Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi
May 29, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Have you ever asked God for a sign?
Man has always asked for signs–and God has frequently answered his requests.
We see it in the Old Testament:
for example, the Lord gave the Israelites manna in the desert,
not only to feed them, but also as a sign of Moses’ authority.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of St. Luke
Jesus gave his apostles a sign of his power and authority,
a sign that would affect them and all generations of the Church
as it became an essential part of our understanding of
the sign and mystery of the Eucharist
—His Most Holy Body and Blood.
Let’s look more closely at this reading.
The Twelve apostles came to Jesus asking what he was going to do
about feeding the crowd that had followed them.
Christ’s immediate response
is to ask the apostles why they don’t feed the people.
They respond, “We have nothing but 5 loaves and two fishes”
—they can’t feed the people by themselves.
So the Lord took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to the disciples
to give to the crowd—feeding the 5000.
He gave them a sign that he alone had the power to do
what no mere man could do
—give His people the food they needed.
And yet, the very next day after this tremendous sign of feeding 5000,
some of these very same people still wanted yet another sign.
According to St. John’s account of this miracle they ask Jesus:
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
Moses gave us manna in the desert….”
Feeding 5000 wasn’t enough.
And how did Christ respond to them?
He promised to give them another sign—a sign like no other before or since:
“the bread which I shall give …is my flesh.”
“if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever;”
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven.”
A few months later, at table with the twelve on the night he was betrayed,
Jesus repeated the very same actions he did when he fed the 5000,
–St. Luke uses the very same words to describe his actions that night.
Once again he took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to the twelve.
But this time Jesus added: “This is my body”.
And the apostles understood that this was the new sign the Lord had promised.
Even so, they probably did not understand how this could be what he said it was:
his body and blood.
–after all, it still looked like ordinary bread and wine.
But they remembered the power displayed
in the sign of the multiplication of loaves
—a sign Jesus had given them to convince them
that what was completely impossible
and beyond the grasp of reason for man,
was not only possible for and reasonable to Christ,
but was also his plan.
And so the apostles believed in his power and his words,
and that what appeared to be a few pieces of bread
was now in fact the actual physical body of Christ!
This sign remains with us today.
Of course, it’s not the same kind of fantastic sign that appeals to people
who are looking for wondrous worldly phenomena.
But for those who believe that Jesus is God the Son,
with the power to feed 5,000 people on just 5 loaves and 2 fishes,
and the power to die on the cross only to rise again to life,
that kind of sign is not necessary.
In this context of faith in Jesus,
we believe the Eucharist is
the living sign of His true presence and power and love.
But it’s no mere sign—it doesn’t merely represent something it’s not.
Look at that Crucifix up there…. that is a mere sign of Jesus, a mere symbol.
It looks like Jesus.
That’s what happened to him.
But it’s not Jesus—it’s a mere symbol of Jesus, a mere sign of his presence.
On the other hand, think about this:
if Jesus walked in the room right now and stood right here,
in his fleshy body,
then his body would be a sign to us that he is present
—and it wouldn’t be an empty symbol,
but a physical expression of his real and complete presence
in both body and spirit.
This is how it works in the Eucharist.
It is a sign, but it is no mere sign or empty symbol,
but a sign of Christ’s actual, real, total and complete presence
bodily and spiritually.
A sign that he loves us and personally comes to us and enters into us,
and makes us really and totally one with him.
Man has been asking God for signs for thousands of years,
and God has been responding
—but God has also been asking man for signs in response to him.
For example, in the days of Moses and Aaron,
God gave his people great signs of his power,
like the Passover of the angel of death and the parting of the Red Sea,
and the manna in the desert.
And He demanded that his people respond with signs of their own
–signs of worship and obedience to his law.
Today Christ gives us the sign of the Eucharist
—what sign of worship do we give Him in response?
Begin with the simplest signs:
as we approach to receive Him in Holy Communion,
do our postures, attitude and our clothes signal our faith and love?
Two weeks ago we had the second graders in here receiving
First Holy Communion,
and they looked so angelic,
the girls in their white dresses
and the boys in their coats and ties.
What a great sign of their faith in Jesus in the Eucharist.
What sign do we give of our faith, or laxity of faith,
when we come to receive Holy Communion dressed
like we’re going to the beach or to a ball game or even to a bar?
Imagine if I showed up dressed down
rather than dressed up in these special vestments!
What does it signify about our belief in Jesus and the Eucharist?
