Monday, June 11, 2012
Solemn Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ - homily
Last month I went to the doctor for a long-overdue physical. One of the first things they asked me when I arrived was if I had been fasting (in order for them to take my blood). I said no because I didn't know I was supposed to (and it had been so long since my last physical that I had forgotten to) fast. So, a week later I went back to get my blood work done. It's kind of an amazing experience. I made a special trip for one little prick of a needle in my arm and they filled one small vial of my blood. That was it...I could go home. Then, the doctor called me last week with the results. He left a long message going into great detail about everything from my kidneys to liver to cholesterol levels. All of this from a small amount of blood! It was from my blood that he could tell me so much about my life...my physical life. Oh, and the results were good, thanks be to God!
Life is in the blood! Life is blood. Blood is life. This was the Jewish approach to blood; life and blood were synonymous terms. The principle of life resided in blood. Without blood there is no life. This is played out in our first reading as Moses leads the Jewish people into life with God...into covenant with God. The covenant was centered on blood, the symbol of life. Moses sprinkled half of the blood on the altar which symbolized God; he sprinkled the other half on the people. Can you imagine if we did this at Mass - the priest sprinkling you with blood?
We might be repulsed by that thought but it's not far off from what happens at Mass. In fact, the Jewish ritual has led to the Mass and is fulfilled by it. Both rituals are centered on blood...on the sacrificial offering of blood that was necessary for purification...necessary for life with God. In the Old Covenant, the blood of animals was sacrificed. In the New Covenant, the blood of Christ is sacrificed. In the Old Covenant, purification was external only; the sprinkling of blood purified bodies only. In the New Covenant, the purification is internal; the sprinkling of Christ's Body and Blood in Holy Communion purifies our souls. As the second reading explains, the blood of Christ cleanses our consciences! How sweet is it to live with a clean conscience.
Today we celebrate the awesome feast of Corpus Christi - the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a celebration at the heart of the Church...at the heart of what it means to be Catholic. The Eucharist is the center of the Church's life! When Christ taught about the Eucharist, he based it on the Jewish principle that life resides in blood. In fact, he says in John 6:53, "unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life within you". This has always struck me as an incredibly strong and important statement. "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life within you".
The life to which the Lord is referring is eternal life. He promises in verse 54 that "whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life". So, if we want to have eternal life - if we want to go to Heaven - we need to receive the Eucharist. I have said this many times as a priest to many people of all ages. Most Catholics don't know John 6, so when they hear it, they get it. I have seen 10 year old kids get it! When they have asked me why they need to go to Mass every Sunday, I respond by asking them if they want to go to Heaven. They say yes! I then quote John 6:53 and tell them they need to be at Mass to receive the Eucharist. They get it. And, then they tell their parents to take them to Mass because they need to receive the Eucharist...and then the parents come to Mass!
Brothers and sisters, the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist are as real as the blood of the animals from the Old Covenant. A priest once told me that the Eucharist is as real as the nose on your face. We believe that it is really Christ because of the four words that Christ says about it: “This is my body”. The Eucharist is really Christ's Body and Blood and it is really necessary for us to have life. The Eucharist is not just our ticket to Heaven; it is our ticket to happiness in this life. When we receive the Eucharist, we receive a taste of Heaven. "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life".