Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi
June 7, 2015
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Imagine that you’re sitting at dinner with your best friends.
Suddenly one stands up takes a piece of food and says: “This is my body, eat it.”
I don’t care how good a friend he is,
all of us would think he was either kidding or crazy.
Yet, that’s exactly what happened one night to the 12 apostles,
as they sat at supper with their dear friend Jesus.
He took a piece of bread and a cup of wine and said
“Take and eat this, this is my body…take and drink this, this is my blood…”
But instead of thinking he had gone mad, and trying to get him under control,
they quietly took the bread and the cup and ate and drank.
Did the apostles understand what Jesus was doing?
They may not have known exactly what he meant,
but they knew that this was the same man
who had fed the thousands of people with a few loaves of bread
—on 2 different occasions;
who had walked across the water and calmed the storm at sea;
who had raised 3 people, including their friend Lazarus from the dead;
who was transfigured standing with Moses and Elijah on Mt. Tabor;
and who had said “I have come… to bear witness to the truth.”
They might not have known exactly what Jesus meant,
but they remembered all he had done,
that they had come to believe in him.
And so they took it and ate and drank.
This was a night of remembering: it was the night of the Passover.
The apostles remembered how God had saved Israel from slavery
on that 1st Passover
by the blood of the sacrificed lamb that they sprinkled on their doors.
They remembered how at the base of Mt. Sinai
God and his people entered a covenant
sealed by a sacrifice of animals and the sprinkling
of the blood of the sacrifice on the people,
as Moses said: “This is the blood of the covenant.”
They remembered all this as they heard the Son of God say to them:
“This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant.”
They also remembered how during that Exodus out of Egypt
God gave his people bread from heaven –manna.
And they remembered that just a few months before Jesus had said:
“I am the living bread come down from heaven….
The bread I will give you is my flesh for the life of the world. ”
They remembered how so many of his disciples had left him that day, saying:
“This is a hard saying who can listen to it.”
And they remembered that in response Jesus didn’t chase after them saying,
“no, no, you misunderstood me: I was just speaking symbolically…..”
But instead he simply turned to the apostles and asked them:
“will you also leave me?”
And they remembered the sublime words of faith of St. Peter, in response:
“Lord,…You have the words of eternal life;
we have come to know and to believe,
that you are the Holy One of God.”
They remembered all this as they heard the Messiah say: “This is my body.”
They heard him, they may not have completely understood,
but they believed because he said it.
And they ate and drank as he commanded.
And beginning with the fundamental faith in the words
“this is my body…this is my blood”
and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit,
remembering the words and actions of the Old Covenant,
and all Jesus had said and done
during his life, death and resurrection,
especially his great love for us,
a love so great he reminded them at the last supper:
“no greater love has a man than this,
to lay down his life for his friends”,
a love so great he promised as he ascended to heaven:
“behold, I am with you always, even until the end of time.”
…remembering all this they very quickly began to understand
the profound meaning of the Eucharist.
The belief that the under appearance of bread and wine
the sacrifice of the Cross is made present to us
in the actual body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ
truly, substantially and really present to us,
even until the end of time.
How deeply do we believe our Lord’s words, “this is my body”?
Well, think, how do you prepare before Mass?
For example, a little thing: how do you dress for Mass?
If you were going to the White House to meet the President,
I guarantee you that you wouldn’t come in shorts and a tee shirt.
Now, nobody look around—
there are lots of good reasons someone
might be dressing down a bit at Mass.
But how many times do we not have a good reason?
Or when you’re at Mass, how do you prepare before Communion?
Do you examine your conscience to see if you’ve committed a mortal sin that
the Church teaches you must confess before you receive Communion?
Are you living a life style, or publicly promoting teachings
that are gravely contrary to the teachings of the Church?
How can you receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion,
when you’re not in Communion with the Body-of-Christ-the-Church,
or the Pope?
And how do you come up to receive Holy Communion?
Do you do you rush up, looking around,
letting yourself be distracted the whole time,
or do you come up with love for your God, Jesus,
focusing on him and nothing but him,
receiving him with reverence and profound humility,
rejoicing that the all-powerful God
who died on the cross for love of you,
is coming now personally to you.
