Monday, June 23, 2014
Corpus Christi homily - "'This is my body' means this is my body"
There is an excellent book out now called, “Chosen to Heal”, by Laura Wright which highlights six Catholics through whom God has worked miraculous healings. One of them is a priest of Washington, Father Dan. Years ago, Fr Dan visited a sick infant girl in the hospital. Actually, she was dying; her heart was failing. The doctors had given her parents the grim news that she didn’t have much time left. Three or four nights in a row, Fr. Dan came to see her and placed the Eucharist on the heart of this precious little girl. Immediately, her heart began to respond and show signs of life. Not long after, her heart began to beat without the help of machines and she made an incredible recovery. The doctors themselves called it a miracle.
The Eucharist that we celebrate today as a Church on the solemn feast of Corpus Christi is the real deal, folks. It is not just a symbol or representation of Christ’s Body and Blood; it is really Him in the flesh. I don’t think a symbol would have brought that girl’s heart back to life. By the way, it’s so beautiful to read in that book what her mother (who became Catholic as a result of her daughter’s miracle) said: “the Lord touched her heart”. It was truly the Lord.
And yet, 70% of Catholics believe that the Eucharist is just a symbol. I was one of them for half of my life. I have no idea why; it was never taught to me in Catholic schools or from the Bible. Everything changed when a priest said to me when I was 21, “’this is my body’ means this is my body”. That’s when I got it. That’s when God became real. That’s when our faith became real. That’s when God became close, and not a billion miles away. Going to Mass every day helped to enter into the incredible gift of the Eucharist. Reading and meditating much on John 6 helped. This is the chapter where the Lord teaches about the Eucharist; we just heard verses 51 to 58 in today’s Gospel. This is my favorite chapter in all of Scripture.
Many of you know that I just returned from the Holy Land with GW students. At the start of the trip, students asked me what I most wanted to see. I said that I didn’t know if we would hit it or if people knew where it was, but I most wanted to see where Jesus taught about the Eucharist (John 6). One day, our guide took us to Capernaum, and showed us the synagogue. He said that this is where Jesus taught about the Eucharist. I fell prostrate on the floor of the synagogue, pretty much in the fetal position, praising God amid tears of joy. So many of the lines we just heard echoed in my mind and heart: “the bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”…“my flesh is real food, my blood is real drink”. I have prayed over and taught these lines regularly the past twenty years. He said this just a few feet away! In the Holy Land, we weren’t sure at every site if that was really the place that something happened, or how legit it was. But, this was the synagogue. This is where it happened. I posted a picture on Facebook with the caption, “thank you, Lord, for bringing me to site of John 6. My bucket list is complete. My life is made”.
I beg you to read over John 6 before you go to bed tonight or sometime this week. They are mind-blowing and life-changing. “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (v. 51). Jesus is basically saying that the same flesh and blood that were on the Cross are present on the altar. “The bread that I will give” is the Eucharist. He gave us His flesh for the life of the world on the Cross. So, the Eucharist = the flesh and blood on the Cross. The only difference is that the Eucharist is the risen Body of Christ. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”. I’ve explained this to 10 year olds before. When they’ve asked me why we need to go to Mass every Sunday, I say it’s to get to Heaven. Jesus says that we need to receive the Eucharist to get to Heaven; so we need to be at Mass to receive the Eucharist. They have gotten it, and then not only went to Mass, but dragged their parents there! “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him”. In John 15, Jesus says, “whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit”. So, if you want to live a fruitful life, receive the Eucharist often. If you want to be a saint, go to Mass every day! Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said that the only way she could serve the poorest of the poor was by receiving the Eucharist every morning at Mass. “Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever”. I was speaking with a friend last week who is Baptist. I told him to check out John 6 and to hit a Catholic Mass. At a Protestant service, the bread that is offered is like the manna: it’s just bread. But, at a Catholic Mass (and Orthodox service), what is offered is the Eucharist.
The Jewish crowds were right about two things in John 6: 1) this is a hard teaching, and 2) Jesus was speaking literally. They heard him literally – He says ‘flesh and blood’ over and over – and then left Him because of it. Think about that: they left Him over the teaching of the Eucharist after witnessing His miracles and healings and probably believing He is the Messiah. They left Him, and He let them leave. He didn’t stop them and say, ‘wait, come back. You misunderstood me. I wasn’t speaking literally’. He didn’t do that because He was speaking literally. He turned to the Apostles and asked them if they were leaving, too. Peter responded, “Lord, where are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life”.
The Church doesn’t understand HOW bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ at every Mass, but she believes THAT it happens. The reason: well, John 6, definitely. But, it’s really four words: “This is my body”. He doesn’t say at the Last Supper, ‘this symbolizes my body’ or ‘this represents my body.’ And, we can start to get to the WHY. I took the Eucharist to a friend today who just had surgery, and lost 7 units of blood during and after surgery. As much as anyone else on this feast understands the importance of blood in life. He had little or no energy when he was so low on blood. The body needs blood to live. So does the soul. Blood is a symbol of life in the Old Testament. Jesus talks about life so much in John 6. Our souls need the Blood and Body of Christ to live.
The phrase “flesh and blood” also helps get to the WHY of the Eucharist. We use that phrase to connote a really tight bond. ‘That’s my flesh or blood’…’we’re flesh and blood’. Jesus wants to unite His flesh and blood to ours. He wants to be that close to us. He promises us in Matthew 28 that He would be with us until the end of time; the Eucharist fulfills that. He doesn’t just want to be with us; He wants to be in us.
Finally, this is a hard teaching. If you’re having trouble believing in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, ask God to help you. A priest in Italy many years ago doubted the Real Presence. He prayed, “Lord, help me in my unbelief”. One day, at Mass, as He elevated the consecrated Host, drops of blood began to fall from the Host. It was declared a miracle of the Eucharist. Ask God to give you a miracle to help you to believe in the Eucharist, the greatest treasure on earth, as the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.