Solemnity of the Most Holy
Body and Blood of Christ
Saint Gabriel the Archangel Parish
May 29, 2016
I have two stories that I wish to share with you. Both took place while I was studying to become a priest and both have to do with the Eucharist. The first story is the earlier of the two. I was on the way to a friend’s house, having already picked up another friend. I was thinking I had already done a good deed by driving her and all. I should mention that she is a very devout member of another Christian denomination. As we are driving along, I could tell she wanted to talk about religion, and so I thought "alright, I’m a seminarian now, sure we can talk about our shared faith." So she asks me “you Catholics don’t actually believe that communion is the actual body and blood of Jesus do you?” I replied, “well, yes, it’s kind’a what we do.” And without missing a beat, seemingly without taking a moment to process, she says “no it’s not.” I was, needless to say, taken aback and I began to wonder rather sarcastically ‘well yeah, I guess since you’re so confident, I'll give up everything that I have felt the entirety of my life had directed me towards because I was mistaken.’ That is why we have priests, to call down the Holy Spirit and consecrate the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and bring that presence to the people of God. I have since realized that she was simultaneously saying ‘no’ to me, and what I was giving my life to, and ‘no’ to the Eucharist itself.
|The Feeding of the Five Thousand|
Second story. I was in my CPE summer, which stands for Clinical Pastoral Experience but what it should be called is Trial by Fire. This assignment is one in which seminarians spend their time serving as a chaplain at a hospital along with other members of different denominations, and it is meant to be a mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging experience. One of the reasons is the other chaplains and their ideas of what Catholic do and do not believe. One day one of the chaplains, in reference to the Gospel of the feeding of the five thousand which we just heard, asks “what’s with you Catholics anyway? All those who showed up were fed by Christ, and it’s not like they had to have their Catholic membership card or anything!” What he was getting at was his tradition’s practice of open communion - meaning anyone who attends their services are welcome to partake of communion, and he was proud of this fact. In addition to that pride, this chaplain seemed to get offended when I would talk about the importance of what we Catholics call the Eucharist. He was saying ‘yes,’ or at least thought he was saying ‘yes,’ to the people, by welcoming all to communion, while simultaneously saying ‘no’ to the Eucharist. As he’d tell you, he doesn’t believe what we believe about the Eucharist. He was also, in the end, advocating the possibility of someone coming in off the street, ‘taking’ Holy Communion, and walking out without opening themselves up to being transformed by the Eucharist AND the Body of Christ present in the assembly.
It is through these experiences, as well as my seminary education, that I have come to tell people that we must, at the same time, say ‘yes’ to the Eucharist and all that it truly is, and ‘yes’ to one another, to the mystical body of Christ. Both ‘yes’s’ must be present for either ‘yes’ to be true. One cannot say ‘yes’ to the Eucharist and insult a brother or sister in Christ nor can we say ‘yes’ to the people of God and say ‘no, the Eucharist isn’t really what you say it is.’
Our Gospel reading shows a group of people that have said ‘yes’ to God, a group that has gone out of their way - into the desert - to follow him, and they did this without receiving the Eucharist! Christ had not died on the cross yet; Christ did not say the words “this is my body” and “this is my blood, the blood of the new covenant.” Christ fed them, which is good, but they gathered together as one before they were made ready to receive the Eucharist. We often forget, in our modern society, how important food is. I could leave this church and within a mile get enough food to eat my fill and then some! Food for the ancient people meant life and to share it showed that you trusted. The people showed their trust in Christ, in God’s ability to care for them, as well as their trust in each other. They also did what the Apostles asked them to do. They didn’t take the food and leave to eat in the safety of those familiar to them; instead, they sat down in grounds of about fifty, and they all ate together. They said ‘yes’ to Christ and ‘yes’ to the people.
As Catholics, we know that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, as difficult as it is to believe at times we hold to the truth that Christ came as a human being and returns time and again through the Holy Eucharist. We believe that he meant it when he said “this is my body, take it” and that he meant it for all people, throughout all time, but we cannot fully respond without becoming what we eat, becoming Christ for one another, to become Church for the world. We have to be able to go into the desert with Christ, and his followers, sit as we are told - he told them to sit, and they did, and we are called to do the same and receive even more than they received.
That ‘yes’ to one another, that is not a simple or half-hearted yes, that is not an immediate yes to “hey give me that” or “just let me do what I want” it is a profound yes to the very core of what it means to be human, and a follower of Christ. This is a ‘yes’ that sees the other through the eyes of the Eucharist, the way in which I see you as I say “the Body of Christ” and you respond Amen - which means yes. This great yes is the kind of yes you will give to the other Eucharistic ministers as well when they present the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to you - when you see each other through the Eucharist. When I see you through the Eucharist, I am saying yes to you through the Body of Christ, and I pray you are willing to say yes to me.
We do not take the Eucharist, we receive the Eucharist, and we say yes to Christ and yes to one another and then we don’t leave, we stay with one another we remain with one another, and we trust in one another which allows God the chance to work on our hearts. Today, when you receive the Eucharist, say ‘yes’ to Christ and say ‘yes’ to your sisters and your brothers.