Parents—what sign are we giving to our children, and teaching them to send?
Someone might say,
“But Father, God doesn’t care how we dress.”
Maybe, maybe not.
Remember the parable of the wedding feast that Jesus tells:
“But when the king came in to look at the guests,
he saw there a man who had no wedding garment;
and …the king said to the attendants,
‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness’”
We are guests at the wedding feast of the Lamb:
even if God is so merciful he forgives us when we dress inappropriately,
WE should never be so presumptuous of his mercy
—because what we wear is a sign of our faith and love in him.
Now, I know sometimes you come dressed down a bit
because it’s either that or miss Mass
—you just drove in from the beach or from a soccer tournament
and you came straight to Mass,
–and we have visitors here every Sunday
just happy to find a Mass to go to
—okay, I understand, and I’m glad you made it.
Or maybe it goes from 60̊ to 90̊ in a week, so we’re not used to the heat
and we dress a little cooler
—I get that.
But those are the exceptions—not the rule.
Listen, I’m not trying to embarrass anyone or condemn anyone.
So let’s all make a deal:
let’s all agree that if we see someone at Mass
dressed in less than their Sunday best
we’ll always assume there’s a good reason for it.
But let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard.
Also, look at the way we sometimes receive Holy Communion.
Sometime we wander up looking around, seeing who we recognize in the crowd
—let’s stop that, and recognize Jesus at the head of the line.
And when you arrive at the head of the line,
show that recognition by doing what the book of Revelation tells us
over and over again that the saints and angels in heaven do
whenever they enter in the presence of the Lamb of God:
“and they fell on their faces …and worshiped God.”
Now, please don’t literally fall on your faces,
but do show some real physical sign of adoration
as you come face to face with your Lord and God.
Whether it’s a bow of the head, or at the waist,
a genuflection on one knee,
or even kneeling down on both knees,
give some sign to me, to the people around you, to yourself,
and most importantly to HIM,
that you believe…and worship.
And then receive our Lord in a way that shows, or signals, your reverence.
Sometimes folks come up and nonchalantly put their hand out
—as if to signify “gimme, I’m in a hurry, let’s get this over with.”
Sometimes they reach out and actually grab the host out of my hand
—what a great way to cause the host to fall to the ground.
How about instead you come up,
and if you choose to receive in the hand
make a throne for Christ, with the left hand flat, resting on the right,
and then keeping your eyes on him
as you reverently take the host with your right hand and consume it.
Or, perhaps you may you choose to follow the ancient custom
of receiving on the tongue,
as a sign that you understand that this is not ordinary food
received in an ordinary way.
That’s the way I receive when I’m not the priest at the Mass,
because we have a strong tendency to take for granted
the things we hold in our hands every day.
For example, jewelers might easily tend to miss the beauty
of the diamonds they hold in their hands every day.
And the same for a priest who holds His Blessed Saviour
so often in his hands.
And the same for you, if you receive the Lord in your hands every week.
And so I fight that tendency by receiving, when I can, on the tongue.
But even if you do receive on the tongue, do it respectfully:
don’t come up and bite it out of my hand
—or worse yet, don’t lick it out of my hand.
Come up close enough so I can easily reach you,
open your mouth, placing your tongue on your lower lip
and do not move, so I can carefully place the host on your tongue.
These are some important signs of our response
to God’s sign of the Eucharist at Mass.
But he asks for more than 1 hour on Sunday.
After receiving him in the Eucharist,
do our lives become signs of His love for us and our love for Him,
as we go out into the world?
And is our reception of the Eucharist a sign
that all we have done in the hours and days before we receive
has been truly consistent with our faith in him, and all of his teachings?
And is our reception of Communion
a sign of faith not only in the Eucharist handed down to us by the apostles,
but also faith in everything his apostles handed down to us
through their successors, especially the Pope?
From the authoritative teachings on the sacraments,
to the authoritative teachings on morality.
Is our reception of Holy Communion a sign
that we are in full communion with the teachings of Christ
and his vicar on earth, Pope Francis,
or does our rejection of that teaching in our daily life
signal a mockery of the Eucharist we receive?
There is nothing wrong with asking God for signs.
So don’t be surprised when he gives us signs,
and don’t be surprised when he asks us for signs in return.
God has given us the Eucharist as the most sublime sign of his love and power
—it is not a mere empty sign,
but truly his very own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity
–His Real Presence.
Do we respond with empty symbolic gestures and words,
or with signs of full of love and faith and worship?