29 May 2016
“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you …” (1 Cor 11:23)
In the name …
You see those beautiful flower arrangements on the main altar? Last Sunday I thanked Maryanna Foster for them. I thanked her for going out into her flower garden, cutting them and arranging them. Then after Mass last week the choir comes down and they’re laughing. One of the ladies tells me not to water the flowers. I thought that was because I have been accused of over-watering flowers on occasion and killing them. But they didn’t want me to water them because the arrangements are of artificial flowers. They look so real I couldn’t tell the difference.
Today is Corpus Christi Sunday, which is Latin for “the body of Christ.” Today is a celebration of the Eucharist: the mystical presence of Christ on our altar under the forms of bread and wine. Mystical is not magical. Mystical is derived from the word mystery, and mystery was the original name for the sacraments in Greek. We don’t know how bread becomes His body. We can’t explain how wine and water become His blood. This is why our church says humbly that the Eucharist is a mystery of faith. It’s something we believe in. Those flowers may look real, but they’re not. The Eucharist, on the other hand, may look like bread and wine, but its reality is so much more.
You can take the same host before Mass and put it under a microscope and then take it after Mass and do the same thing, and you won’t see any change. The presence of Christ is seen in the host not by building a better microscope, but through our faith. It’s a mystery of faith. It’s the same with the chalice. For my birthday a friend sent me a card a while back. On the cover there was a priest behind the wheel of the car and a police officer was standing by his window. The cop asks if the priest had been drinking, to which his reply was, “Only water.” Then the cop asked why he smelled wine on the priest’s breath. This is when the priest shouts, “It’s a miracle! Jesus did it again. He turned water into wine.” I don’t think that got him out of the DUI offense, and I don’t think that’s what happens with the wine at Mass. The wine is the same wine before and after Consecration, but we see if differently because of our faith. It’s a mystery of faith.
Our faith brings us here to Mass because we believe that in a special way Jesus becomes present among us in the Eucharist. Now this mystery is sacred. This is why the focal point of the church is the tabernacle where the Eucharist is reserved, why the eternal light burns, why we fast, why we go to Confession, but we can’t forget that for as holy as the Eucharist is, it is not the limit of Christ’s unseen presence among us. I saw a friend on Friday. His job took him down to Georgia to the home office. While there he invited someone out to dinner as a way of saying thanks for all of her help whenever he called in. I don’t know if this is a southern-thing, but somehow over dinner the person from Georgia brought up religion. It may just be a New Englander’s stereotype, but this doesn’t sound out of character to me. She boasted about how she and her daughter went to church every Sunday and sang in the choir. My friend told her he doesn’t belong to any church. And her sermon started. This is when he interrupted and asked if she did anything for God besides church and choir. She didn’t seem to understand his question. Then he listed all of the charitable activities he runs, participates in or donates to, finishing off with his belief that God counted that as important too, and istn’t this also the unseen presence of Christ?
The Eucharist that we believe in does not give us the privilege to brag about how special we are in front of others. We can only boast about how special Christ is. He makes Himself available to us any time we approach His altar. He’s even willing to leave with us and go wherever we take Him. Think about that when you leave this sanctuary. Jesus goes with you. His sanctity, however, is not offended by our humanity. This is one of the blessed truths of our faith. I shared the Old Testament story with our Bible class this past week about the time Moses and the elders of Israel climbed Mount Sinai and basically had a picnic with God. They sit huddled in a group by themselves and they look upon God’s glory apprehensively. Then there’s this wonderful gem of an ancient sentence: “God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; and they beheld God, and they ate and drank.” (Ex. 24:11) God withheld His revulsion, according to the story. He did not strike them dead for being there, and for being so much less than God, for just being human.
Then think about Jesus. Think about His birth story amidst poverty and animals. Remember that He spent more years as a carpenter than as a preacher. Don’t forget that when He did start His ministry, it was to the ordinary people of his day and even more extraordinarily to the outcasts and the ones called sinners. Think about the revelation that Jesus senses one of His closest followers is about to betray Him, and betray Him to death, and yet Jesus at the Last Supper shares the bread and the wine with even the betrayer. For in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus reveals that one of the Twelve will turn against Him, and He says, “One who is eating with me.” (14:18) Then without any change of scene, Mark takes us to the words of institution and the sharing of the bread and the wine, and the Gospel says explicitly, “And all of them drank from it.” (14:23) Jesus offered the Eucharist even to Judas. We can’t brag about receiving the Eucharist; we have to strive to be worthy of it, but we can’t brag about it. What we can boast about is how special Jesus is in that He desires to be with us – imperfections, faults and all.
The Eucharist is a precious gift, and one seen by faith, but Jesus is present in so many other ways too, but again, seen by faith. Let today’s Mass remind us of the blessing that we approach every time we come to the altar. Let it stand guard against coming forward casually or just out of habit. This is a mystery of faith that brings Jesus to us so that we come into communion with God and with each other. That we may never take this gift for granted, may this be our prayer today in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo