Sunday, 26 June 2011

Corpus Christi Year A

Today is 1st Holy Communion for our children. To understand what they are doing and what they are receiving we need to need to know what had happened before the Gospel passage we have heard and what happened after. The Gospel is taken from John 6. Here, we hear Christ making the connexion between eating His flesh, drinking His blood and eternal life. “My flesh is real food. My blood is real drink. Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life”.

What happened before the Gospel passage we just heard was that Christ had fed 5000 men, not to mention women and children. After they had eaten, they wanted more food. But Jesus had already left for Capernaum crossing the Lake Tiberias. The people followed after Jesus but they were not looking for Him. They were searching for the easy source of food and Jesus got into a conversation with them. When Jesus told them that the food for eternal was His flesh and His blood, they were disgusted by the suggestion of “cannibalism”. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat”?

But Jesus was insistent, “If you want to have eternal life, the only way you are going to get it is to eat my flesh and drink my blood”. This was where everything started to unravel. Many disciples left Him and stopped going with Him. The reaction of Jesus to their departure is important for us because Jesus did not run after them to correct them. He did not say, “I am sorry, I did not mean that”. Instead to confirm what He really meant, He turned to Peter: “What about you? You want to leave as well?” We know the answer: The Apostles stayed with Jesus.

What is significant is that Jesus in today’s Gospel did not say, “Eat my body”. That would be easy because we can metaphorically or figuratively explain that “Eat my body” has a less “yucky” feel to it. For example, “I could eat a horse” does not mean I want to eat a horse. It just means that I want to eat a lot. It is a figure of speech. Thus, in the context of the Gospel, for John to use the word “flesh” is to show the seriousness of Jesus’ claim. [1]

In fact, the word “eat” sounds sterile. The word closer to the original Greek is to chew or to masticate. To have eternal life we must chew, gnaw or masticate His flesh and drink His blood. If that be the case, Jesus would be lying to all of us if He did not keep His promise. To keep His promise, He must give us His Flesh and Blood to eat and drink. And the only way that He can keep His promise is that something must change in the Eucharist.

Let me explain this change through this power-point presentation.

It is either Jesus or it is not. If it is not, then I have wasted my entire life. Yours too. But if it is, then your behaviour and mine must change because it is Jesus and no less. What we receive is the True Presence, not false. What we receive is really Jesus, not a symbol. What we receive is substantially the same Jesus who walked 2000 years ago.

If it is truly, really and substantially Jesus, then, He is to be adored under the appearance of bread. When we receive Holy Communion the hand, we make sure that no crumbs are left on the palm of our hand or on our fingers. Now you know why I have stopped blessing children. It does not make sense to rub particles of the sacred species onto the children’s foreheads. So, those of you who are weak and elderly and also unsure in your steps, you may want to consider receiving Holy Communion on the tongue to avoid accident with the sacred species. The other day I gave communion in two species and there was spillage. When that happens, theoretically, the place where the consecrated host lands or the consecrated wine is spilt has to be purified. But, we organise our lives according to convenience and also for many of us, the Blessed Sacrament is at best an exalted symbol, to “waste time” purifying does not really make sense. Why? Because we do not appreciate the Blessed Sacrament as it really is.

If we do appreciate it, then, outside of the celebration of Mass, we genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle when we cross the nave of the Church. When the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession and it passes you, you kneel because your God is passing before you. The Solemnity of Corpus Christi is not complete without the procession. We carry Jesus our Lord around in a procession stopping at four different places that represent the four corners of the world. We, who believe that what we are receiving is truly, really and substantially Jesus, we, bring Him to the world. In this procession, we pray that the Body of Christ will make us more and more into the Body of Christ—the more we eat of Him, the more we shall become like Him.

This is our Jubilee Year. We desire it to be a holy year. We also desire to be holy personally. But, sometimes we approach this desire in a wrong way because holiness is truly a fruit of a deepened appreciation of the Eucharist and the True Presence therein. There more we grow in Eucharistic love, the more we yearn for holiness. Otherwise, we will be running around trying to do more thinking that the more we do the holy we are.

The troubles we have as Church may be traced to this problem: priest and people have treated the Blessed Sacrament as a symbol. Yes, we treat it as a very special symbol but still, it is a symbol and no more. I do not want to be a priest who celebrates a symbol. I want to be a priest who celebrates a change that is real, true and substantial. If the Church is serious about her mission in the world, then she needs to return to the knowledge and deepened appreciation of what the Blessed Sacrament is: truly, really and substantially Jesus Christ our Lord.

[1] As far as we are concerned “Eat my Body” and “Eat my Flesh” are the same. The former is neither a figure of speech nor metaphorical. Just that “Eat my Body” sounds less threatening. The intent, however, is the same as “Eat my Flesh”.