the Real Presence of Jesus the Redeemer, in the bread which is His Body given up for us, in the wine which is His Blood poured out for all” (St. John Paul II).

   May we treasure the gift of God’s presence among us in Christ’s Body and Blood. May we come humbly and reverently to the table of love and mercy and find substance and strength to live our faith. St. John Paul reminds us, “From the Eucharist comes strength to live the Christian life and zeal to share that life with others.”

   If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.

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