Another strong self-test of our belief in the real presence
of Christ in the Eucharist
is found in our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament
outside of the celebration of Mass
–as his body is reserved in the Tabernacle,
or exposed on the altar for adoration.
Some people tell me that it’s not so important to adore Christ in the Eucharist,
as much as it is to serve Christ in one another.
But while it’s important and true that we should see and serve Christ in others,
you have to admit Christ
is present in a way completely different and unique in the Eucharist.
If Jesus came down from heaven right now, and walked right into this room,
the difference between his real presence in this room
versus his presence in any one of us
would not only be obvious, it would be overwhelming,
and would compel us to fall to our knees.
The reverence due to God himself is always different than
that we give to any creature–even an angel.
In the book of Revelation St. John tells us
that when he fell down on his knees before the angel,
the angel scolded him:
“You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you….
Yet over and over again St. John tells us in that same Book
that in heaven everyone falls down on their faces
to worship the Lamb that was slain, Jesus Christ.
I said this a few years ago to another congregation,
and someone came up to me after Mass and said:
“you know if Jesus walked into the room right now
I’d go up and give him a big hug
…and I don’t think he’d be mad at me for that.”
All I could say was: “No, Jesus wouldn’t be mad, but he’d be disappointed.
Because you think you’re better than St. John the Apostle,
and all the saints and angels in heaven
who all fall on their faces to adore him.”
This is what Jesus was talking about when he said:
“When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast,
do not sit down in a place of honor….
But go and sit in the lowest place,
so that when your host comes he may say to you,
‘Friend, go up higher’….
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Sometimes people tell me that since the Eucharist is food,
that it’s meant to be eaten, not worshipped.
But as St. Augustine wrote in the 4th century:
“No one eats of this flesh without having first adored it . . .
and not only do we not sin in thus adoring it,
but we would sin if we did not do so.”
And so the Church strongly recommends that all of us
regularly spend time praying before the Eucharist.
Our parish is blessed to be able to leave our church doors open
for over 14 hours every day
so that anyone who wants to can come and pray before and adore
Christ in the Tabernacle.
And every Wednesday and Friday we expose the Body of Christ on the altar,
from 8:30am until 7:00pm on Wednesday and 3pm on Friday.
And while many people do take advantage of these opportunities,
it amazes and saddens me, that so many, the vast majority of us, don’t.
It reminds me of what a Protestant friend once told me:
“Father, if you Catholics really believed Jesus
is really physically there in the Eucharist,
why aren’t Catholic Churches packed day and night
—why don’t Catholics act like Jesus is there?”
Indeed; why don’t we?
Still many very good Catholics wonder:
“what do I do when I pray before our Lord in the Eucharist.”
Do what you would do if Christ walked into the room right now!
Fall down in adoration as John did in his vision recorded in Revelation.
Fall down on your faces as Peter, James and John did at the Transfiguration,
–worshipping in praise and thanksgiving his magnificent glory.
Fall down at his feet like Mary Magdalene so often did
–in repentance of your sins.
Or, simply sit at his feet quietly as Magdalene did in her home in Bethany
–listening to every word he has to say to you.
Kneel or if you want, sit there,
pray any prayer you want, the rosary or prayers form the heart;
read the Bible or a spiritual book
–all the time in the loving presence of our Lord
–talking to him or listening to him.
And by meditating and praying before the Blessed Sacrament,
you’ll be drawn right back to the sacrificial meal of the Mass
because you’ll develop a deeper, more sincere hunger
to worthily receive in Holy Communion the Lamb who was slain.
Not only to receive him in our mouth,
but in doing that receive him with our hearts.
Today and every day the Church calls us to go before Christ
and humble ourselves by kneeling in front of what looks like
a little piece of Bread.
To some this seems irrational and foolish; but not to us.
Because while difficult to understand,
it is nevertheless eminently reasonable to us.
Because we remember and make our own the words of St. Peter:
“Lord, …You have the words of eternal life…”
So, for us it would be irrational and foolish not to believe,
as we remember and believe in the words of Jesus himself:
“THIS IS MY BODY.”